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