Thursday, November 14, 2019

Quandary Peak

Going to Colorado feels like coming home for me. The “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sings, the first view of mountains, the familiar views and roads all feel like they welcome me back again and again to a place where I belong, a wild and free place asking you to explore, as wild and free and unfettered as this ridiculous sentence.

It is “Chutes and Ladders” as a state, ridges and peaks rising higher and higher, elevation always on people’s minds, and creeks and rivers racing lower and lower, draining the state in a whitewater flurry. Some of my ancestors were born out there and lived out there. My family has taken vacations there for generations, and still there are more things to see and feel and explore.

I feel at home in Colorado. It can be a harsh and rugged place, but it is a place to heal, a place to learn, a place to relax and exercise and do both at once. Colorado fascinates me and makes me feel alive.

* * *

The sign at the bottom of the Quandary Peak trail gets right to the point, issuing its warning to hikers.
“There are no easy Fourteeners.”

You can say that again.

With its well-defined, Class 1 trail, Quandary is considered a relatively easy Fourteener, the reverent name used to refer to Colorado’s mountains over 14,000 feet, although “relatively” is a key word there. It’s also fairly close to Denver, and located near the popular tourist town of Breckenridge, so it’s a popular option as people’s first Fourteener to climb.

I did not expect it to be easy at all, and still the climb up Quandary was harder than I anticipated. It’s almost like a little healthy doubt, a feeling that you’ll need to give it your all and be ready to battle to meet the challenge, is the necessary mindset for climbing a Fourteener. Hours after passing by that sign and it’s blunt warning, I was gulping chestfuls of cold mountain air, legs aching, inching along, realizing there was indeed nothing easy about this hike.

* * *

Quandary Peak rises to 14,265 feet, the highest peak in the Tenmile Range of the Rocky Mountains. It resides in Summit County, which is comprised of high country in central Colorado. Almost all of Summit County is above 8,000 feet, with a lot of it considerably higher. My friends and I, here to climb Quandary, stayed in Breckenridge, which sits 9,600 feet above sea level. It’s a skiing town, but it’s also a popular spot in the summer, with plenty of shops and places to eat along its main drag.
It’s a pretty well-to-do area, and it's a popular bachelorette party destination, like Nashville but with altitude. It’s also known as a spring break option, like Cabo but with fresh powder.

My friends and I had a reasonable, restrained amount of fun in town the day before our climb. We started early, setting out from the parking lot at the base of the trail at 6:53 a.m.

After passing that ominous sign, which had other tips like being aware of changing weather conditions and carrying extra water, food and clothing, the trail climbed through trees. I was carrying approximately enough water to douse a decade’s worth of Super Bowl winning coaches, so I was good. I was sipping and sweating and wondering and we wound up the early stages of the trail, through an alpine forest.

* * *

As gradually happens when climbing a 14er, very gradually in my case, the trees begin to get smaller and thin out. At last, you get above timberline, leaving only rocks and dirt and sparse patches of tundra.

By this point, all doubt is removed that Colorado is our most beautiful state. Views swept out in all directions, high mountain valleys and lakes, rocks and lingering snow, masterpiece landscapes in every direction. Colorado is so beautiful it doesn’t have to worry about getting the right angles for Instagram posts.

We were now on the ridge, the long gradual backbone of the mountain that would take us to the top. You can see the summit area as soon as you get above timberline and on the ridge, but it’s pretty apparent the destination is still far away.

It was a gradual and steady climb, but plenty challenging, over infinite shattered rocks. Then came a flatter section to catch your breath and eat fruit snacks and Uncrustables, the official snack of rank amateur 14er climbers.

The final climb to the summit loomed in front of us. The rocky mass of Quandary Peak pierced the impossibly blue Colorado sky. It looked steep and long and daunting.

* * *

That last stretch was grueling as my friends and I inched closer to the top. I paused periodically to gasp cold and thin air for a few seconds, tell my friend Brenden to feel free to go around me anytime, anytime at all, then press on. It was a battle. I found my heart and will and just kept going.

Finally, finally, after all that hammering the metaphorical rock cracked, and the actual rocks crested a bit, and we were on a final flat stretch, only a matter of yards, leading up to the actual summit. The hard work of the climb was behind us, and there was the final, triumphant ceremonial steps, like walking up on the stage to accept your award.

Quandary Peak is one heck of an award. Right around three hours after we set out, we were on top of the mountain. I swore the wind was coming at me from two directions, but periodically it was pause and it felt darn good up there. We took pictures, we ate, we savored.

Pikes Peak rose as a hazy bluish shape way back to the east, with the vast Great Plains beyond. We could now see west at the top, to seemingly countless summits and ridges. Like a movie with an A-list cast, so many of the state’s most famous peaks were visible. In addition to Pikes Peak to the east, the view west showed the familiar shapes of the state’s two highest mountains, Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, and many other peaks high up on Colorado’s elevation list. This was the mountaintop, our euphoria in the sky.

* * *

But then, like having to pay the bill after a great dinner, we had the hike back down. It was more gorgeous views, close views of mountains goats, and the relentless firing of the quads that comes with taking thousands of downhill steps in a row.

Just when it felt like I was getting blisters on my feet, we were down. We wanted to celebrate, but our bodies wanted to rest. After resting and Instagramming and getting dinner, I was still feeling a little less than my best, resolving to be in better shape for the next 14er climb.

But the Breckenridge condo where we were staying had a hot tub, and a good soak in it helped restore a good bit of my swagger. An evening in a hot tub in the mountains of Colorado is living life all the way up. I was where I needed to be.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Gameday in Wyoming

It’s gameday in Wyoming.

Yesterday I rode with friends across the delightful state of Nebraska on I-80, past corn and cows and center pivots, past fewer and fewer people until you reach the Wyoming threshold.

It was the same road and same friends I rode with 10 years earlier, on a preposterous 5,000-mile road trip to Boise, Idaho, and Glendale, Arizona, and plenty of points in between, to watch Mizzou play in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. That trip was spontaneity and wonder and determination, driving all night and singing along with the radio and finding our way out on the blue turf at Boise State.

I was young then. I am still young now. But that word “still” is a subtle distinction, conveying that we’re deeper in that stage. It’s like when Joe Posnanski writes that people say an athlete is “still fast” or “still one of the best.” Years before they were simply “fast” or “one of the best.”

But the passage of time has its benefits, new technology and music and topics to make the journey interesting. New friends become old friends, and that might be the best part. Change, even gradual change, makes for an adventure.

The start of each football season feels like a new adventure starting, and this one shows potential. You can see the pieces for a very good Tiger offense. The defense might require more creativity of thought, but you can see ways for it to be effective. The odd schedule, front loaded with home games, is a robust challenge to tailgaters’ mettle, but also an opportunity to gradually build momentum and a winning streak. The possibility exists of an incredibly hyped game at Georgia in early November.

But first is this game in Wyoming, our least-populated state, the land of cowboys and coal and Yellowstone. The Tigers play tonight in War Memorial Stadium, a venue with the same name as the site of their final game this season. Today’s game is a delightfully different way to open the season, on the road in the highest FBS stadium. The start of college football season leaves me breathless; here it could literally be the case.

Sure, I could come up with a long list of reasons I love college sports; the indelible memories with friends, the friendships spawned from it, the simple joy of tailgating, the daily anticipation and excitement of following a storyline that plays out over decades, countless stories shared over food and drink that begin with “Remember the time Mizzou…”, the perfection of Missouri autumn, the time travel of Homecoming, the gripping drama, how simple games can make in-between and out-of-the-way places the stage for events that seem to shake the universe, the life-mirroring lessons of hope and dealing with defeat.

But in the end, I think it’s more interesting to know and appreciate what I love, rather than constantly picking at why I love it. I analyze and overanalyze anyway. So let’s simply say I love college football, like I love the sight and sound and smell of rain, like I love Colorado and mountains, like I love sunsets and writing and looking at the ocean.

And so, I love college football. And if you’re one of those I share it with or if you’ve made it to the end of all this, I love you, too. It wouldn’t be the same without you.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2018 Tigers saw a Liberty Bowl, Drew Lock's senior season

Ahead of the 2018 Mizzou football season, MU sent Drew Lock bobbleheads to season ticket buyers, and the bobbleheads bore a passing resemblance to the senior quarterback. It was the season of Lock and defensive lineman Terry Beckner, Jr., both of whom had come back for one more season. Lock was the offensive player from the Kansas City area, Beckner the defensive player from the St. Louis area.

The season began with high hopes, and a Sept. 1 home game with UT Martin. Missouri won 51-14, as expected, and the season was off and running. Missouri hosted Wyoming the next week, the only home evening kickoff of the whole season. It was a rainy day off and on, but conditions were pretty decent during the game and Missouri won 40-13.

The Tigers then traveled to Purdue on Sept. 15. The Mizzou-Purdue game in 2017 was awful, a Boilermaker beatdown of the Tigers. But Missouri played a lot better in the 2018 game, maybe actually tried, and won a wild, back-and-forth game, 40-37. The Tigers did give up an obscene amount of passing yards to Purdue’s backup quarterback, but they were 3-0.

Then came one of the biggest games of the year, as Missouri hosted No. 2 Georgia on Sept. 22. It was a huge opportunity, a chance to break through against the Bulldogs and grab the early lead in the SEC East race. But the Tigers couldn’t catch a break or avoid mistakes, with a fumble late in a play being returned for a touchdown, another missed kick that maybe actually was good, an interception bouncing off a Tiger receiver’s hands. It just wasn’t a clean effort, wasn’t near Missouri’s A game. To pull an upset like this, you generally need your A game and to catch some breaks, as opposed to a C game and having a few random breaks go against you. In any event, Georgia was the better team, and the Dawgs won 43-29. Georgia went on to the win the East, losing to Alabama in a dramatic SEC Championship Game.

Missouri then played at South Carolina after a bye week. The Tigers looked like the better team earlier, but the Gamecocks rallied. The game featured rapidly changing weather, downpours and sunshine on the same drives, before eventually seeing a lightning delay. After the delay, Missouri seemed like they might win when Tucker McCann bombed a long field goal, but South Carolina had time for the game-winning drive, and Missouri couldn’t stop them. The Gamecocks won 37-35.

Next up was an Oct. 13 game at No. 1 Alabama. It was a brutally tough game, with the Tide offense rolling under Tua Tagovailoa. But it was also a classic SEC experience, traveling down to Tuscaloosa to play a strong Alabama team. Nick Saban’s dynasty was rolling on. Missouri hung in the game early, but eventually the Crimson Tide defense stopped letting Missouri score, and the Bama offense kept adding touchdowns. The Tide won 39-10.

The big moment of the night was perhaps the return of “Dixieland Delight,” a song frequently played during Bama games, with the fans singing along and adding customized lyrics to the chorus. The university and hand-wringers in general didn’t like some of the lyrics (they weren’t singing “duck Auburn”), so they had quit playing it for awhile. But they brought it back that night, and the crowd stayed well into the blowout to sing along. Loudspeakers attempted to pipe in corrected, softened lyrics, but the joy at getting to sing along with the song was enormous, putting a jolt into the massive Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Missouri returned home for the Oct. 20 Homecoming game with Memphis. Both teams had strong offenses, but Missouri was better overall and notched a 65-33 win to stop the three-game losing streak.

Then came the most infamous game of the season, with Missouri hosting No. 12 Kentucky. The Wildcats were having a special season, winning 10 games. But their offense was sometimes suspect, and Missouri led 14-3 at the half.

But the Tiger offense was an embarrassment in the second half, failing to achieve a single first down during the entire half, all while leading, when burning some clock would have really helped the defense. Instead, eight - EIGHT! - three and outs. Of course, Kentucky kept having to punt right back at the Tigers, but finally, perhaps just by sheer volume of punts returned, Kentucky ran a punt back for a touchdown, and it was game on. The two-point try failed, so Kentucky still needed a touchdown. On the Wildcat’s final chance, their previously stagnant Kentucky offense drove 81 yards in 1:24 through the Tiger defense. But Missouri appeared to have a final frantic stop at the goal line, but an official called pass interference. There was some contact between the receiver and the Tiger defender, but it was a very controversial and disputed call as to whether it was enough for a penalty, and who even initiated the contact. But it was called, and of course then Kentucky scored a touchdown on the ensuing final play for a walkout 15-14 win.

Tiger fans were furious, both at the call and at the second half collapse when the game seemed in hand. Missouri was now 4-4.

But the Tigers embarked on another great November to end the season on a positive note. Missouri won 38-17 at No. 13 Florida, probably the biggest win of Barry Odom’s tenure so far. It was a huge win after a bitterly disappointing loss. Then came a survive-and-advance grinding win at home against Vanderbilt, 33-28, with the Commodores throwing into the end zone on the tense final play of the game.

Missouri got to play the CBS game of the week the next week, Nov. 17, and crushed Tennessee 50-17 in Neyland Stadium. Missouri then wrapped up the season with a Black Friday home game with sort-of rival Arkansas. The Razorbacks were bad, and the weather was awful, a cold driving rain, but Missouri played great, rolling to a dominating 38-0 win.

The Tigers finished the season with a Liberty Bowl appearance against Oklahoma State on New Year’s Eve in Memphis. Tiger fans had a great time on Beale Street, their first Liberty Bowl in 40 years. It was a wild game, a matchup of old Big Eight teams, with Missouri leading 16-14 at the half. Then the Cowboys dominated the third quarter, leading 35-19 heading to the fourth quarter. Missouri came roaring back, drawing within 35-33 before an OSU field goal made it 38-33. Then Lock and the Tigers had one last chance. They gradually moved down the field, perhaps trying to burn clock as well as score. But then, in Oklahoma State territory, on a fourth down, Lock ran with the ball but was stopped just short of the line to gain. His Mizzou career and the game and the season were over. Tiger fans at least had New Year’s Eve in Memphis to cheer them up.

It was another bowl loss to take some good feelings away from a strong finish to the regular season. But it was still back-to-back winning seasons, and with the arrival of transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant, Tiger fans had more reasons for excitement heading into 2019.

2018: 1 year ago, tied for fourth in the SEC

Record: 8-5, 4-4 in SEC

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2017 Tigers rallied from terrible start to make a bowl

Missouri started the 2017 football season with a test of fans’ tailgating endurance, with four straight home games.

The first of those was an 11 a.m. kickoff with Missouri State on Sept. 2. It started out with disastrous defense, and a few boos were in the air when the Bears scored a touchdown to take a 35-34 lead. But the Tigers got ahold of themselves and won going away, 72-43.

The strength of schedule jumped up in week two, an evening kickoff against South Carolina. It was close for awhile, but the Gamecocks had Deebo Samuel, and Missouri did not. South Carolina won 31-13.

Then came one of the great debacles in recent memory, when Missouri hosted Purdue on Sept. 16. Purdue was getting things going quickly under first-year coach Jeff Brohm, but they were a 6-6 team during that regular season. And they flat out demolished Missouri at Faurot Field. The Boilermakers ran out to a 28-0 lead in the first half. Missouri seemed disinterested, or just utterly unable to match the competitive wrath of Purdue. An interception late in the first half allowed Missouri to feebly move the ball a little bit and take a field goal. The second half was played in front of vast swaths of empty metal bleachers. The student side, in direct sun, was completely vacant in many sections. But it was hard to blame anyone who left this disaster early. The final score was Purdue 35, Missouri 3, with the second half basically amounting to killing time.

Missouri was now 1-2 with No. 15 Auburn coming to town. It was a fun, full day of tailgating, with fans of both Tigers have a good time. But when the game started, the fun was all Auburn’s, as they won 51-14.

After the game, Missouri coach Barry Odom gave a fiery rant about how the program was a turnaround job, and that he was the man for the job, but it would take time. In hindsight, that was sort of the moment when Missouri started playing better, playing harder.

After a bye week, Missouri played at Kentucky on Oct. 7. It was a close game that turned into a shootout in Bluegrass country, with occasional rain drenching the proceedings. Kentucky won 40-34, with Missouri’s last drive falling short in part due to a Kentucky defender knocking the ball away, preventing the officials from spotting the ball in a timely manner, as precious seconds drifted away. It’s hard to say if that impacted the final outcome, although the SEC issued a statement saying officials missed the call. But it was a loss nonetheless, and Missouri was now 1-4 heading to a tough road game at No. 4 Georgia.

Missouri hung tough with the heavily favored Bulldogs, playing their best football of the season so far, and the game was tied at 21 in the second quarter. But then Georgia took charge, winning 53-28. The Dawgs would win the SEC title that year, win a riveting national semifinal in the Rose Bowl, but then lose the national title game in heartbreaking fashion to Alabama.

Missouri was 1-5 and the season was threatening to be a total disaster. It was Homecoming next, with Missouri hosting Idaho on Oct. 21. It had been a long time since Missouri had just one win heading into the Homecoming game. But the Tigers rolled to a 68-21 win over the Vandals, and the in-season turnaround was on. It came against some lesser teams, but wins of any kind were progress over the start of the season.

Missouri won 52-12 at UConn, the Tigers’ first road win in over two years. Missouri then beat Florida 45-16 in Columbia. The Gators were playing under an interim coach. Next up was a 50-17 demolition of Tennessee, which was getting close to firing head coach Butch Jones. The Tigers were now 5-5.

Then came a Nov. 18 trip to Vanderbilt. Missouri cruised to a 45-17 win in Nashville, locking up bowl eligibility for the first time since 2014. Missouri finished the regular season with an entertaining 48-45 win at Arkansas, another team about to fire its head coach.

The Tigers took a six-game winning streak into the Texas Bowl game with the Texas Longhorns, but Missouri kind of flopped in Houston, losing 33-16.

It was a tough end to an up-and-down, but ultimately successful season. Missouri had needed to get back to a bowl game, and they did. Junior quarterback Drew Lock had a marvelous statistical season, setting the SEC record for passing touchdowns in a season. He made the decision to return to Columbia for his senior season in 2018, giving Tiger fans cause for excitement heading into 2018.

2017: 2 years ago, tied for 3rd in SEC East

Record: 7-6, 4-4 in SEC

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2016 Tigers had a losing season, first trip to Death Valley

“You haven’t been to a college football game until you’ve been to Baton Rouge or Oxford, Mississippi.”

- Dan Jenkins

Tiger fans had chances to see games in Oxford, and all the incredible gameday revelry that goes with it, watching the Tigers beat the Rebels down there in 2007 and 2013. But the 2016 season provided their first chance to see Mizzou play in Baton Rouge, traveling to Death Valley, wondrous old Tiger Stadium, one of the great college football venues. It was an incredible experience, the next in a string of “Welcome to the SEC” moments that slowly unfurl over a decade because of the how infrequent trips to SEC West venues are.

The 2016 season was also the first chance to see Barry Odom as head coach. It was not a great season, although in hindsight it might have been a year of Odom learning to be a head coach and stabilizing things after the drama of 2015, as well as the program’s decline in 2015. MU alum Gary Barnett, a successful college coach, has said his first two or three years as a head coach he was mostly just figuring things out, saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” in the early stages.

The Odom era officially began Sept. 3 at West Virginia. Missouri’s offense struggled, as did the kicking game, and the Mountaineers won 26-11.

Missouri faced Eastern Michigan in the home opener on Sept. 10, playing with a frantic offensive pace and winning 61-21. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel was starting to get the Tiger offense rolling.

The next week Missouri hosted No. 16 Georgia. It was a matchup of first year coaches replacing 15-year coaches, with Odom facing Kirby Smart. The Tigers took a lead, but couldn’t add to their lead and had some rapid offensive possessions that didn’t burn much clock, and Georgia came back, scoring the winning touchdown on a dramatic fourth down touchdown pass. Missouri had one last gasp, but a fumble by receiver J’Mon Moore, who had an otherwise great game, sealed the Tigers’ fate.

The next week was a general travesty, as Missouri hosted Delaware State, a game that shouldn’t have been scheduled. It was laughably not competitive, making one wonder what we were even doing there on a fine September afternoon. Missouri led 58-0 at the half, and Delaware State could do nothing on offense. The second half was shortened, and Missouri won 79-0. Alright then.

Missouri was 2-2 and headed to the Bayou to face LSU on Oct. 1. LSU had just fired Les Miles, and Ed Orgeron was the interim coach. It was a spectacular early October day in Baton Rouge. My friends and I got to attend an LSU tailgate, which was just as awesome as expected. The campus was scenic and there were people everywhere, having a good time, eating and sharing food, talking about the game and college football, just generally enjoying life.

The game itself was basically LSU hammering away on the ground, generously letting the clock run some between downs, gradually grinding down the Tiger defense. LSU led 21-0 at the half, and eventually won 42-7. But for Tiger fans, it was at least a gorgeous evening at one of college football’s cathedrals, with that eye of the Tiger painted at midfield, all the noise, the field where Billy Cannon ran for that epic punt return touchdown on Halloween night all those years ago.

Missouri did have one highlight, quarterback Drew Lock catching a touchdown pass to give Mizzou fans something to cheer, albeit in a lopsided game in the fourth quarter. Maybe in Missouri’s next visit to Death Valley, years from now, the program will be in better shape and make it a better game.
Missouri had a bye and then another trip to a vaunted SEC venue, facing No. 18 Florida in the Swamp. Florida won the game 40-14 and went on to win the SEC East that year.

Now 2-4, Missouri at least got a boost of good feelings with Homecoming week, facing Middle Tennessee on Oct. 22. In an incredibly long game, with two quick-tempo offenses and not much defense, Middle Tennessee won 51-45. Missouri was now 2-5.

There was a little hope Missouri could get things back on track the next week, hosting Kentucky, but the Wildcats ran out to a staggering 35-7 lead and won 35-21. It was a fairly embarrassing home loss, even if Kentucky was a decent team that year.

Missouri lost 31-21 at South Carolina on Nov. 5, the Gamecocks’ freshman Jake Bentley beating Tiger sophomore Drew Lock.

Finally, finally, on Nov. 12, Missouri won 26-17 over Vanderbilt at Faurot, the Tigers’ first win in seven weeks, and first win over an FBS team in over two months.

Missouri then lost a defense-optional game at Tennessee, 63-37, falling to 3-8.

The Tigers finished the season with the Battle Line Rivalry game with Arkansas, played on Nov. 25, Black Friday. Missouri fell behind early, trailing 24-7 at the half. But Missouri rallied in the second half, using a gutsy fake punt call by Odom along the way, scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter and one touchdown in the fourth quarter to win 28-24.

Missouri finished just 4-8, although the 2-6 SEC record was actually a game better than the 2015 team. With back-to-back losing seasons, and having failed to draw 60,000 fans for any game for the first time in 20 years, Missouri headed into 2017 needing to get back to a bowl and get some enthusiasm going for the program.

2016: 3 years ago, 7th in SEC East

Record: 4-8, 2-6 in SEC

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2015 Tigers saw the end of the Pinkel era, a lack of offense

After winning the SEC East in 2013 and 2014, Missouri entered the 2015 with high hopes. The Tigers had found their stride in the SEC. But 2015 would be a volatile and ultimately unsuccessful season, and it would turn out to be Gary Pinkel’s last of 15 seasons as head coach.

The team’s participation in an on-campus protest is probably most people’s memory from the season, although don’t sleep on not one, but two 9-6 football games, basking in all their glory.

Missouri, ranked No. 24, started the season in straightforward fashion, winning 34-3 at home against Southeast Missouri State.

Then came a trip to Jonesboro to face Arkansas State, one of those quirky but usually fun Mizzou nonconference games at a team not from a power conference. Arkansas State was good that year, Sun Belt champions and unbeaten in conference play, but the game was cause for very mild concern, as Missouri struggled to put the Red Wolves away and had some stretches where the offense didn’t do much.

But the team came back home to face UConn on Sept. 19 with everyone still feeling pretty good. The game kicked at 11 a.m., and what followed was over three hours of intense struggle and offensive futility, culminating in a failed UConn fake field goal attempt late in the game and a 9-6 Missouri win. Tiger fans generally left the game wondering what the heck they’d just watched, with a side order of a solid sunburn for a lot of fans.

Missouri opened SEC play the next week, ranked No. 25 and traveling to Kentucky. The game was another offensive struggle, but Tiger fans understandably kept thinking Maty Mauk and the offense could get things going just in time and pull out a win, as the team had frequently done the year before. But 2015 was not 2014, not by a long shot, and Kentucky won 21-13.

That loss at Kentucky was something of an overall pivot point for the program. Before that game, Missouri had won 11 straight road games. Starting with that game, Missouri lost 11 straight road games. Going from 11 straight road wins right into 11 straight road losses is kind of mind-boggling.

That game was also Mauk’s last as a starter. He was suspended and eventually dismissed from the team for off-field behavior, meaning the Drew Lock era was on. Lock was a talented freshman from the Kansas City area, a local kid with a lot of potential. But he was still a freshman thrown into a starting role mid-season, and apparently having to lead a bad offense.

However, Lock and the Tigers got off to a great start winning 24-10 at home against South Carolina on Oct. 3. Tiger fans chanted “Locktober” after a touchdown. But it was a mirage. Missouri scored half of their SEC touchdowns in this one game. The Tigers scored three touchdowns against South Carolina, and then three in their seven other SEC games combined. In their six remaining SEC games, they would score two touchdowns. Oh, the humanity.

Now 4-1, Missouri hosted No. 11 in Florida on Oct. 10 for Homecoming. It was a big game, sort of a passing of the torch, the two-time defending East champion hosting the next rising power in the East, the team that would win the East in 2015 and 2016.

It was also the same day as a Cubs-Cardinals playoff game. It was a full day of tailgating in gorgeous October weather. There was a lot of energy in Columbia, and a crowd of over 70,000 people. Missouri has not had a crowd of even 60,000 since, and the current stadium capacity means this will be the last crowd over 70,000 at Faurot for a while.

Florida dominated, winning 21-3. Missouri’s offense could do almost nothing against the Gator defense. It was Will Grier’s last game with the Gators before being suspended for a banned supplement.

Missouri had fallen to 1-2 in SEC play, but they still had a big game the next week, at Georgia. Athens, Georgia, is a beautiful college town and a great spot to enjoy a football weekend. The Bulldogs were not great that year, and head coach Mark Richt was let go after the season, but they did win 10 games, and trying to win in Athens wouldn’t be easy. It turns out nothing would be easy on the offensive side of the ball. At the start of the game, Missouri picked off a pass, and it immediately felt like the defender had to get into the end zone. Instead, he was tackled at the 1-yard line, and Missouri had a bumbling sequence and had to settle for a field goal.

Missouri led 3-0 after the first quarter, and 6-3 at the half. But the Tigers couldn’t score at all in the second half, and Georgia gradually meandered toward the lead with a third-quarter field goal and a fourth-quarter field goal. The Tiger defense dug in again and again, but the margin for error was too narrow with that kind of offense. The Dawgs won 9-6, the second game of that score in Missouri’s offensively bankrupt season.

But as bad as things were, they can always get worse. Missouri traveled to Vanderbilt the next week, Oct. 24, and played one of the worst and ugliest games they’ve had. It was a rainy day in Nashville for this offensive atrocity. Vanderbilt led 7-3 at the half, and then tacked on a late field goal for a 10-3 win.

The next week, Halloween, was a bye week, giving Tigers a chance to take in a grand Saturday of sports, including Chris Fowler pulling a Halloween prank to briefly terrify Kirk Herbstreit in the Saturday Night Football broadcast booth, and the Kansas City Royals winning Game 4 of the World Series against the Mets, moving within a game of the title. The Royals won the World Series the next night, Sunday night, with a fitting wild comeback, and for the first time in 30 years MU student Royals fans had a World Series title to celebrate.

After the bye, Missouri returned home for a Thursday night game against No. 24 Mississippi State and quarterback Dak Prescott. It was a deluge, with one Tiger fan walking to the stadium with a large flotation device, presumably to be prepared. Missouri did get their first touchdown in over a month, but they lost, 31-13. The defense finally cracked somewhat, after fighting against almost impossible odds, trying to support an offense that couldn’t score. The Tigers were now 4-5.

Missouri didn’t have a game that Saturday, but the Tigers were still in the news. Several players expressed solidarity with an ongoing hunger strike as part of demonstrations about race relations on campus. The hunger striker wanted the University of Missouri system president to resign. The players said they were not going to play in their next game, against BYU in Kansas City, unless the demands were met. Pinkel said he supported his players and the stance they had taken.

This caused a few days of intense discussion and opinions and division and calls for unity. In the end, the system president stepped down, the Mizzou players said they would play against BYU on Nov. 14, and then that week Pinkel announced he was battling lymphoma and he would retire at the end of the season to focus on his treatment.

The affects were felt in subsequent years, with the state legislature cutting funding to Mizzou, enrollment declining for a while before bouncing back, and budget pressure at the university. Missouri also saw lower attendance, having still not gotten back to 60,000 fans for a game, although some of that can be tied to wider attendance trends in the sport and some losing seasons by the Tigers. Even with the bowl years in 2017 and 2018, Missouri still hasn’t had one of those great seasons that brings people back on the bandwagon.

In any event, the Tigers headed to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City to play BYU, a game that was initially supposed to be a “Whiteout.”

BYU was decent, but Missouri found enough offense and won 20-16. Pinkel danced in the locker room in celebration.

Missouri returned home for a Nov. 21 game with Tennessee, Pinkel’s last game at Memorial Stadium. It was also Pinkel’s coldest game in Columbia, with a dusting of snow that morning. After 15 long years, mostly successful, it was a chance to say goodbye and think about all those memories and fun Saturdays at Faurot.

Tennessee had suffered some brutally close losses that season, but they were a good team, and they churned out a 19-8 win. Despite the loss, Tiger players carried Pinkel off the field as he left it for the last time as a head coach at a game. Pinkel is a fierce competitor, and he looked glum as he was carried off, outwardly appearing more focused on the loss he just suffered and the tough season rather than soaking in the moment. On the same day in Blacksburg, Virginia, Frank Beamer lost his last home game, also to fall to 5-6, but he smiled and waved at the fans. But Pinkel just wasn’t wired that way. In any event, the Columbia portion of the decade and a half journey was over.

The season ended on Black Friday, Nov. 27, at Arkansas in the “Battle Line Rivalry.” It was an incredibly rainy weekend in Fayetteville, just a cold and constant and driving rain, rain soaking the Ozark hills that range out beautifully from Donald W. Reynolds Stadium. Missouri could barely score, again, and the Razorbacks gradually crushed the Tigers. I was there with some friends, and it was kind of brutal to watch, uncomfortable conditions, a bad game, your team losing to fall to 5-7 and miss out on a bowl. It felt like Pinkel deserved a better goodbye. He won more games than any coach in Missouri history, and it ended with a hopeless 28-3 loss in the rain in Fayetteville. But Tiger fans have plenty of great memories from the Pinkel years, and no matter what happened in 2015, he pushed the program to great heights, and he made Saturdays in Columbia matter again.

After the season, defensive coordinator Barry Odom, a Mizzou alum, was named the new head coach. Heading into 2016, the Tigers would open a new era.

2015: 4 years ago, tied for 6th in the SEC East

Record: 5-7, 1-7 in SEC

Monday, August 26, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2014 Tigers were a fun, resilient team

Missouri began the 2014 season as defending SEC East champs. This was one of those times where the sequel was actually as good as the original (the 2013 season), if not better.

The 2014 Tigers were not Gary Pinkel’s best team, but they embodied a scrappy competitive excellence as well as any team from the Pinkel era. They weren’t a juggernaut that just blew teams out, but they often just found ways to churn out wins. Missouri won all four of its SEC road games in 2014, each time as an underdog.

In the offseason, Pinkel dismissed star receiver Dorial Green-Beckham from the team, but the Tigers still had Bud Sasser. Bud had to fend off Vanderbilt defenders he couldn’t outrun on a 2012 touchdown reception, but he was the type of gritty competitor who was the embodiment of this team.

Missouri started with a home game against South Dakota State, a good FCS team. The Tigers won 38-18. Missouri then followed that up with a 49-24 win at Toledo in the interestingly named Glass Bowl, and then a Sept. 13 home win over UCF, in a game that somehow only took right at three hours, a rapid pace for modern college football.

The Tigers were 3-0 when they welcomed Indiana to Columbia. The Tigers had won big at Indiana the year before. But this year was different. Tevin Coleman had a big game, and the Hoosiers left Columbia with a 31-27 win. It was a pretty stunning loss for the Tigers, who had been favored by 13.
But the show goes on, and Missouri kicked off SEC play with a Sept. 27 trip to No. 13 South Carolina. I was there on a road trip with some friends, and Friday night while out and about in Columbia (South Carolina edition), we saw highlights of the Royals clinching their first playoff berth since 1985.

College GameDay was there for the game, a night kickoff at Williams-Brice Stadium, which be one of the loudest and most raucous atmospheres in the SEC. The crowd was fired up for this one, frantically waving white rally towels to “Sandstorm” before kickoffs, and the loudspeakers shrieking a chicken crowing on third downs.

The Gamecocks gradually built a lead. After an early touchdown, Missouri’s offense was doing nothing.

In the fourth quarter, with South Carolina up 13-7, Pharoh Cooper caught a touchdown pass to put the Gamecocks up 20-7 and seemed to put the dagger in the Tigers. Spurrier oddly did not go for two after the score to go up 14, but it seemed like a moot point.

But then, unable to yield another inch, the resilient Tigers made a charge. Missouri ripped off a shocking, three-play touchdown drive to draw within six. The Tigers got the ball back and embarked on a madcap, nine-play, 51-yard drive that saw two do-or-die fourth down conversions, the second of which was a Russell Hansbrough one-yard touchdown run. The pocket of Mizzou fans in the corner of the stadium erupted. I hugged my friend Brent and lifted him off the ground, only later learning I’d knocked his sunglasses off his head in the process and they had been broken.

The defense held one more time, and the Tigers had completed the heart-stopping 21-20 win.

That set up a big game in Columbia after a bye week, with No. 23 Missouri hosting No. 13 Georgia on Oct. 11. It was part of a big Missouri sports tripleheader, with the Mizzou game, and then Royals and Cardinals playoff baseball games.

There was tremendous excitement at kickoff, but it dissipated quickly. Georgia annihilated Missouri. After Todd Gurley was ruled ineligible for supposedly getting money for autographs, Nick Chubb filled in for the Bulldogs, carrying the ball roughly a bajillion times for over 100 yards.

How about this stat: Missouri ran four plays in Georgia territory THE ENTIRE GAME, and three of them resulted in turnovers. Good grief. Georgia won 34-0.

Georgia had lost to South Carolina earlier in the season, but Missouri’s loss to the Dawgs was a big blow to their SEC East chances. It felt like the Tigers needed to win out to have a shot, and in hindsight, that’s exactly what was required for Missouri to make it back to the SEC title game. Six games, and they needed them all.

Missouri got started on that with a 42-13 win at Florida, a crazy game where Missouri dominated despite on having 119 yards of offense. But the Tigers had a kick return touchdown, punt return touchdown, fumble return touchdown, and interception return touchdown. That’ll play.

Marcus Murphy had kick return, punt return and rushing touchdowns in the game.

Missouri returned home for a generally uneven and grinding 24-14 win over Vanderbilt on Homecoming, but it got the job done. The Tigers then hosted Kentucky on Nov. 1, in a game that was remarkably colder for being just one week later, and Missouri won 20-10 to improve to 7-2. At about the same time, Florida rose up and beat Georgia in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party game, making it official, if Missouri won out, they won the East.

On Nov. 15, again as a slight road underdog, Missouri churned out a 34-27 win at Texas A&M, before the biggest crowd to ever see Mizzou play football.

Then came a trip to Rocky Top to take on Tennessee, which had posted back-to-back wins and was getting things going under Butch Davis. The Volunteers were a slight favorite.

It was a hot crowd on a Saturday at Neyland Stadium, that massive and storied old structure by the Tennessee River. Every third down, the speakers blasted “Turn down for what!” as the crowd got loud. But Missouri scored on their opening drive, and a Mizzou fan/American hero yelled “Touchdown for what!”

The teams traded leads, with The Vols taking a 10-7 lead on a fake field goal touchdown, which led to one Tennessee fan falling out of ht stands celebrating behind the end zone. Defensive lineman Markus Golden had a big game for the Tigers, and the Missouri defense played well most of the game.

Then, with Missouri leading 16-13 early in the fourth quarter and the crowd going bonkers on another third down, Maty Mauk heaved a deep pass through the Tennessee night, which Jimmie Hunt caught for a long touchdown. Missouri had a much more comfortable lead, and held off a late charge by the Vols, which was aided by a maddening missed extra point by the Tigers. Still, Missouri held on for a 29-21 win, moving within one win of another trip to the SEC Championship Game.

That game was at home against Arkansas, a team that was getting some momentum of its own and playing great defense. It was played on Black Friday, a game that started during the day and finished in the twilight. The Razorbacks defense was showing its mettle early, but thankfully Andrew Baggett hammered home two 50-plus-yard field goals, and Arkansas led 14-6 at the half. That lead held up into the fourth quarter. After coming so far, the adventure and achievement of a return trip to Atlanta seemed to be fading with the last of the late autumn day’s sunlight.

Then, Missouri came alive. As the team had done many times this season, they got up off the mat, kept digging, and found a way.

As a gorgeous sunset lit up the sky above Faurot Field, Missouri embarked on a drive for the ages. The Tigers went 98 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown. They completed the two-point conversation on a trick play wide receiver pass, with old reliable Bud Sasser tossing it to Darius White to tie the game at 14.

The long drive and score got the fans fired up, and the sellout crowd was roaring as the Tiger defense, strong all day, forced a punt.

The crowd was delirious, part rock concert and part tent revival.

Missouri’s suddenly hot offense reeled off a 12-play, 85-yard touchdown drive to take the lead with 4:38 to go. Faurot was rocking, a tempest of sound and hope. Writing about it years later, I still get goosebumps.

Missouri got one more stop, when defensive end Markus Golden, maybe the MVP of this stretch run, recovered a fumble by Alex Collins to seal the 21-14 win. The clock hit all zeroes.

Fans poured out onto the field, fireworks exploded above the stadium, and then the sweet sounds of Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind” drifted out from the stadium speakers. For the second year in a row, Missouri was headed to Atlanta.

It was possible for Missouri to face Alabama or Mississippi State in the SEC title game, but State lost the Egg Bowl, meaning Alabama’s crushing revenge win over Auburn was purely ceremonial and for hate. It was Missouri against the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide for the SEC championship.

Again, the crowd was heavily pro-Alabama, but the Tiger fans there were vocal and hoping for one more stunning victory. Big Al and Truman the Tiger led their respective schools out on the field at the Georgia Dome.

Lane Kiffin had Bama’s offense humming along, and the Tide led 21-3 at the half.

Missouri did battle back, like they had all season, standing up to the No. 1-ranked Tide. A touchdown and a field goal made it 21-13. The big underdog Tigers were within a score, late in the third quarter.
But Alabama put together a long drive. It was still 21-13 at the start of the fourth quarter, but Bama score early in the final period, the first of three touchdowns in the final quarter to turn a tense contest into a blowout. Alabama won the game 42-13. Missouri was denied a conference title again, falling to 0-4 in conference championship games under Pinkel.

But it had still been a remarkable season, and the Tigers got to play in a New Year’s Day bowl game, facing No. 25 Minnesota in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Minnesota scored the first touchdown to go up 7-0, but Missouri took a 10-7 lead at the half. The Golden Gophers (great mascot name, by the way), retook the lead in the third quarter, but the Tigers retook the lead for good on an 18-yard touchdown run by Mauk in the third quarter. The fourth quarter was all Tigers, and Missouri won 33-17 to cap an 11-3 season. Markus Golden was the bowl game MVP.

Missouri finished No. 11 in the final coaches poll, and No. 14 in the final AP poll. It was yet another memorable season for the Tigers, and a fun team to root for.

2014: 5 years ago, 1st in SEC East, lost SEC Championship Game

Record: 11-3, 7-1 in SEC

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2013 Tigers were surprise SEC East winners

Sometimes in college football, special seasons, the kind you remember for generations, are something you see coming, a result you see teams building to for years and then the payoff comes. And sometimes they are wonderfully unexpected, like when Missouri randomly gets a warm day in February or a cooler day in the summer, just a gift that becomes even more special because it was not anticipated. Missouri’s 2013 season was one of these times, and it’s a season Tiger fans will remember for a long time.

Missouri had a losing record in 2012, and there was a narrative, especially among self-assured SEC types, that the Tigers couldn’t contend in the challenging conference, the deepest and strongest in college football.

But heading into 2013, the thoughts were just whether the Tigers could make it back to a bowl. Talk of division titles or conference championships were for later.

Missouri started with a 58-14 home win over a feisty Murray State team on Aug. 1. Missouri backed it up with a 38-23 home win over Toledo, and then after a bye week the Tigers headed to Indiana for their Sept. 21 game with the Hoosiers. It was a slightly tougher test, a road game, and it felt like it could be a close game.

Instead, Missouri rolled to a commanding 45-28 win to improve to 3-0. After a 41-19 home win over Arkansas State, the Tigers headed into conference play at 4-0.

Missouri began SEC action with an Oct. 5 trip to Vanderbilt. It was another uncertain road trip, another week of wondering if this was where things came back to earth a bit for the Tigers. Instead, it was another commanding win, 51-28 over the Commodores. Tiger fans were starting to wonder if this could be a really good season.

But things got tougher the next week. Missouri, now ranked No. 25, traveled to Athens to take on No. 7 Georgia. It was the year after Georgia’s imposing “old man football” win in Columbia. The Bulldogs had won the SEC East in 2012, and nearly beat Alabama in the SEC title game.

Missouri announced themselves as SEC East contenders on that glorious afternoon in Athens, Oct. 12. The Tigers took an early lead. Then, as Georgia was making a push in the second half, Missouri quarterback James Franklin was injured. Maty Mauk stepped in. And then, in a play that will live on in the memory of many Tiger fans, receiver Bud Sasser threw a touchdown pass on a trick play, which powered Missouri to finish strong and pull the upset, 41-26. It remains Missouri’s only win over Georgia in the teams’ seven SEC meetings, and it was Gary Pinkel’s only top-10 road win, an admittedly rare and difficult feat.

Suddenly, Missouri was an SEC and national title contender. There was a week of intense hype leading up to No. 14 Missouri’s Oct. 19 home game with No. 22 Florida. It was a morning kickoff, but the crowd was loud, and the Tigers cruised to a 36-17 win. In the second half, Tiger fans across Memorial Stadium did the Gator Chomp as the speakers played “We Will Rock You.”

Missouri was now 7-0 and ranked No. 5. Another week of hype and excitement, even more this time. It’s hard to beat a week of autumn anticipation as a college football team is playing well.

It was extra big since it was Homecoming as the Tigers hosted No. 20 South Carolina on Oct. 26. It was a night game, played at the same time as the Cardinals and Red Sox were playing a World Series game.

Missouri gradually built a 17-0 lead, including on a 96-yard touchdown pass from Mauk to L’Damian Washington that launched the Faurot Field crowd into delirium. When things are going well, Missouri fans often wait for things to turn, but it was starting to look like the night was going according to plan. The party in Columbia might last all night.

But South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier put Connor Shaw back in the game. Shaw had be held out of the game due to injury, but the Gamecocks decided to give him a chance. Shaw was at his competitive best, and the ol' ball coach Spurrier got on a heater calling plays, chipping away with screen passes. The lead melted gradually, then suddenly. 17-17. The game eventually went to overtime, with South Carolina converting a must-score situation on fourth down in the south end zone, quieting Memorial Stadium and giving Gamecock fans a chance to erupt.

Then, with South Carolina up 27-24 in the second overtime, Missouri lined up for a short Andrew Baggett field goal attempt at the north end zone to force a third overtime. The kick drilled the left upright and missed, drawing a collective gasp from the crowd. Ballgame. South Carolina had pulled the upset. Tiger fans left the stadium in stunned silence.

Missouri was ranked No. 10 and still controlled its destiny for the SEC East, needing to win its last four games to win the division.

Missouri started that final push with a 31-3 win over Tennessee on Nov. 2 in Columbia. Then came a fairly straightforward 48-17 win at Kentucky.

Missouri was now ranked No. 8 and traveled to No. 24 Ole Miss. A lot of Tiger fans made the trip, enjoying the spectacular college town of Oxford and taking in the tailgating scene at the Grove. Missouri was at their grinding and efficient best that night, shutting down the Ole Miss offense and picking their spots on offense. The Tigers won 24-10, closing out the last eight minutes of the game with a glorious ground-based attack that bled the remaining clock.

The stakes were set for the regular season finale, on Nov. 30 in Columbia against No. 19 Texas A&M. If Missouri won, they were headed to Atlanta for the 2013 SEC Championship Game. If they lost, South Carolina would represent the East in that game.

The SEC West opponent was still to be determined, with No. 1 Alabama playing at Auburn in the Iron Bowl to determine the West champ. Bama was on an incredible roll, having won the 2011 and 2012 national titles, and unbeaten in 2013. They seemed unstoppable. But Auburn was really good, and the Tigers were starting to feel like they had destiny on their side, beating Georgia two weeks before on a ridiculous tipped pass touchdown that caused Auburn radio announcer Rod Bramlett to yell, “A miracle at Jordan-Hare! A miracle at Jordan-Hare!” over and over.

Alabama missed some field goals early, seeming to be the better team but unable to cash in fully on their scoring chances and decent drives. I was watching on my phone in the stands at Memorial Stadium, but as Missouri’s kickoff time approached, the growing crowd got to be too much for the phone signal to handle, and the feed cut out for good.

Later, texts came rolling in from a friend of mine, excitedly telling me about what I would later learn was the Kick Six, maybe the greatest finish in college football history, when Alabama tried a long field goal in a tie game at the end of regulation only to have Auburn’s Chris Davis catch the miss in the back of the end zone and return it 109 yards for a touchdown as the crowd went wild and Jordan-Hare seemed to be shaking. Auburn had won the SEC West.

No. 5 Missouri was locked in a battle under the lights with No. 19 Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel. Then, in the fourth quarter, with the game tied 21-21 and the crowd on edge and then some, Missouri running back Henry Josey burst through the line, into the clear, and into the end zone, putting the Tigers up 28-21 with a few minutes left. It was a special moment on the field where Josey had suffered a brutal knee injury two years before.

The Tiger defense held, and Missouri won the game and the SEC East. The black-clad crowd rushed out onto the field. Fireworks exploded above the stadium. “Georgia On My Mind” drifted from the loudspeakers. Missouri, in just their second SEC season, was headed to the SEC Championship Game.

Missouri was still ranked No. 5, and Auburn was ranked No. 3. The game was for the SEC title, and the loss by Ohio State in the Big Ten title game that night meant the winner of this game would play Florida State in the Rose Bowl for the national title, although no one knew that for sure during the game. But Michigan State was formidable, so even heading into the game everyone there knew it was a possibility.

Missouri had been 5-7 the year before; Auburn was 3-9. This was a surprising matchup for the conference championship, and both fan bases were jubilant to be in Atlanta. There were a lot more Auburn fans at the game, but there was a decent contingent of Missouri fans in a corner cheering their hearts out.

The game itself was electrifying and exhausting, with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn calling for plays at a frantic pace, and Auburn going crazy with their potent rushing attack. Missouri kept answering. Back and forth the game raged, each quarter taking an hour. There were five lead changes in the spellbinding first half, with Auburn leading 28-27 at the break.

Missouri took the lead with 5:35 to go in the third quarter on a pass from James Franklin to Marcus Murphy. The black-and-gold Tigers were up 34-31, and Missouri was within 20 minutes of its first conference championship in 44 years. This was monumental stuff.

But Auburn struck back, scoring a touchdown rapidly on a six-play drive, all runs. Missouri had a poorly-timed three-and-out, and then Auburn scored another touchdown, on five plays, again all runs.
The 2013 Missouri Tigers were fighters, and a Franklin touchdown run drew Missouri back within 45-42 heading into the fourth quarter.

But Auburn put it away with two Tre Mason rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter, winning 59-42. Mason ran for over 300 yards in the game. Missouri simply couldn’t stop the Auburn ground game, as the blue-and-orange Tigers ran 74 times for 545 yards and seven touchdowns. Just incredible. The conference title drought lived on.

It was tough walking out of the Georgia Dome, seeing Auburn celebrate and the confetti fall from the ceiling, with Missouri having come so close only to be turned away again. But it had been a great season for the Tigers, and they’d just played a memorable game on a huge stage.

Missouri went to the Cotton Bowl, now played in the Dallas Cowboys’ massive AT&T Stadium in Arlington instead of the old Cotton Bowl stadium. The No. 9 Tigers faced No. 13 Oklahoma State, their old Big Eight foe. A late defensive touchdown sealed the game, and Missouri won 41-31. Josey was the offensive MVP, and linebacker Andrew Wilson was the defensive MVP.

The Tigers finished 12-2 and ranked No. 5, Pinkel’s second top-5 finish. Auburn lost the national title game to Florida State in a close one.

It didn’t end in a conference championship, but it was a remarkable season, and Missouri had showed they could compete in the SEC.

2013: 6 years ago, 1st in SEC East, lost SEC championship game

Record: 12-2, 7-1 in SEC

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2012 Tigers had a rocky start to SEC era

Throughout the long, hot, dry summer of 2012, Tiger fans’ excitement over the SEC era built and built. Missouri’s first SEC football season was 2012, right as the league was in a run of dominance, having won every national title since 2006.

The opening game was Sept. 1 against Southeastern Louisiana, with the SEC logo proudly painted on the grass berm at Memorial Stadium. Faurot Field had new turf for the season. The Tigers won their opener 62-10 as rains hit midway through the game, remnants of a hurricane that freed Missouri from the grip of a historic drought that summer.

Then came Missouri’s first SEC game, hosting Georgia for a night game on Sept. 8. It was a memorable weekend in Columbia, with droves of Dawg fans showing up to check out the new conference location. A big hail storm hit late Friday afternoon, but the party was on.

After a day of robust tailgating, game time arrived. That week, Missouri’s talented defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson had said Georgia played boring football, calling it “old man football.” Had he simply said the physical game plan was “old school football,” it probably wouldn’ve been viewed as a compliment. But it became a talking point that week, and maybe motivation for Georgia.

The game was close for a long time. Missouri led 17-9 early in the third quarter after a long touchdown pass from James Franklin to Aaron Murray. But Aaron Murray and Georgia rallied, closing the game on a 32-3 run to win 41-20, including a resounding fourth quarter surge. Georgia fans held up “old man football” signs as their players celebrated afterward.

Missouri hosted Arizona State the following week. Late-week rumors were confirmed when Franklin was out with an injury and Corbin Berkstresser started at quarterback. Pinkel's pregame interview raised some eyebrows when he said Franklin "didn't want to play," although he probably just meant Franklin made the final call whether or not he was injured enough to play.

It was a close game, but Missouri's defense made a late goal-line stand to earn a 24-20 win.

Missouri then played at No. 7 South Carolina, on CBS, with Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson on the call. Steve Spurrier had the Gamecock offense rolling, and Missouri lost 31-10.

The Tigers did close out September with a hard-fought 21-16 win at UCF, moving Missouri to 3-2 on the season.

Missouri began October with a home game against Vanderbilt, a good candidate for that historic first SEC win. The Tigers moved the ball well early, but a leg injury knocked Franklin out of the game. Berkstresser did his best, hitting Bud Sasser for a long touchdown pass, but the Commodores prevailed 19-15, a tough loss for the Tigers, who were now 0-3 in the SEC... with Alabama coming to town. One writer described the buildup to that game as a "week-long wince."

The top-ranked Crimson Tide were a juggernaut, on their way to a second straight national title and their third in four years. It was one of those surreal, welcome-to-the-SEC moments to play a conference game against Alabama, completes with hordes of Bama fans in town for the weekend. 

The Tide rolled, scoring touchdown after touchdown to take a 27-0 lead when a lightning delay hit. Missouri fares a little better after the delay, but the game was in hand. Alabama won 42-10. That dropped Mizzou to 3-4 heading into the bye week, followed by an Oct 27 Homecoming matchup with Kentucky. 

Missouri rolled to their first SEC win, 33-10. Now, making a “we beat Kentucky” football shirt will get you mocked in the SEC, but Missouri still made T-shirts to commemorate the first SEC win. I suppose it only happens once, so they wanted to observe/profit from the history. 

Missouri then traveled to No. 8 Florida, playing in the Swamp. Missouri played a competitive game, but lost 14-7. 

The Tigers won a 51-48 game in four overtimes at Tennessee, moving to 5-5 with the win at Neyland Stadium. 

But then came a home loss to Syracuse and a drubbing at Texas A&M, during which the Tigers were largely just a prop for the Johnny Manziel show. Missouri finished 5-7, and for the first time since 2004 the Tigers were not going bowling. 

It was a tough start to the SEC era, although the relatively last-minute switch to the SEC schedule, the non-conference schedule was perhaps more robust than usual for the Pinkel era. But in any event, Missouri headed to 2013 needing to bounce back. They got one. 

2012: 7 years ago, 5th in SEC East

Record: 5-7, 2-6 in SEC

Friday, August 23, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2011 Tigers bid farewell to the Big 12, won last meeting with Kansas

Missouri began the 2011 football season as a member of the Big 12, but by the time season ended, they were headed to the Southeastern Conference. It was yet another tumultuous season for the college football landscape, especially in the Heartland, where conference partnerships between schools that had existed for over a century were severed.

The impacts were felt all over the sport, but no where more so than in the middle of the country, which includes some pretty passionate college sports areas. All seven of the longest interrupted college football matchups are from the Big 12, with six of the seven involving Big Eight teams. All seven of these football series were played for at least 89 consecutive years, with some meeting many more times. But no more are they annual parts of the college football experience. Missouri-Kansas. Texas-Texas A&M. Nebraska-Kansas. Missouri-Iowa State. Nebraska-Iowa State. Nebraska-Kansas State. Nebraska-Missouri.

There was a lot of excitement about Missouri’s move the SEC, and other schools moving to their new conferences, and there are plenty of great things about that move even beyond the money and stability. New traditions and excitement and parts of the country to explore. But we can at least acknowledge college football lost something with these moves.

The rumblings of conference realignment were there in the summer, especially when Texas announced its plans for the Longhorn Network. Texas A&M went to work, and by Labor Day weekend and the start of the season, word was out they were going to the SEC.

Missouri began the season with the games overshadowed by conference realignment talk, with plenty of speculation, but the Tigers took care of business on the field with a 17-6 win over Miami-Ohio on Sept. 3.

Missouri then had a Friday night game at Arizona State. It was a riveting game, with Tiger quarterback James Franklin showing his potential. At the end of regulation, with the game tied, Missouri attempted a field goal to win it. Gary Pinkel called two timeouts right before the kick attempt was to come. He later said it was an effort to draw a Sun Devil defender offsides, but it had the appearance of a coach attempting to ice his own kicker before a big kick. The kick missed, and the game went to overtime. Arizona State won 37-30 in overtime.

The Tigers returned home and pounded FCS Western Illinois 69-0, a nice win but a thoroughly non-competitive game.

Next up was a daunting trip to No. 1 Oklahoma, what we would later learn was the Tigers’ last trip to Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Bob Stoops was nearly unbeatable in Norman, and despite a strong effort from Missouri the Sooners won 38-28. Oklahoma would go on to win the Big 12 that year, Missouri’s last in the conference.

By the Oct. 8 game at No. 20 Kansas State, the Missouri-to-the-SEC chatter and reporting was growing strong. In Manhattan, a business’ marquee sign read, “Hey, Mizzou, the SEC called, Oh wait they didn’t.” The K-State SB Nation website had a hilarious post about Mizzou moving to the SEC where they rewrote the words to “You never even called me by my name” as lyrics about the possible move, replacing the title phrase with “Just promise you’ll let Ol’ Verne call our games.”

“Well, it was all we could do to keep from cryin’
Texas done made it useless to remain
You don’t have to call us Missouri, darlin’
Just promise you’ll let ol’ Verne call our games”

As for the actual game, Kansas State was getting on a roll in the second Snyder Era, marching toward a second-place Big 12 finish, and they would win the Big 12 in 2012. In this game, the Wildcats prevailed 24-17 over Missouri in the Tigers’ last trip to Manhattan.

Missouri was now just 2-3, but the Tigers rolled to a 52-17 home win over Iowa State on Homecoming, securing the Telephone Trophy until further notice.

The Tigers then hosted No. 6 Oklahoma State on Oct. 22. Just like 2004 and 2008, the Cowboys won in Columbia, although this time was not an upset. OSU won 45-24 this time.

Missouri was now 3-4 with a tough game on Oct. 29 at No. 16 Texas A&M coming up. It appeared to be a matchup of teams leaving for the SEC. Texas A&M had already made it official, and a press release from the Big 12 the day before announcing West Virginia joining the Big 12 listed “expected” members for the conference, and Missouri was not one of them, with TCU taking their spot. So the Tigers were in a weird spot, sort of limbo, on the way out with their conference home, but it wasn’t official yet.

In more pressing matters, Missouri needed a win at College Station. They got one, pulling out a much-needed 38-31 overtime win over the Aggies to improve to 4-4.

On Nov. 5, Missouri lost 42-39 in a shootout at Baylor, who had that year’s Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Robert Griffin III. That same night, No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama played a classic game, which looked like a totally different sport, with LSU winning 9-6 in overtime. Bama would win the rematch and the national title later that season.

The next day, Nov. 6, the SEC officially announced they were adding Missouri as the conference’s 14th member, starting with the 2012-13 athletic year.

Missouri now had a three-game official farewell to the Big 12. The Tigers hosted No. 21 Texas on Nov. 12 in Columbia. Missouri running back Henry Josey suffered a brutal knee injury on the Faurot Field turf. But the Tiger defense played brilliantly, and Missouri won 17-5, getting a win against the school most schools blamed for breaking up the conference in their final meeting. It also lifted the Tigers to 5-5 and the brink of bowl eligibility.

But this season was one of constant off-field news, and that week Pinkel was pulled over for driving under the influence of alcohol, famously telling the officer his glasses of win had been “jumbo” sized. At one point the officer radioed in and said he had Gary Pinkel pulled over and the coach was “drunker than Cooter Brown.” He was suspended for a game, so he watched from afar as Missouri battled Tommy Tuberville’s Texas Tech Red Raiders on Senior Day in Columbia. The Tigers trailed 27-17 heading into the fourth quarter, but they came back with two touchdowns in the final period and they held off Tech’s last drive for a 31-27 Missouri win. The Tigers were going bowling.
Pinkel was back the following week for the season finale, on Nov. 26 against Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium. It was Missouri’s final Big 12 game, and the 120th and currently final Border War football game.

Kansas was bad, winless in conference play, but the Jayhawks took 10-0 lead partway through the second quarter and led 10-3 at the half. But Missouri woke up with two third-quarter touchdowns and another in the fourth quarter to win 24-10.

Missouri finished the regular season 7-5, and went back to its home away from home, Shreveport, to play in the Independence Bowl. The Tigers faced the 7-5 North Carolina Tar Heels, who were led by an interim head coach, Everett Withers. The regular head coach, Butch Davis, had been fired right before the season amid allegations of NCAA violations. It was Missouri’s last game as a Big 12 school and UNC’s first game against a Big 12 school.

The big news from the bowl was some good old mascot hijinks, when Truman the Tiger dropped the expensive crystal football from the bowl trophy and it broke.

As for the actual game, Missouri dominated, winning 41-24. The Tigers finished 8-5. It had been a fairly ho-hum actual season, not bad enough to really get worked up, not good enough to really get excited. But it was a winning season, and the excitement would build all offseason long for that move to the SEC.

2011: 8 years ago, tied for 5th in the Big 12

Record: 8-5, 5-4 in Big 12

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2010 Tigers secured huge Homecoming win vs. Oklahoma

Missouri began the 2010 season with some momentum, gradually building up to an epic Homecoming showdown with Oklahoma. It all started with a much less epic game with Illinois on Sept. 4, again played in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Missouri won that game 23-13, their fourth win in four years over the Illini in St. Louis to open the season. It remains the most-recent meeting between the two schools, and Missouri has won six straight in the series and has a 17-7 lead overall.

Missouri then came home for a relatively easy 50-6 win over McNeese State. But the following week, Sept. 18, was a far-from-easy win over Brady Hoke and San Diego State. The Aztecs had the game nearly one, even prompting one Mizzou beat writer to tweet the game was over after a late pick thrown by Blaine Gabbert, but the Tigers got the ball back with one final shot. Gabbert hit receiver T.J. Moe who raced down the sideline and, aided by a perhaps maybe probably illegal block in the back, scored what would be the winning touchdown. The Aztecs were upset, but in any event Missouri had pulled out a 27-24 win.

The Tigers then had a fairly routine 51-13 over Miami-Ohio to move to 4-0 heading into Big 12 play.
Missouri was ranked No. 21, and shut out Colorado 26-0 in another night game at Faurot, in what would prove to be the schools’ last meeting, as Colorado headed to the Pac 12 after the season. Missouri was starting to look like a contender. On Oct. 16, ranked No. 21, the Tigers beat Texas A&M 30-9 down at Kyle Field to improve to 6-0 heading into an Oct. 23 showdown with Oklahoma.
The Sooners were ranked No. 3 in the AP poll, although they were No. 1 in the latest BCS Standings. Missouri had never beaten a team ranked No. 1 in any poll. The Tigers were ranked No. 18.

I wrote ahead of that game that Bob Stoops and Oklahoma had been Bugs Bunny to Gary Pinkel and Missouri’s Elmer Fudd. The Sooners vanquished the good Chase Daniel Tiger teams three times in 2007 and 2008, four if you count the 2006 game before Daniel and the Tigers found their top gear. They had largely lorded over the Big 12 since Stoops arrived, and any aspiring Big 12 team likely had to go through them.

It was a weekend for the ages in Columbia, one of those “I’ll sleep in the offseason” kind of moments. It was Homecoming weekend, with all that accompanying pomp and circumstance. College GameDay was in town, drawing a huge crowd on the Quad. By the time the 7 p.m. kickoff rolled around, the crowd was electric. Somehow, they took it up a notch when Missouri’s Gahn McGaffie took the opening kickoff for a touchdown, prompting thunderous roars from the Memorial Stadium crowd that reverberated across Columbia.

It set the stage for a memorable night, with Missouri earning a 36-27 win, one of the biggest of the Pinkel era at Mizzou. Fans rushed the field, and tore down the goalposts, carrying them to Harpo’s. It remains the last time Tiger fans have torn down the goalposts, as nowadays MU takes down the goal posts during field rushings and circles them with security. That was the case in 2013 and 2014.
Missouri was 7-0, ranked No. 7 after the win over Oklahoma, and had Tiger fans dreaming of contending for titles again. It was Missouri’s first 7-0 start since 1960.

The Tigers had another huge game right after it, playing at No. 14 Nebraska on Oct. 30. The Huskers have a great home field advantage in their Memorial Stadium, home of the nation’s longest sellout streak, dating back to the early 1960s. Bo Pelini had the Huskers going in his third year, after nearly missing out on a conference title the year before.

But this meeting of the Tigers and Huskers had another layer. Nebraska was leaving the Big 12 after that season for the Big Ten. The Big 12 had seemed to be falling apart, with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon pushing the idea of Missouri going to the Big Ten, and Nebraska, fed up with Texas and Oklahoma (especially Texas) ruling the roost and calling the shots for conference policy, had found a landing spot. Colorado was leaving as well, and the next fall Missouri and Texas A&M would be on the move themselves.

So after more than a century together, in the same conference, Missouri and Nebraska played one more time on the plains of Lincoln. Plenty of Tiger fans made the trip, but the Sea of Red was loud and would up for this game, likely for the Big 12 North title.

Nebraska made a mistake picking to kick instead of defer at the opening coin toss, so Missouri got the ball to start both halves. It didn’t really matter. Missouri struggled all day against the Husker defense, and Roy Helu set Nebraska’s single-game rushing record, running for 307 yards. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez suffered an ankle injury, but it didn’t matter. Gabbert was under tons of pressure, and maybe even rolled out of the pocket some when there wasn’t direct pressure, perhaps spooked by the ghost of Ndamukong Suh, but the effect was the same. Missouri trailed 24-7 at the half, and lost 31-17.

On the upside, my friends and I did get free pop with our meal at Runza after the game because the Nebraska-based fast food chain had price specials based on how many points the Blackshirt defense held their opponents to.

The next week, on the road in Lubbock, Missouri led Texas Tech 14-3 after one quarter. The Red Raiders closed it to 17-10 at the half. But the Tiger offense couldn’t score in the second half, and Tech scored two third-quarter touchdowns and won 24-17, dropping Missouri to 7-2.

In a way, the loss to Texas Tech cost Missouri the Big 12 North division, as Nebraska lost 9-6 at Texas A&M on Nov. 20 and finished 6-2 in Big 12 play, like Missouri would do. It was a controversial game, with the Huskers being penalized 16 times, including some shaky, “catch the reaction” personal foul stuff, leading to an enraged Bo Pelini on the sideline. Well, maybe more enraged than usual. Some speculated the officiating was a goodbye “present” from the Big 12, but in any event Nebraska played Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. The Sooners trailed 17-0 but came back to win the title.

Missouri bounced back from that second straight loss with a Nov. 13 Senior Day win over Kansas State, 38-28, and then won 14-0 at Iowa State on a cold and windy night in Ames.

In the regular season finale, Missouri crushed a bad Kansas team 35-7 on Nov. 27 at Arrowhead to finish the regular season at 10-2.

Missouri claims a shared Big 12 North division title from 2010, and I guess that’s fine, although I don’t plan on calling the 2007 Kansas Jayhawks Big 12 North champions anytime soon. And after all, division title are only useful when they get you into the conference championship game.

Missouri did get to play Iowa in the Insight Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. It was a close game, but a comedically long and gradual pick-6 by Iowa propelled the Hawkeyes to victory, dropping Missouri to a 10-3 final record.

It was still a successful season, and that win over Oklahoma won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Gabbert declared for the NFL draft, and James Franklin took over at quarterback heading into the 2011 season.

2010: 9 years ago, tied for 1st in Big 12 North (lost tiebreaker)

Record: 10-3, 6-2 in Big 12

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2009 Tigers lost to Nebraska in the rain, beat Kansas in "Beast Mode" uniforms

In college football, every season is a fresh start. But some autumns feel more like new starts than others. Missouri’s 2009 season was one of those, with sophomore Blaine Gabbert taking over for the graduated Chase Daniel at quarterback. There were plenty of other key contributors to replace, including Chase Coffman, Jeremy Maclin, William Moore and Ziggy Hood.

Missouri started the new era with something familiar, a neutral site game with Illinois in St. Louis. For the third year in a row, and the fifth time since 2002, Missouri began the season by beating Illinois, 37-9 this time. Gabbert threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start.

The Tigers opened the home portion of the schedule by hosting Bowling Green on Sept. 12. Dave Clawson, who coaches Wake Forest these days, coached the Falcons. Bowling Green led 20-6 in the third quarter, but Missouri scored 21 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters to pull out a 27-20 win.

Missouri had a much easier time the following week, beating Furman 52-12. Then came a 31-21 win at Nevada on a Friday night game on ESPN.

That made Missouri 4-0 heading into Big 12 play, which started with a key game in the Big 12 North race. No. 24 Missouri hosted No. 21 Nebraska on Oct. 8, a Thursday night game on ESPN. It was a rainy game. That is probably speaking in understatement. It was a deluge before the game, and then kept pouring during the game. One of those ceaseless October rains that makes you wonder if it will never stop, makes you wonder what other kinds of weather there were. The water made the Rock M hill a muddy mess, and water collected in the front row of the bleacher seats, so the front row of the student section had to stand in ankle-deep water all game.

The power was knocked out, and the stadium had to kick in the backup power source, but that meant the loudspeakers weren’t working. So that meant Sara Evans’ pregame national anthem couldn’t be heard by most people in attendance. But she sang it anyway in the rain. On the upside, fans at the game could just hear the band and the sounds of the sport of college football, without repeated noise and ads from the public address system.

Missouri gradually inched to a 12-0 lead in the third quarter as the rain kept pouring. But then, in the fourth quarter, Nebraska roared back. Husker quarterback Zac Lee was suddenly white hot, completing bombs. Nebraska’s ferocious defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, on his way to a top-five Heisman finish, took charge, and injured Gabbert’s leg on one sack. Gabbert threw two picks in that second half.

In the end, Nebraska won going away, 27-12. The Huskers would win the North that year, and nearly beat Texas in the Big 12 title game, only to lose 13-12 when officials put one second back on the clock, giving the Longhorns time for the game-winning field goal.

After the loss to the Huskers, Missouri had to travel to No. 16 Oklahoma State. The Tigers trailed just 24-17 at the half, but were shut out in the second half, and the Cowboys won 33-17.

Missouri then hosted No. 3 Texas for Homecoming. A lot of teams play a team that’s easier to beat for Homecoming, but it can also be an opportunity to play a really good opponent and maybe use the energy of Homecoming to pull the upset.

Unfortunately, this game would not be one of those instances. Texas raced to a 35-7 lead at the half, and the second half was merely a time-killing formality. The Longhorns won, 41-7.

Missouri was now 4-3, but the Tigers ended their losing streak in a road trip to Boulder. Missouri led 33-3 at the half, and won 36-17.

On Nov. 7, Missouri hosted Baylor. The Tigers had a lead, but backup quarterback Nick Florence led the Bears on a comeback and to a 40-32 win. It was the Bears’ only Big 12 win that season.

Missouri bounced back with a modest winning streak to finish the season, winning 38-12 on the road against Kansas State and Bill Snyder, who was back in charge of the Wildcats.

Then came a 34-24 home win over Iowa State on Senior Day, and a 41-39 win over Kansas at Arrowhead to close the regular season. That was a fairly riveting game, back and forth, with Missouri winning on short field goal with a second left. The Tigers wore primarily gray “Beast Mode” uniforms, and receiver Danario Alexander was probably the most Beast Mode of all, catching 15 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown. The Border War win also dropped Kansas to 5-7 and kept them from going to a bowl. They haven’t been to one since.

Missouri faced Navy in the Dec. 31 Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Missouri was a favorite, but the Midshipmen dominated with their option attack. The Tigers did score first on a long touchdown pass from Gabbert to Alexander, but then it was all Navy, who won 35-13. The bowl loss dropped the Tigers to 8-5 for their final record. It wasn’t as good as 2007 or 2008, but it was another winning season, and set the Tigers up to aim higher in 2010.

2009: 10 years ago, tied for 2nd in Big 12 North

Record: 8-5, 4-4 in Big 12

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2008 Tigers won 10 games, another North title

Missouri began the 2008 season with its highest expectations in a long time. The Tigers were coming off a 12-2, top-5 season, and they brought back a lot of key contributors, led by quarterback Chase Daniel.

All summer long the anticipation built that 2008 would be a continuation of the thrilling 2007 season. Daniel was a Heisman contender, heading into the senior season of his brilliant career. He remains Missouri’s all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns. He had plenty of weapons on offense, including tight end Chase Coffman and receiver Jeremy Maclin. The defense had William Moore, Sean Weatherspoon, Stryker Sulak and Ziggy Hood leading the way.

The Tigers were featured on a regional Sports Illustrated cover ahead of the season, which they began ranked No. 6.

Missouri faced No. 20 Illinois to open the season, back at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. It was a high-scoring game, with Missouri taking a 31-13 halftime lead, and then staying comfortably ahead of the Illini the rest of the way to a 52-42 win.

Then it was back to Faurot for three more nonconference games, each of which was a big win. Missouri beat Southeast Missouri St. 52-3 on Sept. 6, then won 69-17 against Colin Kaepernick and Nevada on Sept. 13. The next week, Missouri rolled to a 42-21 win over Buffalo, and Daniel threw for a career-high 439 yards.

Now ranked No. 4, Missouri traveled to Lincoln to face Nebraska. New Husker coach Bo Pelini would rapidly improve the defense, but the team was still a ways away. The game was tied 7-7 early, then Missouri ran away with a 52-17 win. It was Missouri’s first win in Lincoln since 1978, 30 years prior.

Now 5-0 and ranked No. 3, Missouri returned home to face No. 17 Oklahoma State on Oct. 11. A game with Texas, which had beaten Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry that day and would assume the No. 1 ranking, loomed next week. That would maybe be the game of the year so far in college football if the Tigers could win.

But alas, things don’t always go according to the dream script, and sports are not fairy tales. Before a sellout crowd, the Cowboys pulled the upset, 28-23, one of the biggest wins of the early part of Mike Gundy’s tenure in Stillwater. Dez Bryant, the Cowboys’ star receiver, ran across the field in celebration. Tiger fans filed out in stunned silence, that eery quiet that accompanies the aftermath of narrow losses by the home team.

It was a tough loss, but the game at No. 1 Texas was still a big one. College GameDay was on campus in Austin. Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was packed and fired up for the night game. The giant flag unfurled on the field pregame was a Texas flag, naturally. Colt McCoy was dialed in for the Longhorns, who steamrolled the Tigers to a 35-3 halftime lead.

Missouri was able to get some offense going in the second half, but the game was out of reach. Texas won, 56-31, dropping Missouri to 5-2 and 1-2 in Big 12 play.

But the schedule eased up some, and Missouri embarked on a march to another division title. The Tigers crushed Colorado 58-0 on Homecoming. For the second year in a row, Daniel threw for five touchdown passes against Colorado, still tied for the most by a Tiger quarterback in a conference game.

On Nov. 1, Missouri hung on for a 31-28 win at Baylor, led by first-year coach Art Briles. On Nov. 8, the Tigers returned home for Senior Day, one more fun Saturday in Columbia with Daniel and all the other seniors from that memorable class. Missouri beat Kansas State 41-24, moving them to 3-0 against Ron Prince, who would be replaced by Bill Snyder after the season, making Snyder both his predecessor and successor.

Missouri then had one of the coldest games of the Gary Pinkel era, at Iowa State on Nov. 15. A win meant Missouri would lock up another Big 12 North title with a game to go. There was a dusting of snow that morning in parts of Iowa, and the game was a night kickoff. The public address announcer at Jack Trice Stadium led the crowd in a chant, with one side of the stadium yelling “Wind!” and the other side yelling “Chill!”

Iowa State had lost eight straight coming into the game, and second-year coach Gene Chizik was struggling to get traction in Ames. But the Cyclones gave it a strong effort, it just wasn’t enough against the No. 12 Tigers, who won 52-20. The hardy Cyclones band made the rounds throughout the stadium in the second half, posting up in different areas and playing.

For the second year in a row, Missouri would play in the Big 12 Championship Game. But first the Tigers had their Border War game with Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium. It had far lower stakes than the epic clash between the two the year before, but it was still a hate-filled rivalry game between two decent teams.

Kansas led just 3-0 after the first quarter, but then the game was a shootout the rest of the way. With snow flurries flying at Arrowhead, Kansas got the win, 40-37, dropping Missouri to 9-3.

It was disappointing, but Missouri still had a huge game the following Saturday, Dec. 6, facing the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners for the Big 12 title. OU had finished in a three-way tie atop the Big 12 South with Texas and Texas Tech. Each of the schools finished 11-1, with only one conference loss. Texas beat Oklahoma 45-35 in the Red River game. Texas Tech beat Texas on a sensational touchdown reception by Michael Crabtree that launched Lubbock into a frenzy. And then Oklahoma crushed Texas Tech 65-21 in Norman. That meant the tiebreaker they had to use was the BCS standings, which favored Oklahoma. Before the Big 12 title game, a banner flew above the sea of parking lots at Arrowhead, saying the Texas-OU standings tie had been settled on a neutral field, and mentioned the 45-35 score. No mention was made of Texas Tech.

As for the actual game, 17-point favorite Oklahoma poured it on, seeking to land a spot in the national title game. It became apparent early that Missouri’s conference title drought would extend to 40 years, with OU’s only mishap coming when the Sooner Schooner broke down on the Arrowhead grass and took a few minutes to fix it enough to get it off the field. Sam Bradford was leading the highest-scoring offense in college football’s considerable history, and the sophomore quarterback would win the Heisman Trophy the following week. Oklahoma led 38-7 at the half, and the game was basically over. Thanks to three fourth-quarter Sooner touchdowns, the final margin was a 62-21 Oklahoma win.

The Sooners would play in the national title game, but lose to Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators.

Missouri headed to San Antonio to face Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29. Missouri was favored by 12.5 points, but the Wildcats hung around in the battle of great journalism schools.
The game was tied at 10 at the half, thanks to a Jeremy Maclin punt return for touchdown for Missouri. Northwestern led 23-20 going into the fourth, but a Jeff Wolfert field goal tied the game and eventually it went to overtime. In OT, Daniel threw to touchdown pass to Maclin, and then the Tiger defense held the Wildcats, giving Missouri a 30-23 Alamo Bowl win. Maclin was the offensive MVP, and Sean Weatherspoon was the defensive MVP.

Missouri finished the season at 10-4. It felt slightly disappointing after the incredible 2007 season and the high expectations, but a 10-win season and another Big 12 North title was still a good sendoff for that senior class that gave Tiger fans so many memorable moments.

2008: 11 years ago, 1st in Big 12 North, lost conference title game

Record: 10-4, 5-3 in Big 12