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