Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A season ends

The point was driven home with each Texas A&M touchdown, each highlight by ridiculous Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel, each punt by Missouri, far past the point of overkill. It was evident going into this game, but painfully obvious by the time Texas A&M took a 42-0 lead over Missouri. The Aggies (10-2, 6-2 in SEC) are having a much better start to life in the Southeastern Conference than fellow newcomer Missouri (5-7, 2-6 in SEC).

Texas A&M benefited from the stumbles of Arkansas and Auburn in its West Division. But first-year coach Kevin Sumlin and Manziel, the freshman known as “Johnny Football who just might win the Heisman Trophy, largely helped the Aggies make their own luck and take advantage of those opportunities.

Like Charlie Brown getting rocks while trick-or-treating, Missouri got injuries, struggles keeping a quarterback healthy and effective and an East Division that was a bit tougher than expected.

But on Saturday night, Missouri was a prop, the necessary “other team” in the story about Johnny Football and rising Texas A&M. If you threw a quarter in a jar each time the cameras showed Manziel on the sideline, you might be buying dinner.

The injury excuse was real for Missouri, particularly on the offensive line. But the Tiger defense had star linemen Sheldon Richardson back Saturday and was pretty much injury-free, and yet Missouri couldn’t force a punt until the fourth quarter, with A&M backups in the game.

The loss ended Missouri’s season and snapped the program’s streak of seven straight bowls. It was Missouri’s first losing season since 2004, and worst overall and conference records since 2002, coach Gary Pinkel’s second year.

Playing five top-10 teams made for a tough road, but it’s the home losses to the likes of Vanderbilt and Syracuse that will likely vex Tiger fans while watching other teams play in the bowls.

This season had its indicators of how narrow the margins are between success and failure. If Ricahrdson plays against Syracuse, if Missouri didn’t drop a potential game-winning interception in the end zone in that game, if quarterback James Franklin doesn’t take a helmet to the knee against Vanderbilt, maybe the Tigers are in a bowl this year. On the flip side, if the Tigers don’t score on fourth-and-long against Tennessee, if they don’t make that goal line stand against Arizona State, if they don’t rally against UCF, this season could’ve been even worse.

But 5-7 is where the Tigers ended up. After Missouri’s last losing season, eight years ago, Pinkel made big changes to the offense. He largely seems to attribute this season to injury woes, but he still may make a few tweaks this offseason.

Missouri also needs a big recruiting year to build up depth. Talent depth makes teams more immune to the injuries and suspensions that are a part of big-time college football.

Tiger fans have a right to be angry and disappointed with this season. It felt like a lost chance to capitalize on all the fan fervor of the move to the SEC. Next year is huge.

Next week we’ll wrap up this season and take an early look at 2013.

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