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

Monday, August 19, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2007 was one of Missouri's most memorable seasons

For Tiger fans, 2007 holds a special place. After building and building, Missouri unfurled its finest football season in nearly 50 years, all accompanied by the sense of wonder that accompanies breakthrough achievements.

It’s special for me, the autumn of my junior year at MU, and thinking back to those games, I am 20. My old friends were new friends then, and with each successive week our fascination grew.

It was in general a spectacular season of college football. It was the most college football college football season, the wacky and wild sport at its most wacky and wild. Massive upsets and chaos help make the sport great, and 2007 had them in spades.

Using the AP Poll, 13 teams during the regular season unranked teams beat teams in the top 5. The No. 1- and 2-ranked teams had not lost in the same week of the season since 1996, and in 2007 it happened three times, including in both of the final weeks of the regular season.

The No. 2-ranked team lost SEVEN TIMES in the final nine weeks of the regular season, which is staggering.

The chaos began right away with then-FCS Appalachian State beating No. 5 Michigan in the Big House.

That same weekend, Missouri kicked off its season playing Illinois in the Dome in St. Louis. For four years, that neutral site game was a fun way to kick off the season. The 2007 edition was the most wild. Missouri was a good team, with some prognosticators picking them to win the Big 12 North. Led by quarterback Juice Williams, Illinois would go on to win nine games and play in the Rose Bowl.

The game was thrilling and agonizing. With Missouri leading 7-6, Illinois drove down near the Tiger goal line. But then Sean Weatherspoon forced a fumble into the end zone, and Pig Brown scooped it up and ran the length of the field for a touchdown. But then, in one of the great “Umm, Gary?” moments of all time, Tiger coach Gary Pinkel called for a two-point conversion try, up 13-6 in the second quarter, after his defense had scored. The Tiger offense ran out on the field but failed to convert the try.

But Missouri was on a roll, taking a 23-6 lead at the half. Also, Juice Williams was knocked out of the game. The second half began with more from the team’s best players. Chase Daniel hit Jeremy Maclin for a touchdown pass. And then when Maclin returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown, the Tigers led 37-13 with just over 21 minutes left in the game.

Missouri was somewhat haunted in recent history by recent blown losses and near-misses, so there was considerable anxiety when the Illini made a charge with backup quarterback Eddie McGee. With touchdown after touchdown by Illinois, the orange and blue portion of the split crowd got louder and louder. The last one closed the game to 37-34, and a Missouri field goal by Jeff Wolfert made it 40-34 midway through the fourth quarter.

Missouri safety William Moore had a big pick in the fourth quarter, but the Illini had one more shot. On its final drive, Illinois pushed into Missouri territory, down 6. Here we go again. The chickens of that bizarre two-point conversion try were coming home to roost. But then, with Illinois at the Missouri 22 with 58 seconds left, Pig Brown saved the Tigers, picking off a pass at the 1. Daniel had to surge ahead instead of a victory formation kneel down due to being backed up against the goal line, and the Tigers had held on for a 40-34 win. Whew.

This Missouri team was different.

The Tigers then kept building, winning 38-25 at Ole Miss, coached by Ed Orgeron. Then came home wins over Western Michigan and Illinois State, moving the Tigers to 4-0.

Missouri had a bye, allowing for the anticipation to build ahead of an Oct. 6 matchup with Nebraska. Missouri was ranked 17, Nebraska was ranked 25. A midweek pep rally on campus drew a huge crowd. It was a rare 8:15 p.m. kickoff at Faurot, and after two weeks and a full day of tailgating, the energy had reached hysteria levels by the time the game kicked off under the lights. This was the 2007 team’s grand arrival on the national stage, the packed crowd wearing all gold for the “Gold Rush” game. Winner would be viewed as the favorite to win the Big 12 North.

Missouri rolled to a 41-6 win. It was no drama for Tiger fans, all celebration. Late in the game, up 34-6, Missouri ran a fake field goal for another touchdown.

In hindsight, this was maybe the worst Nebraska team in 50 years, and Bill Callahan would get fired, and Kansas would hang 76 on what would prove to be a helpless Husker defense. But it was still a big night for Missouri, and launched expectations higher and higher.

Missouri moved to No. 11, and the very next week had to play at No. 6 Oklahoma. The Sooners were coming off a gritty win over Texas. College GameDay was in Norman. Missouri gave it a strong effort, but the Sooners were playing great football and won 41-31, dealing Missouri their first loss of the season.

That set up another crossroads for Missouri, just like they faced in the fourth quarter when Illinois was roaring back. The 2006 team had started 6-0 then fallen to an 8-5 record. The 2007 Tigers were now 5-1 with No. 22 Texas Tech coming to town. How would they respond to their first loss? Would there be a hangover effect after two big and emotional games?

It was Oct. 20, Homecoming, a perfect setting for college football. In that October afternoon sun, Missouri providing a resounding answer to the questions, pounding the good Texas Tech team 41-10.
Missouri moved to No. 13. As October rolled on, I was crafting several-step scenarios to get the Tigers back up to the BCS top 2, ridiculously thinking about national title chances.

The Tigers rolled on, beating Iowa State 42-28 at Faurot on Oct. 27. Next, No. 9 Missouri traveled to Colorado on Nov. 3. The Buffaloes grabbed an early lead, but Missouri showed their mettle again, finding their top gear and racing to a 55-10 win in the mountains. More and more Tiger fans were on board, casting off their fears and doubts and past wounds in favor of pure jubilation and excitement.

Nov. 10 was Senior Day, and No. 7 Missouri held off a spirited effort from Texas A&M to win 40-26.

Missouri had bounced back from the Sooner loss in a big way, and on Nov. 17, they were 9-1, No. 6 and playing at Kansas State. Ron Prince’s Wildcats were feisty early, and Jordy Nelson was a great player, but the Tigers were too good, winning 49-32 and setting up a game for the ages. K-State fans chanted “Beat KU” to the Tigers as the game wound down.

On Nov. 24, No. 3 Missouri played No. 2 Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium. It was the greatest Border War, taking place in the epicenter of the Border War, Kansas City. The winner would be the new No.1-ranked team after Arkansas upset No. 1 LSU the day before, on Black Friday.

Missouri was having a special season, its best in decades, and Kansas was also having a special season, its best ever. Led by quarterback Todd Reesing, the Jayhawks were 11-0, surviving some close games in late October and then hitting full flight in November, putting up big scoring numbers and cruising to wins.

College Gameday was in town, and fans of the different teams were assigned to different parking lots to keep the potential brawls to a minimum. On a cold night at Arrowhead, Missouri slowly inched ahead. Daniel to Martin Rucker touchdown pass for 7-0. Daniel to Danario Alexander touchdown pass for 14-0 at the half. Then a Jimmy Jackson touchdown run for 21-0 early in the third quarter. The Jayhawks got on the board with a touchdown run, but then another Daniel touchdown pass made it 28-7 heading to the final quarter. 
But Mark Mangino’s Jayhawks kept battling back. Reesing touchdown run, Mizzou field goal. Reesing touchdown pass, Mizzou field goal. Another Reesing touchdown pass made it 34-28 Missouri with just over two minutes left.

The Tigers bled some clock, but the Jayhawks had one last gasp, deep in their own territory with 17 seconds left. It was a long-shot, but somehow the game’s outcome was not certain yet. The Tiger fans in that end of the stadium were roaring. Missouri needed one more play. They got it.

Reesing was pressured and rolled left into the end zone. A horde of Tiger defenders corralled him and drove him into the Arrowhead turf for a sack and a safety.

“Safety! Bingo! Ballgame!” Missouri radio announcer Mike Kelly yelled in his memorable call. The cameras caught Reesing walking off the field, picking turf out of his helmet. Photos of that moment are on the walls at bars in Columbia. It was one of the most euphoric moments for Tiger fans ever.

Now their was the business of finishing the game. Missouri led 36-28 with 12 seconds left. Kansas perhaps didn’t know they could attempt an onside kick on a safety kick, which would have given them one last chance to recover the ball and have one more Hail Mary try. But they just kicked it away, and Missouri took a knee, and the Tigers had their biggest win in decades, winning the Big 12 North.

For the first time in 47 years, Missouri was the No. 1 team in the country. They were playing a game for their first conference title in 38 years. And even more, somehow, a win meant Missouri would play in the national title game.

Their opponent was No. 9 Oklahoma, champions of the South. The Big 12 title game was in San Antonio. Memories from that day are still vivid. Driving all night to get there. College GameDay at the Alamo. Eating on the Riverwalk with friends. Sitting in the end zone at the Alamodome. Missouri making the crowd delirious when they scored a touchdown and then got a two-point conversion on a trick play to make it 14-14 at the half.

But the Sooners were relentless, unyielding, and took it up a notch in the second half. Oklahoma’s offense got the ground game going, churning out drives, while the Sooner defense clamped down on Missouri’s offense. When the clock hit zeroes, the Sooners had won, 38-17.

The Orange Bowl took Kanas, likely due to some great negotiating by the Jayhawks. But Missouri got to go to the Cotton Bowl. The Cotton was not in the BCS group of bowls, and so Tiger fans joined the chorus of fanbases angry at the BCS. Also, the Orange Bowl had longtime ties for the old Big Eight schools. But the Cotton was a great bowl, and it was in Texas, a huge Missouri recruiting base at the time. And in the modern format, the Orange and Cotton are on equal footing in the College Football Playoff format.

Missouri crushed No. 25 Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers had Daniel, who finished fourth in the Heisman voting, and the Razorbacks had the breathtaking Darren McFadden, who finished second.

The Hogs had an interim coach, and Missouri was dialed in. The Tigers rolled to a 38-7 win, capping their memorable season with a big win. Running back Tony Temple was the offensive MVP in his final game as a Tiger, running for four touchdowns, and safety William Moore was the defensive MVP scoring a touchdown on a pick-6. Legendary broadcaster Pat Summerall handled the play-by-play on FOX.

Missouri finished 12-2, No. 4 in the AP Poll and No. 5 in the Coaches Poll. It was the first time Missouri had won 9 or more games since 1969, and their first time with double-digit wins since 1960. Rucker and Maclin were first-team All-Americans, and Daniel and Moore were second team. Center Adam Spieker, a senior, was third-team All-American.

Tim Tebow won the Heisman that year, and LSU beat Ohio State in the national title game, capping a spectacular year of college football.

That autumn was one of the most special in Columbia. The players, the moments, the games. It was a season Tiger fans had been waiting for a long time, and one they’ll look back on fondly for years to come. Those are memories to savor, Saturdays with friends and the Tigers.

2007: 12 years ago, 1st in Big 12 North, lost conference title game

Record: 12-2, 7-1 in Big 12

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2006 Tigers started strong, ended season with wacky trip to El Paso

The 2006 Missouri season felt like a fresh start, with Chase Daniel taking over as the starter at quarterback. He had seen action as a freshman in 2005, usually playing a series each game, but the product of Texas fully had the reins in 2006.

The team got off to a hot start, creating a buzz on campus and around the state. Missouri rolled to big home wins over Murray State and Ole Miss, then churned out a road win against Rocky Long’s scrappy New Mexico Lobos in Albuquerque to move to 3-0.

The Tigers beat Ohio 31-6 on Sept. 23, then entered the rankings at No. 25 and won 28-13 against Colorado on Sept. 30 at Faurot Field. 5-0.

Missouri then outgunned Texas Tech 38-21 in Lubbock for a 6-0 start. The Tigers were bowl eligible by Oct. 7, and aiming higher now.

Missouri was ranked No. 19 for a trip to Texas A&M on Oct. 14, a game broadcast on ABC in the classic afternoon time slot. The Aggies halted the Tigers’ momentum, winning 25-19 to drop Missouri to 6-1.

The Tigers next played Kansas State in a rainy, cold Homecoming game. The Wildcats took the early lead on a defensive touchdown, but the Tigers were the better team and won 41-21.

Then came a tough three-game stretch to take some of the shine off the season. Missouri lost 26-10 at home to No. 19 Oklahoma, then lost 34-20 at eventual Big 12 North winner Nebraska, and then lost 21-16 at a dreadful Iowa State team that was apparently inspired, playing its last game for Dan McCarney. The Cyclones benefitted from a debated holding call on Missouri late in the game. On fourth down from the 1, Chase Daniel scored a go-ahead touchdown in the final minute for the Tigers, but a holding call negated the score and Missouri was stopped on the next play. Pinkel was furious, and after the game apparently decided to award his team the game, referring to his team’s “great comeback win.” A big schedule in the Tigers’ home locker room would later show the game as win. But it was, despite an apology from the Big 12 office saying the call was wrong, a loss, dropping Missouri to 7-4.

The Tigers were likely able to make themselves feel a little better with a 42-17 drubbing of Kansas in Columbia, finishing the regular season at 8-4 and 4-4 in Big 12 play.

Missouri capped the season with a delightful bowl assignment, the historic old Sun Bowl in El Paso on Dec. 29, facing No. 24 Oregon State.

It was one of those quirky and memorable trips that college football can encourage you to take. I rode with some friends on a charter bus MU organized to take students to the game. El Paso is a unique city, Texas but very Southwestern, removed from other metro areas, tucked into some mountains along the border. Tiger students making signs had a lot of material referring to Oregon State’s beaver mascot.

It was one of those afternoons you just remember vividly. Rihanna, the actual signer Rihanna, performed as the halftime entertainment. She was 18 and early in her career. The crowd at the game was a little chilly but lively. Missouri took a 31-21 lead on a Tony Temple touchdown run, and a 38-24 lead on a Chase Daniel to Chase Coffman touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. But the Beavers kept gnawing away at the lead, trimming it to 38-31 and then scoring another touchdown with 23 seconds left to make it 38-37. Oregon State coach Mike Riley went for two and the win. Yvenson Bernard barreled into the end zone, and the Beavers won 39-38.

Our charter buses got caught in a snowstorm on the way back, so we had to make an unplanned overnight stay in an old hotel in Roswell, New Mexico. It was that kind of trip, but it was quite memorable, like the 2006 Missouri season.

2006: 13 years ago, tied for 2nd in the Big 12 North

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

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2005 Tigers saw sendoff for Brad Smith, arrival of Chase Daniel

Missouri began the 2005 season needing a successful campaign. It’s hard to say if coach Gary Pinkel was on the hot seat, but the blown leads and disappointment of 2004 lingered. The Tigers did have senior quarterback Brad Smith, and an exciting freshman quarterback in Chase Daniel who represented the future and a transition to continued success at the position.

Missouri opened with a 44-17 win over Arkansas State at Arrowhead Stadium. Daniel got to play in the game, although the public address announcer briefly called him Chad.

Missouri then hosted New Mexico in the home opener on Sept. 10. My first home game as a student. The Tigers struggled to cover Hank Baskett, the Lobos’ incredible receiver who would go on to play in the NFL and marry Playboy playmate Kendra Wilkinson, and New Mexico won 45-35.

The Tigers did get some revenge on Troy the next week, winning 52-21 to head into Big 12 play at 2-1. Missouri opened conference play with a home game against No. 2 Texas, who would go on to win the national title that year. It was a tough ask for any team, and Missouri lost 51-20.

Missouri did win 38-31 at Oklahoma State on Oct. 8, setting up what would be, in hindsight, a pivotal Homecoming game with Iowa State.

Missouri struggled on offense all day, and in the fourth quarter Iowa State led 24-14 when Smith was knocked out of the game. Daniel took the field and promptly led the Tigers back, tying the game and then winning 27-24 in overtime. Assuming the rest of the season played out the same, which obviously might not have been the case, Missouri needed that win to make a bowl. It might have been the game that gave Pinkel some stability.

In any event, Missouri hosted Nebraska the next week and won, 41-24, the same score as the Tigers’ breakthrough 2003 home win over the Huskers. Nebraska fans grew more vexed with Bill Callahan.
Missouri had a three-game winning streak, but it ended in rough fashion, losing an ugly 13-3 game at Kansas, a third straight loss to the Jayhawks. The Tigers then got hammered 41-12 at No. 24 Colorado, the eventual Big 12 North winner. Although the Buffaloes would lose 70-3 to Texas in the Big 12 title game, and coach Gary Barnett would be fired.

Missouri was now 5-4, but in their third crack at securing bowl eligibility they did it, winning 31-16 over Baylor before a fairly sparse home crowd, the effects of a so-so season and it being opening day of deer season in Missouri.

The Tigers wrapped up the regular season on Nov. 19 at Kansas State. It was an emotional day in Manhattan, as the old legend Bill Snyder announced it would be his last game coaching the Wildcats before retiring. He would later come back and coach another decade, but at the time it was a goodbye. They renamed the stadium for him and his family. The crowd was jacked. Missouri hung tough, but a late pick where Smith appeared to throw right to a K-State defender was returned for a Pick 6 touchdown, and K-State won 36-28.

Missouri finished the regular season at 6-5 and went back to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, facing South Carolina of the SEC. Played on Dec. 30, Missouri overcame a 21-0 first-quarter deficit to win 38-31, capping it with a 17-3 surge during the fourth quarter. Brad Smith was the offensive MVP, and cornerback Marcus King, who had a long return touchdown, was the defensive MVP.
Missouri finished the season at 7-5, heading fully into the Chase Daniel era in 2006.

2005: 14 years ago, tied for 2nd in the Big 12

Record: 7-5, 4-4 in Big 12

Friday, August 16, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2004 Tigers kept blowing big leads

The 2004 season started with high hopes for the Tigers, as they were coming off an 8-5 season and had several key players coming back, including quarterback Brad Smith.

The season began as expected, with No. 17 Missouri cruising to a 52-20 win over Arkansas State.
But then things got weird. On a Thursday night in Troy, Alabama, in Movie Gallery Stadium, back when Movie Gallery was a thing, the Tigers took on the Troy Trojans. In Western movie terms, Missouri was riding into an ambush. Demarcus Ware was a presence for the Trojans, who won 24-14. Lee Corso was part of the broadcast team for that game, and Gary Pinkel didn’t take kindly to Corso’s criticism that Pinkel didn’t make good halftime adjustments.

But Missouri shook off that Thursday night in Troy and rolled to a 48-0 win over Ball State on Sept. 18. Then came a 17-9 home win over Colorado, who would ridiculously win the Big 12 North with a 4-4 conference record that year.

Next week, Oct. 9, Missouri trounced Baylor 30-10 in Waco. The Tigers were 4-1 and 2-0 in Big 12 play. They were ranked No. 24 for their next game, at No. 11 Texas. It could be a big October for the Tigers.

But despite a spirited effort from Missouri, Texas won 28-20. The Longhorns were on the upswing with quarterback Vince Young.

Then came the Oct. 23 Homecoming game with No. 21 Oklahoma State, coached by Les Miles. It was the same day as the Cardinals and Red Sox’ raucous Game 1 of the 2004 World Series at Fenway. Missouri took a 17-0 lead in the second quarter, but the Cowboys scored a touchdown just before the half and roared back to take a 20-17 lead in the final minute. Missouri’s last-ditch effort ended on a fullback handoff up the middle on 4th and 4. Coaches later said the wrong play had been signaled in. After the game, running back Damien Nash criticized the play calling to Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock, who wrote about that and the blown lead in the paper. Pinkel had said he didn’t read newspapers, but apparently word got back to him, and he suspended Nash for a game.

That game was at Nebraska on Oct. 30. Because Nash was suspended, Missouri burned the redshirt on Tony Temple for a handful of carries. Because of that, the 2007 Cotton Bowl would be his last game. But it was a heck of a game. In any event, Nebraska won this game 24-3. That dropped the Tigers to 4-4.

Kansas State came to Columbia Nov. 6, four days after George W. Bush won re-election against John Kerry. The Wildcats still had Darren Sproles and were the defending Big 12 champions, but they weren’t having a great season in 2004. Missouri ran out to a 21-0 lead, but the Wildcats reeled them in and won going away, 35-24. It was a stunning blown lead and result, dropping Missouri to 4-5, but the Tigers could go lower.

On Nov. 20, Senior Day, a 3-7 Kansas team came to Columbia. It was a familiar, disheartening pattern. Missouri ran out to a 14-0 lead, but then this bad Kansas team simply hammered the Tigers, going on a 31-0 run to win 31-14.

Missouri couldn’t make a bowl, but the Tigers did have one more game, at Iowa State. The Cyclones were playing for the Big 12 North title, and a chance to play for their first conference title since 1912, and first outright conference title ever. But Missouri somehow found themselves after their five-game losing streak and won 17-14 in overtime.

The Tigers finished the season at 5-6, with considerable angst among fans over all the blown leads. The 2005 season would be a big one for Pinkel and the Tigers.

2004: 15 years ago, tied for 3rd in the Big 12 North

Record: 5-6, 3-5 in Big 12

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2003 Tigers ended drought vs. Nebraska, got back to a bowl game

For the second year in a row, Missouri started the season with a entertaining win over Illinois in the Dome in St. Louis, prevailing 22-15. It was another memorable game for quarterback Brad Smith, who scored a late two-point conversion out of the old “swinging gate” formation, prompting longtime Tiger radio color commentator and Mizzou football personality John Kadlec to say, “Holy mackerel! The swinging gate!”

The season was off and running.

Missouri then rolled through cupcake city to finish nonconference play. The Tigers won 35-7 at Ball State, 37-0 over Eastern Illinois at home, and then squeaking by with a 41-40 overtime win over Middle Tennessee to move to 4-0.

The excitement cooled quickly with a 35-14 loss at Kansas. Coach Mark Mangino and quarterback Bill Whittemore would lead the Jayhawks back to a bowl game that year.

Missouri got a bye to regroup after that Border War beatdown, which came at a good time ahead of the Oct. 11 home game with Nebraska. It would be a memorable night at Memorial Stadium.
Missouri led 14-10 at the half, but then a Husker surge in the third quarter put the Big Red up 24-14 heading into the final quarter.

But then, 25 years of futility melted away during that fourth quarter. A Smith touchdown run from 39 yards out made it 24-21. On the next Tiger drive, Nebraska held them to a field goal attempt. But Missouri ran a fake, perhaps balancing the mojo from the Oklahoma go-ahead fake field goal pass the year before. Sonny Riccio hit Victor Sesay with the pass on the fake field goal to put the Tigers ahead. Missouri tacked on two more Smith touchdown runs for the 41-24 final margin. For the first time in 25 years, the Tigers had won against Nebraska, taking back the Victory Bell. The crowd rushed the field and tore down the goalposts.

Missouri was now 5-1 and ranked No. 24, but they had to travel to No. 1 Oklahoma next. Tough timing. The Sooners, who would play in the national title game that year, won 34-14.

Missouri returned home for an Oct. 25 Homecoming game with Texas Tech, again seeking that sixth win for bowl eligibility. The Tigers got what they needed, rolling to a 62-31 win on a rainy afternoon in Columbia. For the first time in five years, Missouri was going to a bowl.

The Tigers had a bye, but then lost 21-16 at Colorado, followed by a 45-22 win at Texas A&M.

Missouri was now 7-3 and heading to Manhattan for a Nov. 22 game at No. 19 Kansas State. It was in some ways Missouri’s biggest game in a while. With their win over Nebraska and the current situation in the Big 12 standings, this game was basically for the Big 12 North title. (Missouri would just need a season-ending win over last-place Iowa State the following week to clinch the title.) The Tigers were suddenly one step from playing for their first conference title in 34 years.

It was a brutally cold night in Manhattan, wind whipping off the plains, vendors running out of overpriced hot chocolate in the upper deck. At the end of the half, Mike Matheny bombed a 62-yard field goal attempt, with a strong wind at his back, and it hit the crossbar but missed. It was almost a kick for the ages. Missouri got within 14-7 at one point in the second quarter, but this was the Wildcats’ night, as they won 24-14. Darren Sproles set the K-State single-game rushing record. It was also their season in many ways, as they would go on to stun Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.

Missouri did wrap up the season with a 45-7 home win over Iowa State.

The Tigers were 8-4 and headed to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport to play Arkansas. Many Tiger fans made the trip. Anytime you get a chance to spend New Year’s Eve in Shreveport, you have to do it. But the Houston Nutt-led Razorbacks had the upper hand, winning 27-14.

But overall, it was a successful season for the Tigers. Smith, a sophomore, became one of the few quarterbacks to throw for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in a season. The Tigers had made it back to a bowl, and they headed into 2004 with some optimism.

2003: 16 years ago, 3rd in Big 12 North

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2002 saw the arrival of Brad Smith, near upset of Oklahoma

Missouri got a flash of hope early in the 2002 season. The Tigers renewed their off-and-on football rivalry with Illinois, playing the Illini in the Edward Jones Dome, then the home of the defending NFC champion St. Louis Rams.

Brad Smith emerged as an electrifying dual-threat quarterback in the game, leading Missouri to a 33-20 win to start the season. The Tigers then backed that up with a 41-6 win over Ball State at Faurot Field, in what is to date the last season on grass at the home of the Tigers.

It was a nice little 2-0 start, but Urban Meyer and Bowling Green had the answers the following week, beating Missouri 51-28 in Bowling Green. As a silver lining, Meyer and the Falcons beat Kansas, also by 23 points, the following week, completing the coveted Border War boxed set.

Missouri defeated Troy State 44-7 on Sept. 28 at home, heading into Big 12 play and October at 3-1.
The Tigers opened conference play by hosting No. 2 Oklahoma. Bob Stoops and the Sooners had another great season going, and hordes of Sooner fans showed up for the game, chiming in zealously with an “OU” at the end of Missouri’s “M-I-Z, Z-O-U!” chant.

Oklahoma led 23-7 early in the third quarter, but Missouri mounted a spirited comeback attempt. Smith, who would run for 213 yards and throw for 178 in the game, hit Justin Gage for a touchdown pass to make it 23-14. Then a field goal by Mike Matheny (the kicker, not the Cardinals player/manager) made it 23-17 heading into the final quarter. Smith scored on a 25-yard run with 10:22 to go that put the Tigers on top 24-23 after the extra point. The stadium was bedlam.

But Oklahoma got great field position after a Smith interception later in the quarter. With less than seven minutes to go, the Sooners lined up for a 31-yard field goal to try to retake the lead. But it was a fake. Holder Matt McCoy, a defensive back, rolled right with the ball and tossed a beautiful pass to a covered Chris Chester in the end zone for a touchdown. After a two-point conversion, Oklahoma led 31-24.

The Tigers kept battling. But their ensuing drive ended with another Smith interception, and then Missouri’s final-gasp drive got to the OU 35-yard line before Smith was sacked on fourth down with five seconds left. Missouri had gained more yards and first downs, but the Sooners had the 31-24 win.
Missouri had a chance to earn their first win over Nebraska in 24 years the following week with a trip to Lincoln. The Huskers were unranked and on their way to a 7-7 record, which would end their streak of 40 straight winning seasons. They were vulnerable. But Missouri wasn’t quite there. Nebraska won 24-13.

Then came an Oct. 19 trip to Lubbock to face Texas Tech. Mike Leach and the Red Raiders hung 52 on the Tigers in a 52-38 win. That made it three straight losses for the Tigers, who were now 3-4.
Missouri did get its first conference win the next week, beating Kansas 36-12 at home. The Jayhawks would go 0-8 in Big 12 games that year, although first-year coach Mark Mangino would eventually get some things going in Lawrence.

Then came a Nov. 2 trip to No. 22 Iowa State. Seneca Wallace and the Cyclones were on their way to another bowl, and they beat the Tigers 42-35. Missouri faced another ranked opponent the following week, hosting No. 18 Colorado, who would win the Big 12 North again. The Buffaloes won 42-35 in overtime, giving Missouri back-to-back losses by the same score.

The Tigers won 33-27 at Texas A&M in double overtime on Nov. 16, keeping alive their slim bowl chances heading into the season finale.

Missouri hosted No. 10 Kansas State in that game, the final game on grass at Faurot Field. It was also my first Mizzou game in attendance. It was all Wildcats on that autumn Saturday, with an ABC audience watching. K-State won 38-0.

Missouri finished the year 5-7, although they had been generally competitive, and Smith gave a lot of reason for hope heading into Gary Pinkel’s third season in 2003.

2002: 17 years ago, 5th in the Big 12 North

Record: 5-7, 2-6 in Big 12

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2001 saw schedule shakeup after 9/11

On Sept. 1, 2001, Missouri hosted Bowling Green to open the season. It was the head coaching debut at their schools for both coaches, both of who were natives of Ohio and had played college football in Ohio. Gary Pinkel, born in Akron and a player at Kent State, had coached Toledo and was in his first game coaching Missouri. Urban Meyer, born in Toledo and a player at Cincinnati, was making his debut as a Division I head coach, in his first game leading Bowling Green.

Missouri was a rebuilding project. The Tigers had notched back-to-back losing seasons, and had endured losing seasons for 15 of the previous 17 seasons. Pinkel had his work cut out for him.

Bowling Green was also a rebuild, coming off six straight losing seasons. Meyer, because he’s Urban Meyer, immediately had them winning games, going 8-3 that year. The impact was immediate, including this opening game, as the Falcons won 20-13 to spoil Pinkel’s debut.

Pinkel and the Tigers got that win the next week, Sept. 8, rolling to a 40-6 home win over Southwest Texas State, a program now known as simply Texas State.

Then came that September Tuesday that changed so much, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Missouri’s game scheduled for that Saturday, a trip to Michigan State, was postponed to Dec. 1, the week after the regular season ended, as American sports took a break to stop and process it all.

The Tigers had a scheduled bye the following Saturday, Sept. 22, so they didn’t return to action until a Sept. 29 home game against No. 4 Nebraska. The Huskers would go on to play Miami in the Rose Bowl for the national title, but Missouri took a 3-0 lead after one quarter. But Nebraska scored 13 in the second, 9 in the third, and 14 in the fourth as the Tigers remained stuck on 3. Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, the lightning-legged runner who would win the Hesiman Trophy that year, had the play of the day, avoiding a Tiger defender in the end zone and then sprinting for a 95-yard touchdown run, naturally scoring in that north end zone.

Missouri bounced back with a triple overtime win at Oklahoma State, the Tigers’ second triple-overtime win over the Cowboys in four years. It was a fittingly wacky game for the personality of Cowboys’ first-year head coach Les Miles, as college football fans would see in the coming years. Les and OSU pulled a massive upset of Bob Stoops and Oklahoma later in the year.

Now 2-2, Missouri hosted Iowa State on Oct. 13. The Cyclones were having a good winning season under coach Dan McCarney and with Seneca Wallace at quarterback. Wallace was a dynamic playmaker who played his junior and senior seasons in Ames after starting at a junior college. The Cyclones won 20-14.

Missouri next traveled to Kansas and earned a thrilling 38-34 win over Terry Allen’s Jayhawks. Pinkel was off to a 1-0 start against the opponent who mattered most.

The Tigers were now 3-3, but the schedule was getting tougher. Missouri hosted No. 7 Texas and lost 35-16, then traveled to No. 25 Colorado and lost 38-24. The Buffaloes, coached by Mizzou alum Gary Barnett, would hammer No. 1 Nebraska 62-36 on Black Friday, a stunning result that meant Colorado won the Big 12 North. The Buffs then beat South champ Texas in an upset at Texas Stadium to win the Big 12 championship.

After back-to-back games against the Big 12’s eventual division winners, Missouri got some relief in hosting the cuddly Baylor Bears, who would go 0-8 in conference play that year. The Tigers won 41-24.

After a bye, Missouri wrapped up conference play with a 24-3 loss at the hands of K-State in Manhattan.

In the Dec. 1 makeup game in East Lansing, the Spartans hammered Missouri 55-7 like they were extras in the movie “300,” giving the Tigers a 4-7 final record.

It was another losing year, but Pinkel was going to get plenty of time to try to engineer a turnaround.

2001: 18 years ago, tied for 4th in the Big 12 North

Record: 4-7, 3-5 in Big 12

Monday, August 12, 2019

Mizzou 50: After losing 2000 season, Larry was out and Gary was in

2000: 19 years ago, tied for 5th in the Big 12

Record: 3-8, 2-6 in Big 12

Missouri entered the 2000 season, Larry Smith’s seventh in Columbia, at a crossroads. After all those losing seasons, the program had won 7 games in 1997 and 8 games in 1998, only to fall way down in the standings in 1999. Sadly, the 2000 season brought more of that losing, and Smith was fired after the season.

Missouri opened with a win against Western Illinois, 50-20, because who doesn’t like to start a meal with a cupcake? Things quickly got harder. Missouri played at No. 17 Clemson and got beat down, 62-9. Two days later, Sept. 11 came and went as a regular day for the last time.

Then Missouri had a 13-10 home loss to Michigan State, followed by a 42-24 loss at No. 1 Nebraska.

Missouri did beat a bad Oklahoma State team 24-10 on Oct. 7 in Columbia, which pretty much sounds like a pillow fight of a game.

Missouri then hosted a bad Kansas team the following week and lost 38-17. The season was starting to unravel. The Tigers lost 46-12 at Texas, coached by Mack Brown, and suffered a 39-20 loss at a good Iowa State team, coached by Dan McCarney and led by quarterback Sage Rosenfels.

The Tigers lost 28-18 to Colorado on Nov. 4 to drop to 2-7. All hope of a decent season was long gone. Missouri did notch a win at Baylor on Nov. 11, playing in the home state of George W. Bush, who would eventually be declared the winner of the incredibly close election held the Tuesday before. The state of Missouri narrowly sided with Bush in the election, while electing Democrat Bob Holden Governor by a close margin over Jim Talent.

Missouri closed the season with a spirited effort at home, but it still resulted in a loss, 28-24 to No. 9 Kansas State as Snyder cruised on.

After Smith’s firing, the Tigers looked for a new coach to lead them in the new millennium. They hired a former Don James assistant who had found success as head coach at Toledo. He would shape the next decade and a half of Missouri football. Gary Pinkel.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Mizzou 50: 1999 Tigers returned to losing ways

1999: 20 years ago, tied for 5th in Big 12 North

Record: 4-7, 1-7 in Big 12

Missouri clearly needed to rebuild in 1999 after losing several key players from the 1997 and 1998 bowl teams. But the Tigers took quite a step back even with that context in mind, tumbling to 1-7 in Big 12 play, tied for last in the Big 12 north.

The Tigers did get off to a decent start, albeit with close home wins against manageable opposition. Missouri won 31-28 against UAB to open the season, and then 48-34 over Western Michigan two weeks later.

But then came a Sept. 25 game against No. 5 Nebraska. The Huskers, who would win the Big 12 title that year, won 40-10 in Columbia.

Missouri followed that win a 27-17 win at Memphis, in the Liberty Bowl Stadium. The Tigers were 3-1, but conference play continued to go poorly.

Missouri lost 46-39 in overtime at Colorado. The Buffaloes were coached by Gary Barnett, a Mizzou alum who had played on MU’s last conference title team, 30 years previously. Then came a 24-21 Homecoming loss to a not-good Iowa State team, and a disastrous 21-0 loss at rival Kansas.

The Tigers got a hold of themselves and won 34-7 at home against Texas Tech, but that would be their only conference win.

On Nov. 6, Missouri lost 37-0 at Oklahoma, which was seeing immediate results in Year 1 with head coach Bob Stoops and offensive coordinator Mike Leach.

Missouri then got pounded 51-14 by Texas A&M in Columbia, and then obliterated 66-0 by No. 9 Kansas State in Manhattan. That made it three shutout losses in the team’s final five games. The margins of defeat in some of those late October and November games had to be frustrating. After two very fun years for Missouri, the program had quickly slipped back to lower-tier status in the conference. The next season, 2000, would be important for Larry Smith and the Tigers.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Mizzou 50: 1998 Tigers won first bowl game since 1981

Missouri began the 1998 season with a lot of optimism following the success of 1997. The Tigers kept those good feelings going with a 37-0 season-opening win over Bowling Green, and then a 41-23 win over Kansas, with the Tiger ranked No. 25.

Missouri climbed to No. 19 for a Sept. 19 game at No. 1 Ohio State. The Buckeyes would go 11-1 and finish No. 2 in the final polls. Missouri lost 35-14 in the Horseshoe.

Missouri then beat Northwestern State and Iowa State to move to 4-1 ahead of an Oct. 17 Homecoming game with Oklahoma. The Big 12 landscape was kind of different in 1997 and 1998, with Missouri playing, and beating, Texas on Homecoming 1997 and Oklahoma for Homecoming 1998. The No. 20 Tigers won 20-6 over the Sooners to win the Peace Pipe.

Next up was a road game at No. 7 Nebraska. Missouri gave the Huskers and first-year head coach Frank Solich another battle, but Nebraska won 20-13.

Missouri beat Texas Tech 28-26 on Halloween in Lubbock (bet that was a scene) to clinch a second straight year of a winning record and bowl eligibility. The Tigers backed it up with a 38-14 win over Colorado on Nov. 7, improving to 7-2 and a No. 13 ranking.

But the last two regular-season games were against the two teams who would play in the 1998 Big 12 Championship Game. Missouri lost 17-14 at No. 6 Texas A&M and R.C. Slocum.

Then came a Nov. 21 home game with No. 2 Kansas State to finish the regular season.

The Wildcats were having maybe the most memorable season in school history, as they were 10-0 and coming off their biggest ever win, 40-30 over Nebraska in Manhattan, their first win over the Huskers in 30 years. Yes, there was a missed facemask call late in that game, but it was K-State’s night, and it looked like their year, with Bill Snyder leading them to the mountaintop after a half-century in the wilderness.

Missouri played a tough game against the Wildcats, competing till the end, but K-State won 31-25. The Wildcats would later lose a heartbreaker in double overtime to Texas A&M in that Big 12 title game, with K-State leading late. A win would’ve put them in the national title game.

Missouri went 7-4 in the regular season, and they faced West Virginia in the Bowl at Arizona Stadium in Tucson. Played on Dec. 26, the day sung about in Good King Wenceslas, Missouri won 34-31, its first bowl win since the 1981 Tangerine Bowl. The quarterback matchup was Corby Jones for Missouri, playing the final game of a successful career, against Marc Bulger for the Mountaineers, the future St. Louis Rams star.

Missouri coach Larry Smith would pass away in Tucson nine years and a month after that bowl game.
Missouri finished 8-4, ranked No. 25 in the coaches poll and No. 21 in the AP poll. The Tigers had back-to-back winning seasons, ending the long run of losing seasons and then backing it up.

1998: 21 years ago, tied for 2nd in Big 12 North

Record: 8-4, 5-3 in Big 12

Friday, August 9, 2019

Mizzou 50: 1997 Tigers ended bowl drought, played epic game with Nebraska

When I interviewed Missouri coach Barry Odom for a preview story ahead of the 2016 season, as the interview was wrapping up, I asked him what was his favorite memory as a player at Missouri. He said ending Missouri’s 14-year bowl drought in 1997 was his favorite memory, saying it meant a lot to do that for the program and that the team seemed to have a special bond. Odom was a sophomore linebacker that season. He tore his ACL in the spring but still recovered enough to play every game in 1997.

So yeah, memorable stuff for Odom. Memorable stuff for the whole program, both for finally making it back to a bowl, and for playing one of the more famous games in Missouri football history, the kicked-ball loss to Nebraska, as dramatic and chaotic of a game as you’ll see in this dramatic and chaotic sport.

But first, the buildup. Missouri opened with a home win over Eastern Michigan. Then came an usually early game with Kansas on Sept. 13. The Jayhawks won 15-7 in Lawrence. That set the up-and-down tone for the first half of the season.

Missouri won at Tulsa, then lost 31-10 to No. 7 Ohio State in Columbia. Missouri beat Iowa State at home, then lost at No. 22 Kansas State. The Tigers were now 3-3, and at least in contention for that elusive winning record and bowl game.

But as the leaves reached their peak color, Missouri found its stride. The Tigers hosted defending Big 12 champion Texas on Oct. 18 for Homecoming. Texas would have a pretty disappointing season that year, finishing 4-7, and Missouri contributed to that by beating the Horns 37-29.

Then came a wild, scintillating 51-50 double overtime win at No. 12 Oklahoma State, which was 6-0. The Cowboys had enormous future star power at coordinator, with Les Miles running the offense and Rob Ryan in charge of the defense. But Missouri pulled out the win, and moved within one win of securing a winning record.

They wasted no time with that, getting that win the next week at Colorado, 41-31. On Nov. 1, 1997, at over a mile above sea level, after 14 years, the winning record drought was over. The Tigers were 6-3 with two regular season games left.

Missouri then returned home for a huge game, hosting No. 1 Nebraska. The Huskers were unbeaten and on an incredible four-year run of dominance. The Tigers had not beaten their rival in 19 years. They had endured back-to-back games in Lincoln due to the schedule shakeup when the Big Eight became the Big 12. Now the Victory Bell game was back in Columbia, and the crowd was jacked. The great Brent Musburger was on the call, along with Dan Fouts and Jack Arute.. Missouri had never beaten a No. 1 ranked team, despite all their stunning wins over top-5 teams in the 70s.

It was, to put it lightly, an inspired performance from Missouri. The Tigers’ belief seemed to grow and grow as the game raged on. Missouri led 24-21 at the half. Missouri led 31-28 heading into the fourth quarter. With less than five minutes to go and the game tied at 31, Missouri quarterback Corby Jones faked a handoff, rolled out, and hit an open receiver for a touchdown to put Missouri on top. Memorial Stadium erupted with cheers 20 years in the making. “Missouri leads it!” Musburger yelled. Larry Smith appeared to be moved to tears on the sideline, overcome by his team and their relentless effort. Missouri 38, Nebraska 31.

Nebraska drove down the field. Both schools’ current coaches were on the field, in Odom and Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost. The ending was wild. Sprinklers went off at random in one end zone. Then, on third down with less than 10 seconds to go, Frost threw into the end zone to Shevin Wiggins. The throw was on the money and hit Wiggins in the chest, but he couldn’t corral it and it rolled down his leg. His leg flailed upwards as Wiggins fell backwards, and he kicked the ball into the air. It fluttered for an instant, then Husker receiver Matt Davidson caught it for a touchdown right before it hit the ground. Touchdown Nebraska.

A few things. Intentionally kicking the ball is a penalty, but in the moment the refs did not call that. Also, while the clock ran to 0:00 after the play, it likely wouldn’t have been the last play of the game. It was third down, and if you watch the replay, had Davidson not caught the ball it would’ve fallen incomplete with 2 or 3 seconds left, allowing one more play. And then adding to the chaos, Missouri fans rushed into that fateful north end zone, thinking they had won. The refs cleared the field and Nebraska kicked the tying extra point.

Overtime went about as expected, with Nebraska scoring a touchdown and Missouri coming up short, resulting in a 45-38 overtime Nebraska win. It remains one of the toughest losses Missouri has endured, with fans wondering what might have been, what that moment might have been like.

For Nebraska is was delirious joy. "Hallowed be his name," began a Sports Illustrated article about the catch, talking about Davidson. The Huskers went on to win their third national title in four years, winning the Big 12 title game and beating Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. They shared the national title with Michigan, the final year before the BCS era kicked in to try to end split national titles.

Now ranked No. 25, Missouri came back the next week and beat a bad Baylor team 42-24 to close the regular season at 7-4.

No. 19 Missouri played No. 18 Colorado State in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, just like they did in their previous bowl game 14 long years before. Colorado State won 35-24.

Missouri finished 7-5 and ranked No. 23. It was a tough end to the season, and the Nebraska loss had been brutal, but the Tigers were relevant and winning again. For the first time in a long time, the program had life.

1997: 22 years ago, 3rd place in the Big 12 North

Record: 7-5, 5-3 in Big 12

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Mizzou 50: 1996 Tigers were inching closer to ending bowl drought

The 1996 Mizzou football season was the start of a new era in a few ways. It was Missouri’s first season in the new Big 12 Conference, and it was the first season with permanent lights at Memorial Stadium. After 70 years, there were now lights in place to shine down on Faurot Field.

However, the program was still stumbling along in the darkness, coming into the season 13 years removed from their last winning season. But in Larry Smith’s third season, the Tigers were inching closer.

Missouri opened the season with its first Big 12 game, at No. 8 Texas. Missouri lost 40-10, and the Longhorns would go on to upset Nebraska in the first Big 12 Championship game that December.

The Tigers returned home for a game with Memphis, the first night game under permanent lights at Faurot. Memphis won the battle of the Tigers, 19-16. Missouri was able to get their first win the following week in another all-Tiger game, beating Clemson 38-24.

On Sept. 28, Missouri lost 45-31 at Iowa State, but then won 27-26 against SMU on a Thursday night at the Cotton Bowl. While four of SMU’s former Southwest Conference brethren were in the Big 12 with Missouri, the Mustangs were beginning life in the Western Athletic Conference.

On Oct. 12, Missouri lost 35-10 at No. 22 Kansas State to drop to 2-4 heading into a bye week and then Homecoming week.

Missouri played Oklahoma State in the Homecoming game on Oct. 26, and it ended up being a historic day for two reasons. It was Missouri’s first Big 12 win, and first overtime game, as the Tigers prevailed 35-28 in OT.

November began as no-chance November, with a couple of rugged games. Missouri lost 41-13 at home to No. 7 Colorado and then in Lincoln to No. 5 Nebraska, 51-7. It was a quirk of the schedule due to the shuffle of switching from the Big Eight schedule to the Big 12 schedule model, but it was the second straight meeting in Lincoln between the two schools. Then again, the location of the games during these years probably didn’t matter much.

On Nov. 16, Missouri traveled to Waco to face Baylor. The two schools weren’t great in that first Big 12 year, but as often happens, things got wild in Waco. Missouri won 49-42 in triple overtime.

Despite the changes of 1996, Missouri still wrapped up the season with the Kansas game, the two schools still hated each other and desperately wanted to beat the other. Both schools were 4-6 and not going to a bowl, but that didn’t matter. If anything it gave the game extra juice; this was effectively the bowl game for both. Missouri won 42-25 in Columbia, earning their first Big 12 win in regulation.

It was a nice end to the season, but it was still Missouri’s 13th straight losing season. But the team had some pieces, like sophomore quarterback Corby Jones and junior running back Brock Olivo. And a freshman linebacker named Barry Odom had recorded 72 tackles in 1996. Whether anyone knew it at the time, a breakthrough was close.

1996: 23 years ago, 4th place in the Big 12 North

Record: 5-6, 3-5 in Big 12

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Mizzou 50: 1995 brought farewells to the Big Eight, Don Faurot

The 1995 Missouri football season was a season for nostalgia in Columbia. Once again, it was a losing season in Columbia, but it was at least an interesting intersection of the old days of Missouri football and the new.

In the summer of 1995, Missouri put in sod at Faurot Field, returning the surface to natural grass. Don Faurot himself, the coach who put Mizzou football on the map decades ago, ceremonially laid the last piece of sod to complete the move back to natural grass. Faurot was in his 90s, and 69 years earlier the Mountain Grove, Mo., native had helped lay the sod on the original grass field at Memorial Stadium.

It would also be Missouri’s final autumn in the Big Eight. The conference, under a few different names, had been Missouri’s home since 1907. They mostly kept their rivalries and matchups going in the Big 12, but it was still a change. From 1957 to 1995, the entire lifetime of a lot of Tiger fans, Missouri played in the same intimate and familiar league composed of the same eight schools. For decades, the Big Eight champion played in the Orange Bowl. Missouri fans for years threw oranges on the field after the first touchdown of the season, a gesture of good luck.

But in February 1994 those eight schools agreed to merge with four Texas schools from the old Southwest Conference to form the new Big 12. The feel would change some, with league offices moving from Kansas City to the Dallas area and the conference’s center of gravity shifting south.
But first, the Tigers had one more season of Big Eight football.

Missouri won the first game on the new grass field, 28-7 over North Texas on Sept. 2. Then came a 17-10 home loss to Bowling Green.

On Sept. 16, Missouri traveled to Lubbock to play Texas Tech, who would be joining the Big 12 the following year. The Red Raiders were coached by the marvelously named Spike Dykes, a Lubbock native. Texas Tech won 41-14.

Missouri returned home to play Northeast Louisiana, now known as Louisiana-Monroe, and the Tigers managed a 31-22 win to move to 2-2.

Conference play brought much tougher games, as the Big Eight was going out with a strong final session. On Oct. 7, Missouri played at No. 13 Kansas State, a team that for the second year in a row would only lose to top-10 Nebraska and Colorado teams during the regular season. The Tigers were a 21-point underdog. The Wildcats were rolling to a top-10 finish in the final polls, and they rolled against Missouri 30-0.

Somehow, things got even tougher the following week, when Missouri was a 42-point underdog at No. 2 Nebraska. The 1995 Cornhuskers were maybe the best team Missouri has ever played, and one of the great college football teams of all time. Coming off a national title, the ’95 Huskers won every Big Eight game by at least 23 in that final campaign, crushed No. 2 Florida 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl, and finished 12-0 for a second straight national title. That team was a steamroller, and they steamrolled the Tigers 57-0 on Oct. 14.

But on the heels of those two beatdowns, a combined 87-0 run by opponents, came Missouri’s annual week of good feelings, Homecoming. MU claims to have invented Homecoming, and it remains a very big deal in Columbia every autumn. It’s a weekend to celebrate and embrace nostalgia and soak in the glorious atmosphere of fall on campus and feel for just a moment like you’re 21 again. It is the biggest week for school spirit, and so perhaps it was fitting, if sad, that Don Faurot passed away during Homecoming week in 1995. He died at age 93 on Oct. 19, two days before the Homecoming game. He was a link to another era, but also a symbol until the end about something fresh and modern and enduring, the love of your alma mater. His college student memories were over 70 years old when he passed. He was the coach who put Mizzou on the map, who played brutal road schedules to help give the program a financial base, who won three conference titles and developed a new formation and hired Dan Devine while he was athletic director. He stayed. He was Missouri football. His statue greets Tiger fans every Saturday.

The Tigers were facing Oklahoma State in the Homecoming game on Oct. 21. The Tigers put up a fight, but lost 30-26 to the Cowboys.

Missouri next lost 13-9 at home to No. 23 Oklahoma.

Next up, on Nov. 4, was a road trip to No. 11 Kansas, the last Border War under the Big Eight banner. The Jayhawks were having one of their best seasons in school history under Glen Mason, going 10-2 and finishing in the top 10 of the final polls, losing only to Nebraska and Kansas State. Kansas won 42-23 against the Tigers.

The loss dropped Missouri to 2-7, but the challenges kept coming. Missouri traveled to the mountains for a Nov. 11 game at No. 9 Colorado. New head coach Rick Neuheisel was leading the Buffaloes to a top-5 final ranking and a Cotton Bowl win. Colorado shutout the Tigers on the way to a 21-0 win. That made it six straight losses.

Finally, on Nov. 18, the dismal Tiger season reached its finale with a home game against Iowa State. It was a 1 p.m. kickoff, and in late autumn sunshine the Tigers and Cyclones played their final Big Eight football game. Missouri won, 45-31, putting a positive final touch on the season, finishing with a 3-8 record. The Iowa State game was Missouri’s only win in its final Big Eight season.

The following week, Nebraska and Oklahoma played the final Big Eight Conference game. For years it had been the dramatic season-ender for both schools, the game that most defined Big Eight football, but the final Big Eight meeting was less than riveting. Nebraska won 37-0.

In some ways, it makes sense why Missouri struggled in 1995. Of course, the Tigers weren’t very good and hadn’t been good for a long time, but four teams (Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas State, Kansas), half the conference, finished in the top 10. It’s tough to get much momentum against that slate.

In any event, Missouri headed into the Big 12 era on a run of 12 straight losing seasons.

1995: 24 years ago, tied for 7th in the Big Eight

Record: 3-8, 1-6 in Big Eight

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Mizzou 50: 1994 brought the start of the Larry Smith years

By 1994, the Omniturf era at Faurot Field, mostly known for bad field conditions and bad football teams, was mercifully nearing its end. In 1992, Big Eight Conference coaches issued a statement that included the phrase, “Big Eight Conference football coaches wanted to report that the football field at the University of Missouri is a detriment to the home and visiting teams and takes away from the integrity of the game played on such a field.” Ouch.

The Rolling Stones performed at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 18, 1994, before 45,000 people. The concert raised almost $100,000 for stadium upgrades that would include a switch from Omniturf back to natural grass for the 1995 season.

Missouri had a new coach for that final Omniturf year, 1994. Larry Smith was the latest man brought to Columbia to try to bring the program back to life after an ever-increasing malaise, which had reached a decade by the time he arrived.

Smith had previously coached USC to three Rose Bowls, winning one, a pretty good resume for a coach coming to a program in the state Missouri was in. Smith had been fired after a Freedom Bowl loss to Fresno State, but he at least had some intriguing past results.

Missouri was a rebuild, however, and the Tigers opened the 1994 season with a 20-17 loss to a not-great Tulsa team. Then came a 42-0 beatdown at Illinois that dropped Missouri to 0-2.

On Sept. 17, three days after that Rolling Stones concert in Columbia, Missouri played Houston in the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Astrodome. It was a small crowd, 18,310, but it was a game in an iconic venue. Playing a Houston Cougars team that would finish near the bottom of the SWC and would get left out of the Big 12 Conference shuffle, Missouri won 16-0. Larry Smith’s first Missouri win came in the Astrodome.

The Tigers then lost two home games, 34-10 to West Virginia and 38-23 to No. 5 Colorado. The Buffaloes would go 11-1 and win the Fiesta Bowl that season, only losing to Nebraska.
Missouri was now 1-4, but the Tigers went to Stillwater and beat Oklahoma State 24-15.

Then came an Oct. 22 home game with No. 3 Nebraska. Missouri was a huge underdog. The Tigers had produced a lot of scrappy efforts and close games against outstanding Husker teams, but this was lopsided. The Huskers, barreling toward their third national title, and their first in two successful decades under Tom Osborne, won 42-7. Osborne would finally get that elusive ring with a 24-17 Orange Bowl win over Miami, in which the Huskers surged back in the fourth quarter to get the win.
Missouri bounced back from the loss to the Huskers with a 34-20 win at Iowa State, but then lost 30-13 at Oklahoma.

Missouri hosted No. 11 Kansas State on Nov. 12. The Wildcats were on the rise under Bill Snyder, having only lost to the elite Nebraska and Colorado teams that season. It was a close one, but K-State won 21-18.

The following week, Nov. 19, was Senior Day in Columbia, the final game on the Omniturf at Faurot Field, against Kansas. It was probably fitting, but Missouri closed out that era with a loss, 31-14, to the Jayhawks. The Tigers began and ended the Omniturf decade with winless home seasons, and their final record on the surface was 20-38-3.

But Missouri had one more game, at Hawaii. Playing in Aloha Stadium, it probably felt like a bowl trip for a program that hadn’t made one in a long time. Missouri and Hawaii tied 32-32, the last tie in Mizzou football history, as new overtime rules were coming soon.

The Tigers finished the season 3-8-1, another tough season in a sea of them. Quarterback Jeff Handy had completed his eligibility, so the rebuild would have to include replacing the school’s all-time leading passer at the time. As Smith headed to year 2, there weren’t a lot of tangible signs of hope. The conference title drought also hit 25 years that fall.

1994: 25 years ago, 6th in the Big Eight

Record: 3-8-1, 2-5 in Big Eight

Monday, August 5, 2019

Mizzou 50: Changes were on the horizon for 1993 Tigers

The 1993 Missouri Tigers began Bob Stull’s final season as head coach in a good way. Hosting an Illinois team that would go a respectable 5-3 in Big Ten play, Missouri crushed the Illini 31-3 on Sept. 11. It was a dominating win and gave Missouri a chance at some early momentum.

But in college football, the quality of next week’s opponent can matter more than momentum. For week 2, Missouri had a rugged trip to take on No. 16 Texas A&M at Kyle Field, the massive “Home of the 12th Man” that can be a tough place to play, especially when the Aggies are as good as they were in the early 1990s. Under coach R.C. Slocum, who would become the school’s winningest football coach, Texas A&M won three straight Southwest Conference titles from 1991 to 1993, going unbeaten in SWC play each year. Missouri fans probably are more familiar with Slocum’s stunning Big 12 title game win over K-State in 1998, but his teams owned the SWC in the early 90s.

However, football in the Heartland was starting to shift in 1993. Missouri’s Big Eight and Texas A&M’s Southwest Conference were on the verge of merging, or at least the Big Eight and part of the old SWC. The SWC was struggling by 1993. The league had lost Arkansas to the Southeastern Conference, and many of its best programs were struggling and/or dealing with NCAA sanctions from a particularly freewheeling era of recruiting. The Aggies would actually have a fourth straight SWC season without a loss in 1994, but they had NCAA sanctions and weren’t eligible for the conference title or postseason play. They weren’t even allowed to be on TV, meaning their game with Texas was moved from its traditional Thanksgiving slot so the Longhorns could play a TV game that week. The last eight SWC champions all lost their Cotton Bowl games.

Texas A&M would officially announce the move the new Big 12 the following March, in 1994. And after the 1995 football season (and spring of 1996 for some sports), the SWC was officially dissolved after 82 rich and entertaining years.

Life would change for Big Eight schools as well. They needed viewers and population. The Texas schools of the SWC would give them that, but plenty of other problems and changes would crop up. Time waits for no one.

But back on Sept. 18, 1993, the only thoughts were on the field, where the Aggies absolutely destroyed Missouri, 73-0. It was nearly as bad as the Tigers’ infamous 77-0 loss to Oklahoma, and really there’s no sense splitting hairs; losing 73-0 is just as bad as losing 77-0.

Missouri then traveled to play West Virginia, a great team that would go on to knock off mighty Miami in a riveting game in Morgantown in November and win the Big East title. The Mountaineers would go 11-0 before losing to Florida and Steve Spurrier in the Sugar Bowl.

West Virginia easily beat the Tigers 35-3. Missouri had been outscored 108-3 over two weeks.
The Tigers returned home to play SMU, who would finish near the bottom of the SWC. On Oct. 2, Missouri and SMU played to a 10-10 tie, the final tie in Memorial Stadium history. It happened 67 years to the day after the first Memorial Stadium tie, when Missouri and Tulane played to a 0-0 tie on a very muddy field in the stadium’s first game in 1926.

Missouri was still playing on the artificial Omniturf in 1993, but there was probably plenty of mud that month in Columbia, as October 1993 was the wettest single month in Missouri history, based on statewide average rainfall.

The year 1993 is most widely remembered in Missouri as the year of the Great Flood of 1993. All summer long, the state’s major rivers were above flood stage, with some towns along the Mississippi approaching 200 days above flood stage.

Missouri began conference play the next week with a 30-18 loss at No. 20 Colorado, but followed that with a 42-9 home win over Oklahoma State.

On Oct. 23, the Tigers got hammered 49-7 at No. 5 Nebraska, who would finish the regular season 11-0 and win the Big Eight again. The Huskers were heavy underdogs in their 1-vs-2 Orange Bowl showdown with Florida State, but nearly pulled off the upset, losing 18-16 when a last-second field goal attempt drifted wide. It was the second time in nine years Tom Osborne had come agonizingly close to that elusive national title only to miss out, but he was about to cash in with three national titles in four years.

Missouri followed the loss to Nebraska with a 37-34 win over Iowa State at home. It was the Tigers’ first win over the Cyclones since 1987, meaning at last they could again pose with the rivalry trophy pretending to make calls.

Missouri was a respectable 3-4-1 while facing a tough schedule, but the season ended with three straight losses to end Stull’s tenure at Mizzou. The Tigers lost 42-23 at No. 20 Oklahoma, and then lost 31-21 at No. 24 Kansas State. The 1993 season was the year K-State really took off under Bill Snyder, and sealed the deal that the Wildcats had moved past Missouri in the Big Eight hierarchy. The Wildcats made their first bowl in a decade and finished in the final rankings for the first time ever.

Missouri drifted lower. In the Nov. 20 season finale, the Tigers suffered an appalling 28-0 loss at Kansas to finish the season and the Stull era.

Heading into 1994, the Tigers turned to Larry Smith to attempt to turn their program around.

1993: 26 years ago, tied for 6th in the Big Eight

Record: 3-7-1, 2-5 in Big Eight