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

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