1. What’s at stake for Barry Odom’s future?
Win or lose Friday there’s no guarantee coach Barry Odom will be back for a fifth season on the Mizzou sideline. Just 24-25 at MU, Odom has five years left on his contract. But athletics director Jim Sterk has been noncommittal about the coach’s future in what’s become a nightmare season. For the third time in four years under Odom the Tigers have lost five straight games, but this year he’s failed to spark the November rally that salvaged the last two seasons. A victory Friday would give the Tigers the six wins normally required to gain bowl eligibility, but Tuesday’s decision by the NCAA Infractions Appeal Committee to uphold the Tigers' postseason ban means their season ends in Little Rock no matter the outcome. When asked Tuesday if the sanctions will factor into his evaluation of Odom’s performance this season, Sterk said the two topics are “completely separate” and that he’ll evaluate Odom’s status after the season. Would beating a two-win Arkansas team be enough to bring Odom back? With national signing day less than three weeks away and the national coaching carousel about to start spinning, Sterk can’t afford to delay that decision much beyond Friday’s game.
2. Can Bryant close brief Mizzou career on a high note?
With knee and hamstring injuries marring his only season in black and gold, quarterback Kelly Bryant will make his Mizzou finale on Friday, presuming he’s healthy enough to play against the Razorbacks. After a promising start, it’s been a rough stretch for the Clemson transfer, who needed to have fluid drained from his knee just to make last week’s start against Tennessee. Rarely showing his full repertoire of dual-threat talents, Bryant has lost more starts this year (five) than he experienced as a backup and starter in three-plus seasons at Clemson (four). As long as his knee holds up Friday, he’s got one last chance to leave a positive impression on Mizzou fans who wildly celebrated his commitment last December.
3. Will MU’s injured starters return for finale?
At the start of the week Odom was hopeful his cast of injured players could return for the game. Slot receiver Johnathon Johnson has missed the last three games because of a shoulder injury, while tight end Albert Okwuegbunam was a surprise pregame scratch last week because of shoulder soreness. The Tigers played the bulk of last week’s game without starting cornerbacks DeMarkus Acy (hamstring) and Jarvis Ware (head/neck), resulting in a career passing day for Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. On Monday, Odom expected Ware to return for Friday’s game but wasn’t sure about Acy.
4. Who’s at quarterback for the Hogs?
Five quarterbacks have attempted passes for the Razorbacks this season and Arkansas interim coach Barry Lunney Jr. hasn’t tipped his hand on his plans for Friday. That means, once gain, extra homework for Mizzou defensive coordinator Ryan Walters and his staff. The Tigers already have had to prepare for multiple quarterbacks this year for Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Tennessee. “We’ve got answers for what style of quarterback we're going to play,” Walters said. “Those are lessons that I'll carry with me for a long time just in terms of what works and how to take away certain things that the offense is trying to do. . . . We’ve faced the whole gamut of different styles within games, too. I mean, obviously it’s a testament to the kids not panicking and adjusting on the fly.”
5. Little crowd in Little Rock?
Arkansas continues its controversial tradition of moving a home game away from campus to the state capital city, a move that could lead to a smaller crowd at War Memorial Stadium, especially considering both teams’ struggles this season. The Tigers’ and Razorbacks’ combined seven victories marks the fewest for both teams in a Mizzou regular-season finale since 1995, when 2-8 Missouri met 3-7 Iowa State, a 45-31 victory for the Tigers. This marks Mizzou’s first regular-season finale since 1996 in which both teams are assured of not playing in a bowl game. That year, Odom’s freshman season, the Tigers beat Kansas to finish 5-6, while KU was 4-7.
Prediction: Missouri 27, Arkansas 17.