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

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