Prior to this year's college football season, the SEC announced that they'd be switching to an all-conference, 10-game schedule. Obviously, that was never ideal for a school like Missouri that was in a transition year with a brand new head coach. Then on top of that, the SEC announced that LSU and Alabama would be added to the schedule. That made for a brutal schedule at the time. With a ten-game schedule that featured Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, etc. many saw that as a gauntlet for Missouri. Many projected they'd only win two games.
Fast forward to mid-December, a year since Drinkwitz was hired, and Missouri stands at 5-3 with a top-30 recruiting class in the country. Of course the recruiting doesn't add to the coach of the year resume, but it's gravy for Mizzou fans on top of what's been an impressive year already.
Let's breakdown Mizzou's season in a compact paragraph. The first two games were pretty rough. Double-digit losses to both Alabama and Tennessee. Looking back, Mizzou would love to have that Tennessee game back right around now and it obviously hurt not having a non-conference schedule going into that game because Mizzou didn't even actually have a starting quarterback. Had they been prepared knowing Connor Bazelak was the guy this time around that might be a double-digit win for Mizzou. Since then Missouri has won five of the last six beating, LSU, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas. Of course, they had an ugly loss to Florida, but that was as expected and you can't win them all. Outside of that, those are really good wins.
Now, some Missouri fans or just casual fans will argue that Missouri's wins aren't all that great. A beat-down LSU, a down Kentucky, a South Carolina that just fired their coach, and a terrible Vanderbilt. Arkansas too. But, look at it the other way, Mizzou was decimated by Covid against LSU, they hadn't beaten Kentucky in five years, South Carolina was no layup in the past, Mizzou lost to Vanderbilt last year, and Arkansas is a rivalry game after all. What was the biggest criticism of Barry Odom? He couldn't win the close games. He lost to Vanderbilt and Kentucky in 2019 and he also lost to Wyoming and again, Vanderbilt as a double-digit point favorite. That's unacceptable. Do we think the Odom regime wins half the games that Drinkwitz has?
Had there been a non-conference schedule this year, Missouri could be in line for 8 or 9 wins right now and that was unthinkable before the year. Instead, if Missouri wins at least one of their last two against Georgia and or Mississippi State, they will match last year's win total in a shortened, all-SEC season. Let that sink in. It is even more impressive when you look at what Mizzou lost from last year's team. Jonathan Nance, Kelly Bryant, Yasir Durant, Johnathan Johnson, Albert O., Cale Garrett, Jordan Elliot, and Demarkus Acy just to name a few. Half of those guys are in the NFL too. Now, when you look at Missouri's roster, guys like Tauskie Dove, Markell Utsey, Ennis Rakestraw, and Connor Bazelak have stepped up big time to elevate the team's win total. Drinkwitz has done a great job rallying the right group of guys and getting his players in open space. Sure, the defense has had some poor games and that'll happen, but Drinkwitz has overcome that.
Going back to some of the games Drinkwitz has won, LSU was really impressive. LSU isn't the same team that won the National Championship last year, but they're still the same LSU that recruits four and five star recruits over Missouri every year. Missouri won that game with a freshman quarterback, several starters out due to Covid, and only two scholarship defensive tackles available in a game where they held LSU to 45 rushing yards. Not to mention they broke the "Mizzou Curse". I don't think anyone really thought Mizzou was going to stop LSU on the one-yard line to win that game. They did it. Missouri never won that game before. How about Kentucky? Drinkwitz was able to shift the game plan to fit the matchup. Against LSU, they aired it out all game, but against Kentucky the next week, they ran it down their throats almost fifty times.
The game that really should have decided the award was the Arkansas game. It was a rivalry game, it was against Barry Odom, and there was more to it than years past. Arkansas was terrible last year and you have to give credit to Sam Pittman for turning it around. In a regular year they're probably a six or seven win team. That made this game the true battle for SEC Coach Of The Year. Two programs that have massively overachieved with new coaches going at it. Of course, Barry Odom was on the other sideline. Not as the head coach but still as a coach. What better opportunity to show you're better than the old coach than beating his team? Drinkwitz did that. He put up 50 points on Barry Odom's defense. Again, the Mizzou curse was broken. When Jamal Brooks dropped that interception on the Arkansas two-point conversion and it landed in an Arkansas receiver's hands every Mizzou fan watching the game said to themselves, "This is where Missouri loses as always". Instead, Drinkwitz told Brooks, "Relax, we're going to win this game". Missouri did just that. They drove down the field in less than a minute to score a game-winning field goal with freshman kicker Harrison Mevis. That solidified Drinkwitz as the coach of the future.
Drinkwitz also just gets it. He'll admit when he called a bad game, he's young, he's social media-oriented, and the players love him. He's recruiting at a ridiculous level and has more upside than arguably any coach in college football. Eli Drinkwitz probably won't win the award. They'll probably give it to Dan Mullen or Jimbo Fisher, but those are boring picks. Those teams should have been good. The coaching job Drinkwitz has done in year one with not so much to work with should win him the award even if the experts don't agree.