One thing you notice when combing through old Mizzou football seasons is how strong the nonconference schedules used to be. For decades, Missouri seemed to play almost all power-conference teams in noncon play, including heaping helpings of Ohio State, Notre Dame and other powers.
In 1972, year 2 under Al Onofrio, there was more of this trend. The Tigers’ nonconference schedule: Oregon, Baylor, Cal and at Notre Dame. That’ll get your attention.
Missouri beat Oregon to match the previous year’s win total immediately, but then got crushed 27-0 by Baylor. Then the Tigers won 34-27 against Cal to head into their first Big Eight game at 2-1.
Missouri lost its first two Big Eight games, but that’s like saying a stamp and Wyoming are both things that have surface area. On Oct. 7, the Tigers lost 17-16 at Oklahoma State. On Oct. 14, Missouri lost 62-0 — 62-0! — at No. 6 Nebraska.
After that demolition, the 2-3 Missouri Tigers had to face No. 8 Notre Dame on the road. (Those noncon schedules!) But the Tigers fought like hell, and left South Bend with a stunning 30-26 win, one of the great road wins in Mizzou football history.
Missouri built on that with its first Big Eight win in over 23 months, prevailing 20-17 over No. 7 Colorado in Columbia. On Nov. 4, three days before Nixon roasted McGovern in the Presidential election, Missouri, now ranked No. 16, then won 31-14 at K-State to get to 5-3.
The No. 14 Tigers then played another top-10 team, at No. 7 Oklahoma. Missouri lost, sort of. On the field, the Sooners won 17-6, although the Big Eight later made Oklahoma forfeit three wins due to the Sooners using players with falsified transcripts. But the NCAA recognizes the wins, and the Sooners presumably kept the “Sooner Peace Pipe” that went to the winner of that “rivalry.”
Tigers ridiculously played another highly ranked team, No. 12 Iowa State, at home, and won in suitably ridiculous fashion, 6-5. (Proofreading this, I had to go check the score one more time because 6-5 is an outrageous final score for a football game.)
The Tigers capped the regular season with a gross 28-17 home loss to a bad Kansas team. Losing to your bitter rival when you’re ranked No. 16 and your rival is 3-7 might demand a harsher adjective than “gross.” Mercy.
It was one of the more compelling 6-5 seasons a team can have, and the team got a fun bowl bid, facing Arizona State in the Fiesta Bowl, then played at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, ASU’s home field. It appears the threshold for making the Fiesta Bowl was lower back in those days. Still, if you find yourself wondering into the Fiesta Bowl museum in Scottsdale, Arizona, you’ll see a Mizzou football helmet on the wall of teams to play in the bowl.
Mizzou coach Al Onofrio had gone to school at Arizona State and started his coaching career there as an assistant, so there was additional intrigue for this game. When Onofrio passed away in 2004, it was in Tempe.
Arizona State, still in the WAC instead of the Pac 10 for a few more years, jumped out to a 14-0 lead after the first quarter. The game was played on Dec. 23, Festivus, and Tiger fans had plenty of grievances to air, as the Sun Devils kept cruising to a 28-7 halftime lead. Missouri trimmed it to 28-21 heading into the fourth quarter, but three Arizona State touchdowns in the final period put the game away, 49-35.
The co-MVPs were Arizona State halfback Woody Green and Missouri defensive back Mike Fink. Missouri gave up 49 points and 762 yards. One shudders to wonder how badly the Tigers would have been gashed without a co-MVP level defender.
But Al Onofrio had guided the Tigers to a bowl in Year 2 after a disaster of a Year 1. Fans could reasonably have some hope heading into 1973.
1972: 47 years ago, 5th in the Big Eight
Record: 6-6, 3-4 in Big Eight