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