Starting in late October, each week has brought a Missouri win, with the excitement and momentum building and building as the winning streak grows. On Saturday, Missouri rolled to a 45-17 win at Vanderbilt, the Tigers’ fifth straight win. Each of those wins has included at least 45 points from Missouri, and the Tigers have won each of those games by at least 28 points.
Saturday’s win lifted Missouri to bowl eligibility for the first time since 2014, which seemed like a ridiculous proposition as recently as a month ago.
Missouri (6-5, 3-4 in SEC) effectively wrapped the game up in the second quarter with a flurry of four touchdowns to take a 35-0 lead into halftime, including offense, defense and special teams touchdowns.
Drew Lock’s three touchdown passes lifted him to 38 on the season, just two behind Andre Woodson’s SEC record of 40 touchdown passes in a season.
Vanderbilt (4-7, 0-7 in SEC play) looked the part of a team that is winless in SEC play, committing three turnovers. The Commodores hung tough early, but Missouri’s second quarter onslaught put the game away.
Making a bowl is huge for Missouri after two seasons without, and it’s an admirable cap to a strange season. Missouri lost five in a row, looking deader than Jacob Marley by midseason. But then the Tigers promptly won five in a row to get to 6-5 with one game left, which could very well be another win. Missouri has had only one close game, the six-point loss at Kentucky. But all of the 10 other games have been decided by 18 or more points. In the losses Missouri looked hopeless, in the wins the Tigers looked about as unstoppable as a freight train roaring downhill. Of course, the win streak has come against some bad teams and squads in turmoil, but in the current SEC East, just keeping things from falling apart is a path to success.
Before learning its bowl destination, Missouri travels to Arkansas on Black Friday (1:30 p.m. on CBS). Missouri and Arkansas have played just eight times, but the schools dutifully call it a rivalry, the Battle Line Rivalry, and play for an enormous trophy. Building rivalries in a new conference takes time, but Missouri and Arkansas share a border, and the series has produced some noteworthy moments since it became an annual game in 2014. That year, Missouri mounted a stirring comeback to win the SEC East title. In 2015, the Gary Pinkel era at Mizzou came to a ruthless end with a miserable loss to the Hogs in the rain in Fayetteville. Last year the Tigers rallied from down 24-7 to win.
This year Arkansas (4-7, 1-6 in SEC) is struggling. The Razorbacks have already parted ways with athletic director Jeff Long, and coach Bret Bielema could be next. But with nothing to lose, the Hogs might give a feisty effort in their final game of the season. Still, given the current trends of both teams, this is a game Missouri should win.
By Ben Herrold