With the coronavirus pandemic still raging, uncertainty reigns in college football. Two Power Five conferences, the SEC and Big Ten, have already announced they will play conference-only schedules this fall, and the other three — the ACC, Big 12 and the Pac-12 — have yet to reveal their intentions.
This has potential implications for Missouri State, which will open its season Aug. 29 against Oklahoma, a Big 12 power. That’s a week earlier than originally planned, as the NCAA granted a waiver to move it up, to allow for more schedule flexibility in the face of COVID-19.
Such games have come to be called “guarantee games” — guaranteed victory for Oklahoma, guaranteed payday for Missouri State, which will earn a reported $600,000 off its visit to Norman.
But again, uncertainty reigns — and not just because the season might be postponed. Or cancelled.
It’s also because of the nature of the beast. While guarantee games usually go according to form, that is not always the case. The shining example has long been Appalachian State’s 2007 upset victory at Michigan, since the Mountaineers began the day as 33-point underdogs. But there have actually been bigger surprises in recent years, none bigger than Howard’s 49-45 victory at UNLV in 2017. The Rebels were favored by 44.5 points.
Stuff happens in college football. The game is played with a funny-looking ball, and it takes some funny bounces. You wouldn’t expect Missouri State, led by new coach Bobby Petrino, to be able to do much against the lordly Sooners — especially since the Bears went 1-10 last year, are 27-74 over the last nine and haven’t enjoyed a winning season since 2009. And the Sooners, 12-2 last year, have in the meantime have won five straight Big 12 championships and reached the College Football Playoff in four of those seasons.
If nothing else, Petrino told Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel, his players will welcome the challenge, sizable as it may be.
“Oh, it’ll be a lot of fun for ’em,” said Petrino, who is entering his 37th year in coaching and his 16th as a head man. “They’ll certainly be fired up about it. First thing we’re looking forward to is the possibility of getting on the practice field and learning about each other and understanding how to work and how we’re going to go about our business on a daily basis.”
Petrino, hired in January, was able to get some sense of his players in winter conditioning. But school was closed in March because of the pandemic, meaning the Bears were denied spring practice. Petrino and his new staff were reduced to holding meetings, whether among the coaches or with the players, via Zoom, and it wasn’t until June 1 that the team returned to campus for summer conditioning.
Petrino, whose previous collegiate head-coaching stops were at Louisville (twice), Arkansas and Western Kentucky, needs to find a quarterback. To that end he has high hopes for Southern Mississippi transfer Jaden Johnson, who had committed to the Cardinals when Petrino was there two years ago, only to reopen his recruitment after Petrino was fired.
The offense as a whole was one of the worst in the country in 2019, but Petrino has long been known for his offensive acumen.
“I feel like we’ll be able to score points,” he told host Art Hains during a video chat in late May.
Whether they will or not is still to be determined. Then again, that’s true of a lot of things at present.