Barry Odom

Hope is a valuable currency in college football. After Mizzou upset Arkansas at the end of last season, fans had reason to buy what Odom was selling coming into the 2017 season: a third-year starter at quarterback, an offensive line with another year of experience and a defense that couldn’t get much worse.

Five games in, fans’ optimism is quickly fading. In their four games against Football Bowl Subdivision competition, the Tigers have lost by a combined score of 157-64. Mizzou showed promise Saturday at Kentucky, yet some are still wondering if Odom could be fired in his second year as head coach. Here are three questions you should ask when considering this possibility:

Does Odom’s buyout make him harder to fire?

The athletic department had plenty of leverage while hiring Odom, who was likely willing to take a less favorable contract in exchange for his dream job as MU's head coach. As a result, his $1.9 million buyout — the amount Mizzou would have to pay Odom to end his contract this year — is the lowest among SEC coaches, according to USA Today. The buyout cost will probably be less of a factor in athletic director Jim Sterk’s decision than at other SEC schools with coaches on the hot seat. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, whose team blew a 34-point lead against UCLA to start the season, would get $11.25 million if let go this year, while Arkansas would owe Bret Bielema $15 million if they decide to fire the coach before 2018. Essentially, if Sterk does sour on Odom, he won’t have to worry about paying such a hefty amount to get rid of him.

Does Mizzou need to win an SEC game for Odom to keep his job?

Although the Tigers showed they can compete with SEC talent against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday, Odom remains 2-9 against conference opponents. Vanderbilt and Arkansas are struggling again this season, making them Mizzou’s best opportunities to gain an SEC win. Even if the Tigers don't beat one of them, there is little precedent to suggest Odom will lose his job this season. In the past 30 years, only one SEC head football coach who wasn’t serving in some interim role has been fired after his second season: Vanderbilt coach Rod Dowhower, who had a 4-18 record in 1995 and 1996. Even the likes of Tennessee coach Derek Dooley and Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, both of whom won a total of four SEC games, were given a third year. If the Tigers are competitive against conference foes, Odom’s job is likely safe, although losing to Idaho or Connecticut — teams with bad records in inferior conferences — could change that.

Could the energy level of Mizzou football fans impact Odom's future?

This is a more abstract measure than the buyout cost or number of wins, but it could be a deciding factor. Many students left before the first quarter ended during the team’s blowout loss to Auburn in September, and their lack of excitement is understandable. If you’re a junior at Mizzou, you haven’t seen the Tigers win a homecoming game or make it to a bowl game, which are mundane accomplishments in the world of college football. There isn’t much reason for optimism heading forward, either. According to Scout.com, Missouri’s 2018 recruiting class is the second-worst in the SEC, trailing only an Ole Miss program that has been charged with major NCAA recruiting violations. Top-tier talent is necessary if Sterk wants Mizzou football to be a top-tier team on a yearly basis. By the end of the season, he should know if that trajectory is possible with Odom.

Contributing online writer, Fall 2017. Tom is a junior studying data journalism at the University of Missouri with plans to graduate in May 2019. You can reach him by email at tncoulter@mail.missouri.edu.

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