Blum: How will Missouri's 2021 season be remembered? Why we still need time to tell
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It's a loaded question, one where some pertinent information remains unknown.
The query into how Missouri football's 2021 season will be remembered is a nuanced answer.
Outside of ending the Tigers’ six-year streak without a bowl victory, does Missouri's postseason result drastically change the view of year No. 2 under Eli Drinkwitz?
Of the 13 games that will be part of the Tigers' 2021 slate, all but one is now in the past, with Friday's 34-17 Battle Line Rivalry loss to Arkansas being the 12th.
Missouri will wait more than a week to know the who, when and where ingredients for its postseason matchup.
A victory and the Tigers will finish with a winning record, 7-6, for the first time since 2018.
In theory, that should put the program in a better spot moving forward, even though its next game after that won't be for an additional eight months.
And the numerous practices between the postseason showdown and Missouri's 2022 season opener, on the road against Middle Tennessee State next Sept. 3, should give Missouri plenty of time to set itself up for success no matter how 2021 ends.
A loss drops Missouri to 6-7, ends its season on a two-game losing skid and clinches that the Tigers won't have won a game by more than a touchdown since defeating North Texas on Oct. 9.
There are phrases in the Missouri lexicon revolving around the definition of progress for the Tigers. Drinkwitz's remarks of "closing the gap" and "we can't skip steps" appear to be the most substantial self-assessments since his takeover.
Missouri will finish fourth in the Southeastern Conference's East Division standings regardless of the rest of this weekend's results, behind No. 1 Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee.
The three teams below the Tigers in the division standings represent their conference victories. The crossover losses to Arkansas and Texas A&M total Missouri's league record to 3-5.
"I think that success can be a hard thing to measure at times," Missouri linebacker Blaze Alldredge said. "Obviously, we expect more and we want more out of ourselves. But when you consider kind of the rough patch that we had, especially as a defense starting in the year and going on into the middle of the season, to be able to kind of dig yourself out of that and finish bowl eligible and turn things around defensively, there's definitely a measure of success.
"I don't think that anybody's happy. I think the standard is higher. But at the end of the day, you just take your lemons and you make lemonade. So we're going to keep pushing, hopefully get a good bowl, go out there and get a nice win and just keep building on that.
"It's only a year two. It's a process to build a program, especially in the SEC. Not a lot of people really obtain overnight success."
After Missouri's 38-point home loss where it allowed 45 first-half points to Tennessee, wouldn’t any Tiger fan have taken being bowl eligible right now, knowing the team would have to go undefeated against its remaining unranked opponents to do so?
One would've been crazy not to accept that offer right on the spot after the shellacking at the hands of the Volunteers.
And become bowl eligible is what MU did.
There's plenty of room for acceptable criticism when it comes to the 2021 squad. Tackling better early in the season could have meant wins against Boston College and Kentucky.
The perspective of Missouri's season shifted early and never truly recovered. How the Tigers are viewed completely changes at 7-5 or 8-4, compared to a second straight season ending the regular season with an even record.
The glass-half-full approach worked at the end of 2020. Drinkwitz was in his first season leading the Tigers amid a pandemic that made the only predictable pattern unpredictability itself.
Constant schedule and personnel changes, COVID-19 protocols and the toll of an all-SEC schedule made 5-5 look favorable.
It's a regression to this point to see Missouri at 6-6 because it was a more-normal college football season, and we should be grateful that only one FBS game was postponed due to COVID-19 this season.
Yet, year No. 2 under Drinkwitz put a better view on where the Tigers need to improve and how far they've already come.
That could be why a bowl game is so big for the program regardless of result. It's another month around each other. That's invaluable time for synergy for what should correctly be called a rebuild.
"We'll have a team meeting Sunday. We'll lift three times next week. We'll have bowl practice next Saturday, Sunday. They'll have finals," Drinkwitz said of the immediate future. "And we'll come back from finals and have bowl practice and prep on the weekends. And by then we should know where our bowl destination is. And then we'll count backwards from there, get prepared for that game."
So, that loaded question about how year No. 2 will be remembered?
Maybe we should revisit on Black Friday 2022, because Drinkwitz's debut season looks even better now with time.
We'll see if 2021 has the same effect.
Contact Eric Blum at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.