The best thing you can say about the Missouri football season is it ended with a win.

But even the overdue damage control was painful at times Friday afternoon at War Memorial Stadium, where the Tigers trailed early, led by only three points entering the fourth quarter and pulled out a 24-14 win.

All of this, mind you, came against down-trodden Arkansas (2-10), which was guided by an interim head coach, started its fifth different quarterback this year, played without a dozen or so players due to an outbreak of mumps and lost its 19th consecutive Southeastern Conference game.

The Tigers (6-6) struggled for 48 straight days in “football hell” between their victory over Mississippi on Oct. 12 and Friday, enduring their third five-game losing streak in four seasons under coach Barry Odom.

When beating Arkansas is a breakthrough, what does that mean about the state of the program?

“It wasn’t pretty,” Odom said of the victory Friday. “We all know that. But it was a win, and I’ll take as many of those as we can get. I’m happy for our team, I’m happy for our staff — the things that they’ve been through and the way that they kept preparing and putting our guys in position to play the way they did. Our team went and executed in crucial times, and we sure needed it.”

Normally, winning six games would unlock an extra month of practices and a bowl game, which, credit to Odom, Missouri has enjoyed the past two years. That would have happened for a third straight season had it not been for the ever-puzzling NCAA refusing to dole out equal punishment for equal crime.

Missouri officials handed out a piece of paper during a news conference this week in Kansas City shortly after the news broke that the Tigers’ postseason ban was being upheld. The comparison sheet displayed the similarities of Missouri’s case to that of Mississippi State, which was recently granted a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for academic fraud transgressions nearly identical to the Tigers.

It doesn't take an A-student to conclude that the Tigers’ penalties, including scholarship and recruiting restrictions as a result of a tutor who helped 12 student-athletes complete coursework from 2015 to 2016 — when many current MU football players were still in high school — appear unduly harsh.

Especially when the final decision was announced three days before Missouri’s regular-season finale.

“It’s what we were handed,” Odom said. “Our guys responded and played well enough to win a game.”

But was it enough to save Odom’s job after four seasons, in which he owns a 25-25 overall record?

The blame for the NCAA consequences shouldn't be pinned on Odom, who took over the reins of the program after the wrongdoings began. The way he united his team this season in the midst of uncertainty over the sanctions and didn’t have a single player leave as a result of them is an example of his leadership and care for the young men on his roster, which by now is firmly imprinted with his recruiting stamp.

“I wish we had an opportunity to go play in a bowl game somewhere, but they can’t take those six from this team,” Odom said of the Tigers’ wins this year.

Losing to Wyoming, Vanderbilt and Tennessee in the same season, however, is unacceptable.

At least it needs to be.

Only once in Odom’s tenure have the Tigers defeated a team in The Associated Press Top 25. And after improving the win total the past two seasons, that number regressed from eight to six this year.

“No idea,” Odom said Friday when asked about his job security, despite the fact he is under contract through 2024. “I’m going to wake up in the morning and go to work.”

Every team faces adversity, but it’s vital to note a couple blows derailed the Tigers mightily this season. Cale Garrett went down five games into the fall with a season-ending pectoral injury, ending what could have been an All-American campaign for the standout linebacker. Quarterback Kelly Bryant, a graduate transfer from Clemson widely viewed as some type of savior for a team in need of an experienced signal caller this season, battled lingering injuries throughout the second half of the Tigers’ slate, limiting his mobility and keeping him out of two games entirely, including Friday’s finale.

Hopes and aspirations of vying for a spot in the SEC championship game and maybe even a trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game, albeit pending the NCAA outcome, were wiped out completely the past two months despite a 5-1 start in which the Missouri offense was dominant and its defense air-tight.

My oh my, did things spiral after that, forcing the questions entering the offseason to pertain just as much to off the field as on it.

Just months after speculation that offensive coordinator Derek Dooley may leave for a head coaching job in the near future, he could be the fall guy for this disappointing season. Or it could be that athletic director Jim Sterk has reached the end of the line with Odom, whom Sterk wasn’t even around to hire in the first place.

The .500 season puts Sterk in a tough spot with a program he envisions as a national contender.

Over the past seven weeks, the best thing you can say about the Tigers is they beat Arkansas.

“The first thing was to go out and get this win today,” Missouri junior offensive lineman Trystan Colon-Castillo said. “Whatever happens after that, we’ll have to move on and go with it.”

kgraeler@columbiatribune.com