Sunday, November 27, 2011

Taking a look at Missouri's 2011 season

Last Saturday Missouri closed out its regular season and, for the foreseeable future, the Border War with a 24-10 win over Kansas, capping a modest three-game winning streak.

Kansas clawed to a 10-0 lead as Missouri quarterback James Franklin struggled with interceptions, but then Missouri got out of its way and rolled this underwhelming Kansas team (2-10, 0-9 in Big 12 play), scoring 24 unanswered points.

Missouri held Kansas to a paltry 137 yards of offense. It was a great defensive performance, even if Kansas’ offensive players often appear to be running in knee-deep water. On offense, eight different Tigers caught a pass.

The three straight wins to end the season certainly casts a better light on what was at times a frustrating season for the Tigers. Missouri was 4-5 before the three wins, two of which came at home with the other, last Saturday’s game in Kansas City, at a neutral site that was at least a 70-30 fan split in favor of Missouri. The schedule was certainly tougher early on, but credit Missouri for doing what it needed to do against Texas, Texas Tech and Kansas to ensure a winning season.

For me, this season highlighted how narrow the margin is between success and failure in big-time college football. If the formerly reliable Grant Ressel makes a field goal at Arizona State, Missouri has eight wins with a shot at nine should they win their bowl. On the flip side, if Texas A&M doesn’t gag away the game against the Tigers and Missouri doesn’t get a tipped interception inside the five-yard line against Texas Tech, they might not be in a bowl at all.

But things did unfold that way, and Missouri finishes the regular season 7-5, 5-4 in Big 12 play. The rose-colored glasses set of Missouri prognosticators had this team winning nine or 10 games, but most even-keeled media outlets had them going 8-4, also the record I thought they would post. So in that light, 7-5 is an acceptable mark, especially with Missouri having a first-year starter at the most important position, quarterback. Call it a rebuilding year if you must.

The frustration came from the inconsistency, flashes of brilliance mixed with Missouri beating Missouri, as well as what could have been; Missouri lost three games by a touchdown or less.

Next year will certainly be a huge year. Missouri joins the SEC, and the door is open for Missouri to compete in the East Division right away. Also, if this was a rebuilding season, okay, just don’t start stringing them together.

But first Missouri has its 29th bowl game. The Big 12 has a bowl selection order, but the bowls aren’t obligated to select teams in the order they finished, so the resulting process is about as predictable as spring weather. The most likely bowl destinations seem be the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York City or the Texas Bowl in Houston. The Insight and Holiday Bowls are also possible. The Tigers’ bowl announcement should come on Sunday, Dec. 4.

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