Missouri Tigers head coach Barry Odom and players fueled more tension with Tennessee football at SEC Media Days. Their program is the Volunteers’ benchmark.
In the future, Tennessee football could be looking to get back to the level of the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators. But given where they are right now, they have to shoot lower. And the Missouri Tigers have given them the perfect reaching spot.
Mizzou has had the Vols’ number since arriving in the SEC. With the exception of the two Mike DeBord years, in which the Tigers were in transition from Gary Pinkel to Barry Odom, UT has failed to win any games in this series.
But on top of losing the last two years in blowout fashion, a war of words exploded in the offseason. Barry Odom started it by criticizing Tennessee football’s coaches for going after his players back in February after news of his program receiving a one-year bowl ban hit.
At SEC Media Days Monday, he appeared to clear the air by saying he and Jeremy Pruitt talked it out. But then came defensive back DeMarkus Acy, who was one of the Mizzou players making the trip. He referred to the series with the Vols as “pretty fun.
"“I don’t know if you have seen the results, but it is pretty fun.”"
With that quote and Odom’s quotes slamming the Vols earlier in the year, it doesn’t matter what air was cleared. Shots have been fired, lines have been drawn, and UT has a clear focus this year if it wants to return back to the upper-echelon of SEC talent.
Mizzou should be a favorite over the Vols be every standard, but with talk of them winning nine games from Phil Steele and the ESPN Football Power Index favoring UT to win in Columbia this year by the slightest margin, this is becoming a game that could define Pruitt’s program. And this offseason only made that more so.
Let’s be honest. Acy is right. The game is fun if you are a Missouri player. Nobody would have predicted them to have a 5-2 record against Tennessee football since joining the SEC in 2012. But over the past two years, they haven’t just won. They’ve dominated, winning 50-17 both times.
And for all Odom’s complaints and then “clearing of the air,” the Vols failed to lure anybody away from Mizzou. Meanwhile, the Tigers still have Clemson Tigers transfer Kelly Bryant at quarterback. They could also potentially see their bowl ban lifted. So all the momentum remains with them.
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Oh, and Bryant also already faced Jeremy Pruitt when Clemson played the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff semifinals at the end of the 2017 season. So there’s a connection on that front as well.
Finally, to bring more intensity to what could be a brewing rivalry, Derek Dooley remains offensive coordinator at Missouri. Ironically, the game everybody remembers as the one that got him fired is his loss to Missouri in their inaugural SEC season in 2012. Sure, he coached the next week at the Vanderbilt Commodores, but he was done by then.
By the way, Dooley’s former offensive coordinator at UT, Jim Chaney, is back on Rocky Top as Jeremy Pruitt’s offensive coordinator. Then there’s the fact that Odom himself was defensive coordinator of the Memphis Tigers for three years, who desperately want to be a UT rival in football.
So the connections run deep. And the offseason trash talk makes it run deeper. As a result, before even thinking about the Floridas and Georgias, Pruitt and the Vols should focus on finally silencing all the talking going on at Missouri.
The peak barometer for UT this year would be somehow upsetting Missouri. Their basic barometer when it comes to bowl eligibility are the South Carolina Gamecocks and Mississippi State Bulldogs. But beating Mizzou on the road would signal a season exceeding expectations. So they are a great benchmark for Tennessee football. And now the Vols should be determined to beat them.