The Monday Morning Scrappy Utilityman

When it comes to my level of excitement for what we just witnessed Saturday and what we’re in store for this week, I’m as batshit as Harvey Updyke attempting to read this column…or any column…or any word.

So, we’ve got to do it differently this week with The Monday Morning Scrappy Utilityman. It’s all college football all the time after the Victoria’s Secret model orgy we walked in on Saturday.

I decided to stay home and not go to Columbia. Why? Because I wanted to be able to watch Ohio State-Michigan and Alabama-Auburn. I was convinced both underdogs would give the favorites all they could handle…and I knew I wouldn’t be drinking in Columbia, so I didn’t want to sit in a bar…all sober and distracted. Nerdy? You better believe it. But, that was my reasoning. And, in a rather stunning development, it paid off quite nicely.

I sat on my couch from about 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., minus the 10 minutes I left to go get pizza, and I’m not sure there was a happier kid in town. And, by kid, I mean short, bald Irish prick.

Ohio State had all they could handle and then some from Michigan. I like Brady Hoke going for the win with the two-point conversion attempt. I don’t like the play he called. It’s not results-oriented…obviously…as I’m on board with a move that didn’t pan out. But, on the two-point conversion play, all eggs were placed in one basket, and once the Buckeyes didn’t bite, Michigan was doomed. Had the Wolverines converted…Missouri would have been playing a National Championship quarterfinal Saturday night at Faurot Field.

So, you have that incredible northern rivalry come to a conclusion in a game you can’t imagine being topped…and immediately…the great southern rivalry kicks off.

And what happens? Alabama and Auburn played a game that you can’t imagine being topped. I actually thought in the moment Auburn QB Nick Marshall may have been just past the line of scrimmage on the game-tying touchdown pass…but I never heard many complaints, so I guess there wasn’t anything to it. And, I actually thought Auburn return man Chris Davis may have stepped out of bounds during his 100 yard run to immortality. But I never heard much about it with the exception of one brief reference by Rece Davis on ESPN, so I guess I was wrong on that one as well.

For one of the first times since arriving in Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban is getting second-guessed. Why expose the team to the risk of a return with all of the “fat guys” on the field goal kicking unit for a highly unlikely attempt from close to 60 yards…with your backup redshirt freshman kicker, Adam Griffith?

“Griff makes them from 60 in practice so there was a shot,” Saban said. “We had the wind behind us. We had the wind in the fourth quarter. He didn’t hit it great, but we still should have covered it. The game shouldn’t have ended that way.”

To be honest, I liked the move as well. A Hail Mary has a 5% chance of getting completed. The field goal try has a better shot than that. These are all subjective probabilities being assigned, but I’ll take the field goal shot. The issue was no one being out there to tackle the return man.

And once Davis crossed the end zone with no Tide player around him, Auburn had just wrapped up back-to-back wins in one of the most miraculous ways a team had ever done…especially with the importance of each one. They likely take a National Championship opportunity and certainly an SEC Championship opportunity from their blood rival…all while giving themselves both.

Sweet Mother of Mercy.

And that led us to Missouri-Texas A & M, which kicked off 15 minutes later. So, at least there was that break.

The Tigers looked tight to start. I don’t know if it was stage fright or what, but to only score seven first half points on a defense that had allowed 41 points at home to Mississippi State was mind-boggling. The offensive line---the difference this year---was actually being outplayed on numerous plays by A & M’s front. I didn’t forsee that. And, the coaching staff wasn’t getting the ball in the hands of the running backs just a week after LSU gashed the Aggies’ defense for 350 plus yards on 56 carries.

It was confusing…and as most Missouri fans can relate…it was getting into the “Oh, no. Not again” realm.

But the offensive line, as Kirk Herbstreit noted on the ESPN broadcast, was the difference in the second half. And the Tigers righted the ship to take a 21-14 lead rather quickly and easily.

Sure enough, John Football, as Rece Davis calls him, got his boys in the end zone one more time to tie it up at 21.

It was at that moment that I wished I could get some Emotional Risk Management on Texas A & M. The Aggies had the momentum. The Missouri defense looked out of sync on the drive. And, Texas A & M had The North End Zone.

But, it was Missouri and Henry Josey on a 3rd and 1 run that you’ll see many times from now on that gave the Tigers the lead. The exhilarating moment set the stage for the defense to shut the door.

And they did.

Kevin Sumlin’s decision to punt with two minutes left was bizarre. Absolutely bizarre. Perhaps the chances of converting a third and long were remote…but it’s not like he has Michigan State’s defense over there…and all Missouri needed was a first down to wrap it up. Gary Pinkel and Josh Henson called a beautiful pass play that caught the Aggies off guard…and that was it.

Off to Atlanta…with Manziel going three and out on his final three possessions and putting up his fourth-lowest passer rating and second-fewest rushing yards in 24 career starts.

When the Tigers needed it, the defense rose to the occasion and shut down one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

The crowd rushed the field to celebrate the stunning development that was Missouri: 2013 SEC East Division Champions.

Now, when it comes to the national perspective, you can get better coverage on Rondo’s YouTube Channel (may it rest in peace) than you can get from me, so I won’t attempt to break down everything from Saturday like I’m Jesse Palmer.

But, I will attempt to give you my opinions which, considering the current toxic climate of college football discussions, will most certainly alienate nearly everyone of you at some point.

And, remember…this is coming from a Missouri fan. I’m open to all dissenting opinions. Hell, if you present your opinion in a compelling manner with a potpourri of facts, perhaps I’ll reconsider mine. But, as of right now, here’s what I think on where things are and where things will be…and I’ll put a little cherry on top at the end:

-It is my opinion that Florida State and Ohio State should play for the BCS National Championship should they both win Saturday. Since it’s becoming rather clear that there are no rules for determining who gets voted where, theoretically, it’s not against the rules to put a one-loss SEC team ahead of either Ohio State or Florida State. There’s no historical precedent for a one-loss school to go to the BCS Championship Game over an undefeated BCS Conference school. There’s no rule that it can’t happen. But, it hasn’t. And even though it doesn’t benefit “my” school, I think undefeated Ohio State and undefeated Florida State should go and not the winner of the SEC Championship Game.

-However, I also think Ohio State will lose Saturday. Michigan State has outscored its last five opponents 156-46. They’ve flown under the radar all year long because of the conference they play in and an early season loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, but they’re a damn good defensive football team. The counterpoint to supporting Michigan State is, ironically, the one Ohio State hears the most: who have they played? But, even though the Michigan State opposition has been lackluster, they’ve dominated them over the last month and change. If Ohio State can give up 600 yards to Michigan’s pedestrian offense, I’m anxious to see what happens when they go against Michigan State’s pedestrian offense…but, much more interested to see how that Ohio State offense does with their tyrannical defense.

-I also think Missouri will beat Auburn. Similar to the above Big Ten Championship predictions, these aren’t “locks.” They’re mere probabilities based on watching an absurd amount of college football over the last 90 days. I’d allocate 55% to 60% for Michigan State beating the Buckeyes, and I’d allocate the same to Missouri beating Auburn. Since SEC play began, I’ve seen Missouri play two bad halves of football…and really one of those halves was closer to a bad quarter:

    -the second half against South Carolina
    -the first half against Texas A & M

If Missouri’s name were Alabama, their resume would be getting even more attention. Missouri would most definitely be the favorite in Las Vegas. But, just like Alabama’s earned its respect over the years, Missouri has earned its doubt over the years. However, that has nothing to do with what will take place Saturday at the Georgia Dome…just like the SEC winning the last seven National Championships…and just like Ohio State being undefeated over the last two years.

Without a miracle, Auburn loses at home to a team that Missouri beat by 15 in Athens. That’s not to diminish Auburn in anyway. Their team and their turnaround have been stunning, and while I may have been ahead of the curve on seeing Auburn as a legitimate threat to Alabama in the Iron Bowl, it took watching them against Texas A & M to take them seriously.

But, now that the teams are going heads up, I’ll be anxious to see how Auburn’s pass defense handles Missouri’s receivers. And, I’ll be intrigued to see how Missouri’s defense handles Auburn’s running game.

I know that Auburn’s victory over Alabama and the absolutely historic manner with which they did it will lead to all kinds of Auburn talk this week. Hell, even though Auburn is a two-point favorite, only Missouri and Alaska picked the Missouri Tigers to beat the Auburn Tigers on ESPN.com’s SportsNation. Auburn deserve credit. But, facts---not airtime on ESPN or words typed on Twitter---are important to keep nearby when deciding how to predict outcomes. These are facts:

-at Auburn 31 Washington State 24
-at Auburn 24 Mississippi State 20
-at Auburn 30 Ole Miss 22
-at Auburn 43 Georgia 38

Auburn did in all four of those games what Missouri couldn’t do to South Carolina: close out the opposition. They’re all wins. However, in analyzing potential college football outcomes, one would do himself or herself a disservice to focus simply on whether a team won or lost. Look at, as Nick Saban calls it, “the process.”

Also, on the other hand, note that with the exception of the Georgia game, all of those rather surprisingly close games to inferior opponents at home took place on October 5th or before. Teams, such as Michigan State, can come together and look like much better teams than they did in September and October…or in the case of Oregon…look much worse than they did in September and October.

But, unlike Auburn, Missouri has won by two touchdowns in every game they’ve played minus the blown 17-0 lead and loss to South Carolina and Saturday night against Texas A & M. They haven’t Florida Stated teams, but of the other three teams still in the mix (Alabama, Ohio State, and Auburn), Missouri and Alabama are the closest in terms of beating inferior opposition handily.

Does it matter? Absolutely not. Can it be an asset in trying to determine whether or not Missouri wins? Yes.

-As I wrote on November 18th, I wanted to see Missouri play Alabama for the SEC Championship…just because it’d be an orgasm of college football excitement to see the Tigers go up against an undefeated Nick Saban team with the SEC Championship on the line, but I anticipated it being Missouri vs. Auburn. However, because of perception, the fact that the Missouri Tigers are playing the Auburn Tigers, a win in the SEC Championship Game won’t have the same impact as a win over Alabama, according to ESPN’s Edwards. I understand that, but I resubmit my discussion point this year that I’ve said on the show and written in this corner of the Internet: what has Alabama done this year---outside of just being Alabama---that puts them in this superhuman category? As a matter of fact, every championship contender has strengths and flaws. There’s no obvious team---based on resumes---that is immune from dissection. Florida State has been the most dominant team, but their schedule is the weakest of anyone in the top five. Ohio State dodged a bullet Saturday against a four-loss team to go with their weak strength of schedule. Auburn has had to pull last minute miracles not once…not twice…but three times (Mississippi State being the third one that flies under the radar). And, Missouri may have some big names on their schedule, but some of those names wound up with average to bad seasons this year.

-With all of the above thrown out there, it’s simple or rather…it should be simple: if Missouri beats Auburn…and if Florida State or Ohio State loses…Missouri should play for the National Championship. I expect Missouri to beat Auburn. I expect Michigan State to beat Ohio State. Neither are locks. But, I’d put their probability at better than 50% for each. And, therefore, Missouri would play Florida State for the National Championship in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl on January 6th. Unless…Alabama would stay ahead of Missouri even if the Missouri version of the Tigers beat the Auburn version of the Tigers. I don’t expect it…but I won’t 100% rule it out…not because it’s right…but once again…because of that word: perception.

If you’re a Missouri fan, that’s the worst case scenario…and I still think even with that scenario there’s a better than 50% chance that the Tigers play for the National Championship.

I know I write it every week…but…I…can’t…believe…I’m talking about Missouri playing for the National Championship in December.

This has now happened twice since 2007.

Missouri football---a punchline all of my life up until a couple of good years in 1997 and 1998---has been closer to a championship over the last six years than everyone on the St. Louis sports scene with the exception of the Cardinals. And they’ve done it twice. Closer than the Rams. Blues. Missouri basketball. Saint Louis U. basketball. And Illinois football and basketball.

And yet many---including myself---view each Saturday with the skepticism of a drunken suburbanite engaged in a game of three card monte outside of the Stadium East parking garage.

So, with that, I want to have a discussion:

At halftime of Missouri’s game Saturday night, I was perusing Tigerboard.com. Man, I love that Tigerboard. Missouri was down 14-7. They had just played their worst half of football of the year. They looked tight. The offense, as Gary Pinkel said in his halftime interview, was off. It was odd. It was actually reminiscent of how strangely they played and coached the 2007 Big 12 Championship Game.

And, it was at this time on Tigerboard that a regular poster wrote the following (and had several agreeing with him):

“I’ll be disappointed with a loss, but it’s hard to be disappointed with a 10-2 season.”

Now, maybe I’m off the mark here. And, considering that when I tweeted the link to that post only one person (Col. Gabriel P. DeArmond) even bothered to respond to acknowledge the comment, it’s quite possible I am indeed off the mark…but I vehemently disagree with that thought process.

As always, to each their own.

But, I bring it up, because I believe some (or even many) Missouri fans suffer from a complex that results in the bar being set too damn low.

At the moment of that posting and the people who then posted to agree, the team was down by a touchdown after playing a poor half. They’re at home. And, if they can just outscore the opposition by eight in the next 30 minutes, they’re heading to play for the SEC Championship Game and the possibility of playing for the National Championship…and you’re thinking about “oh, well. 10-2 is nice.”

The mountaintop is within reach. This program is in line to play for a conference championship for the third time since 2007. And there was (and still is) talk of, “Well, I’d be happy with the Sugar Bowl.”

As I wrote above, I’m Harvey Updyke batshit right now. But, motherfucker, the 2013 Missouri Tigers may actually be the best team in the country.

Trust me…I know how crazy that sounds. I’m the one who just typed it. But, they may in fact be.

And, they have an opportunity to show it on the grandest non-bowl stage of them all (arguably the second-most glamorous college football game of the year next to the BCS Championship Game), and even after beating Texas A & M to head to the SEC Championship, there’s anger over Jerry Palm’s bowl projections as opposed to seeing what is actually possible no matter what Jerry Palm types: a National Championship.

It’s real. It’s there.

I feel like I’m talking to the guys in my fantasy football league who are so scared to make a bad trade that they wind up passing on good ones. Live a little. Take a fucking chance.

As George Carlin said, “What are you going to do for the next 40 years? Play with your pricks?”

No matter what happens, the 2013 Missouri Tigers will be held in esteem for years to come…similar to the 2007 team. And, like that 2007 team, this group heads into the final weekend of the season with a chance to win the whole damn thing.

Yeah…getting hopes up---especially as a Missouri fan---can lead to crushing disappointment. But, I don’t give a damn if Missouri’s playing in the Sugar Bowl against something called Central Florida or if Missouri’s playing in the Outback Bowl against whatever random Big Ten team is left over after Ohio State and Michigan State. Neither one of them mean a damn thing.

Ask Illinois, Wake Forest, Syracuse, and Kansas how much value a BCS Bowl has. Those appearances in postseason exhibition games with outcomes that have the value of a February Tuesday afternoon win over the Marlins in Jupiter, Florida have done wonders for those programs.

There’s one bowl game that matters in this current fucked up system, and Missouri is one of five teams with a shot to get there.

Think how you want to think. Feel how you want to feel. To each their own.

But, I’m with the good people of Alaska: there’s a better than 50% chance Missouri is SEC Champion this time next week, and I sure as hell will absolutely will be disappointed at this point if they’re not. And if they are, they’ll be in the mix for talk of a National Championship.

Fuck 10-2 or 11-2 or the Sugar Bowl or the Orange Bowl.

The crown is there for the taking.

As Herb Brooks said in Miracle, “Great moments are born from great opportunity.”

He didn’t say, “Well, boys…we made it this far. No one expected us to. So, let’s give it a go tonight and see if we can beat these Russians. Either way, worst case scenario, we finish fourth.”

This is a great opportunity.

This is a team that is one 4th and goal from the 15 stop away from being undefeated and sitting at either #1 or #2 in the country right now.

This is a great opportunity, because this is a great team.

I don’t believe in teams of destiny. I believe in blocking and tackling.

And I sure as hell don’t believe in hoping for a bid to a game against Central Fucking Florida when a chance to play for the National Championship is out there against Florida Fucking State.

This is, indeed, a great opportunity.

And as Coach Brooks said, “Now…go out there and take it.”

Log-in to post your comments, or you can email me at tmckernan@insidestl.com.

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# fb3
Monday, December 02, 2013 11:10 AM
Go michigan State and Go Missouri!!! I want that national title. Woohoo!!! The bar is set high
Don Draper1
# Don Draper1
Monday, December 02, 2013 1:35 PM
Were you and Rondo separated at birth? Major emotion flowing in this article; I pictured you looking like Knowshon Moreno as you were typing this. I appreciate the wisdom and the passion!

# Sonderep
Monday, December 02, 2013 6:01 PM
Tim's predictions have been spot on thus far. The national prognosticators have been off, and they are predicting that Mizzou falls to Auburn and falls down to the Outback Bowl. If the national prognoaticators are right, that will be about the only thing where the SEC resembles the Big 12. I'm not sure Michigan St. has enough fire power to outscore Ohio St., but my money is on Tim's prediction and not the national guys.
Tim McKernan
# Tim McKernan
Monday, December 02, 2013 6:34 PM
Sonderep, you love America. Thank you, sir.

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