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Changes galore as Mizzou resumes season

By Dave Matter
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

COLUMBIA, Mo. – A Missouri football season unlike any other continues to wind its way through sudden twists and turns.

When the Tigers (2-3) kick off Saturday at South Carolina (2-5) – if the Tigers kick off Saturday – it will be their first game in three weeks. That will be MU's longest layoff between regular-season games since college football suspended games for a week after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

The changes don't stop there: It also will mark the first time coach Eli Drinkwitz's team is favored to win this season. The Tigers were a 6-point favorite on Monday night.

The changes are more dramatic for the Gamecocks. Across the sideline at Williams-Brice Stadium will be someone other than Will Muschamp, now the team's former coach. South Carolina fired him Sunday night after a third straight defensive disaster for the Gamecocks (2-5).

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will finish the season as South Carolina's interim head coach. Muschamp, jettisoned midway through his fifth year, just like he was in his fourth year at Florida, was 28-30 at South Carolina but 3-1 against Mizzou.

As for Saturday's game – a 6:30 p.m. (Central time) kickoff on SEC Network alternate channel – the focus shifts to Mizzou and its roster. MU had to postpone this past Saturday's home game against Georgia because the roster was short on defensive linemen, athletics director Jim Sterk confirmed in a radio interview last week. The Southeastern Conference's COVID-19 protocols require teams to have a minimum of four scholarship defensive linemen available. The Tigers were down to three, a team source said.

As of Sunday, the Tigers were in good shape to have enough available players for Saturday's game, a source confirmed. Three of the four players quarantined last week because of contact tracing are expected to be available, along with a few players recovering from injuries. Drinkwitz should know more when he addresses the media Tuesday afternoon. The football program conducts three rounds of COVID tests per week – on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Familiar territory

This will mark the fourth time in five years Mizzou has faced an SEC team with an interim coach. In 2016, MU was Louisiana State's first opponent after it fired Les Miles and turned the program over to Ed Orgeron. LSU thrashed Barry Odom's Tigers 42-7. The next year, Florida fired Jim McElwain the week before playing at Mizzou, where the Tigers routed the Gators 45-16, with Randy Shannon serving as the Gators' interim coach. Last season, Arkansas fired Chad Morris with two games left in the regular season. In what became Odom's final game at Mizzou, the Tigers outlasted the Razorbacks 24-14 in Little Rock, Arkansas, with Barry Lunney Jr. as interim coach.

Muschamp lost five of his final six games last year – including a home loss to Drinkwitz's Appalachian State team – then appeared to stabilize things this year with a victory over Auburn on Oct. 17. The momentum didn't last. The Gamecocks gave up 52, 48 and 59 points in consecutive defeats to LSU, Texas A&M and Mississippi, leading to Sunday's dismissal. Muschamp had four years left on his contract and will depart with a reported $13.2 million buyout.

Bobo is in his first season at South Carolina after serving as Colorado State's head coach the previous five years.

"It was a tough time (Sunday) night, as I told our players," Bobo told reporters Monday. "We lost our coach, our leader and a lot of us coaches lost a friend and a father figure to a lot of those players. It was a tough day yesterday and will be a tough time going forward."

Road warriors

Since joining the SEC in 2012, the Tigers are 7-3 as road favorites in SEC games with wins at Vanderbilt (2013, 2017), Kentucky (2013), Arkansas (2017, 2019), Mississippi (2013) and Tennessee (2018). Two of the three losses came last year, against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The other loss? At South Carolina in 2018, when Odom's Tigers were a 1-point favorite and lost 37-35.

Early birds

Missouri's Nov. 28 home game against Arkansas will kick off at 11 a.m. and be televised on SEC Network, the league announced Monday. The game originally was set for Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, but both schools agreed to move the game to Columbia when the SEC announced revised 10-game schedules.

From 2014-19, the Missouri-Arkansas game moved to the Friday after Thanksgiving for the afternoon CBS telecast, but all seven scheduled SEC games that weekend are to be played off on Saturday this year.