The third season of Woody Widenhofer’s tenure as head coach at Mizzou needed a good start. After two bad seasons in Columbia, the coach could use a good start.
The Tigers got that good start, beating Baylor 23-18 on Sept. 12 in Columbia to kick off the season. Then came a 28-3 home win over Northwestern to move to 2-0.
But Missouri then lost at Indiana and against Syracuse at home to head into Big Eight play at 2-2.
Conference play began about as charitably as possible, with a home game against an egregiously bad Kansas State team that would go 0-10-1 under Stan Parish. That Wildcat team did manage a tie against rival Kansas in an edition of their rivalry dubbed the “Toilet Bowl,” which ended on a blocked field goal and both teams scrambling for the loose ball as time expired.
Missouri needed no such drama, rolling to a 34-10 win.
The Tigers followed that up with a commanding 42-17 win at Iowa State on Oct. 17 to move to 2-0 in Big 12 play, on the same day the St. Louis Cardinals lost Game 1 of the 1987 World Series at Minnesota.
Next up was No. 19 Oklahoma State in Columbia. The Cowboys had All-American Thurman Thomas at running back, and Barry Sanders as his backup, which feels like overkill. It was a competitive game, but Missouri lost, 24-20. That night, on the brink of World Series title, the Cardinals lost Game 6 in that darn Metrodome, leveling at the Series at three games each. The Twins would take Game 7 Sunday.
That Oklahoma State loss kicked off the decline phase of the season for the Tigers.
No. 2 Nebraska hammered Missouri 42-7 on Halloween in Columbia, and then came a 27-10 loss in the mountains at Colorado.
Now 4-5, Missouri had to travel to No. 1 Oklahoma on Nov. 14. The Sooners were steamrolling toward a fourth straight Orange Bowl appearance under Barry Switzer, but this was a tight game, with Oklahoma prevailed 17-13 to set up a “Game of the Century II” with Nebraska the following week.
It was a fourth straight loss for the Tigers, but Missouri was at least able to end the season on a positive note, winning 19-7 at an also egregiously bad Kansas team. The Jayhawks were wrapping up a 1-9-1 season.
Missouri finished the season at 5-6. It was Widenhofer’s high water mark with the Tigers.
After firing Warren Powers for a run of six winning seasons and one losing season, Missouri now had three straight losing seasons under Widenhofer and four straight losing seasons overall. The malaise continued for Missouri football.
1987: 32 years ago, 5th in the Big Eight
Record: 5-6, 3-4 in Big Eight