What If...Pig Had Caught That Ball?

It's one of the more nondescript plays in my database.

Play: #11660
Q: 4
Visitor: Missouri
Home: Oklahoma
Offense: Oklahoma
QB: Bradford
Down: 1
Distance: 10
YdLine: 67
Run/Pass: Pass
Result: INC

Seems simple enough.  Sam Bradford threw an incomplete pass.  However...in a season almost completely devoid of 'What If...' potential, this was the one.  Bradford was going for Manuel Johnson in the endzone and overshot him a bit.  Pig Brown was closing in for the pick.  Only...he lost it in the sun lights.  The ball bounced off of his hands.  In Play #11666, Oklahoma scored to take a 29-24 lead.  In Play #11669, Curtis Lofton returned a fumbled handoff exchange for a TD, and it was 35-24.  Ballgame.  From potential victory to sure defeat in 9 plays.  So the question is simple: what if Brown picked off the pass?  Does Mizzou win on October 13?  Does that make a difference in the national title chase?  Let's find out.

(And before we move further, a standard Pig disclaimer: we'd have been nothing in 2007 without Pig.  Pig did nothing wrong, persay, on the play--he was staring into the sun.  It's just that I'm in a 'What Iffy' mood, and my "What If...Laurence Maroney had ended up a Tiger" post is nowhere near completion.  So there you go.)

#11 Mizzou at #6 Oklahoma

So Pig picks off Bradford.  We'll assume it results in a touchback.  Mizzou takes over at their 20 with 14 minutes left, leading 24-23.  Here's how Mizzou had performed after an OU turnover:

  • 6 plays, 38 yards, TD
  • 8 plays, 46 yards, TD

After taking a while to get moving, in Mizzou's last four drives the Tigers had put up 235 yards and 17 points in 35 plays.  The air around Owen Field was as tense as it had been in a long time.  Not until OU scored to make it 29-24 did the place return to life.  In other words...Pig holds onto that ball, and the odds of Mizzou driving down the field and scoring again are quite high.  So for the sake of this What If... post, Mizzou drives down, scores, and takes a 31-23 lead.  OU responds with a long TD drive but misses the 2-point conversion.  31-29.  The crowd's into it, and Mizzou goes 3-and-out, giving the ball back to OU with 5 minutes left.  Garrett Hartley misses a 35-yard FG with 2 minutes left, Mizzou runs out the clock, and Mizzou wins 31-29.

(So really...this is two What If's in one.  What If Pig had picked off the pass, and what if Mizzou had managed to overcome 14 more minutes with the lead in Norman without some major Owen Field Magic.  The second one may be more unlikely than the first, but we'll go with it.)

So Mizzou wins.  They leap to #6 in the polls.

1. Ohio State (7-0)
2. South Florida (6-0)
3. Boston College (7-0)
4. LSU (6-1)
5. South Carolina (6-1)
6. Missouri (6-0)
7. Oregon (5-1)
8. Kentucky (6-1)
9. West Virginia (5-1)
10. California (5-1)

#24 Texas Tech at #6 Missouri

One thing this team proved in 2007 was that neither success nor disappointment was going to keep them from getting the job done in the next game.  Win or lose in Norman, they were going to smoke Tech in Columbia the next week.  Mizzou still wins, 41-10, and makes another nice jump in the polls.

1. Ohio State (8-0)
2. Boston College (7-0)
3. LSU (7-1)
4. Missouri (7-0)
5. Oregon (6-1)
6. West Virginia (6-1)
7. Arizona State (7-0)
8. Virginia Tech (6-1)
9. USC (6-1)
10. Oklahoma (6-2)

Iowa State at #4 Missouri

Mizzou's still a bit lackluster in this one.  They still win, 42-28, and Pig Brown's season still ends in the 4th quarter.  A big win could have maybe bumped them past LSU, but alas...

1. Ohio State (9-0)
2. Boston College (8-0)
3. LSU (7-1)
4. Missouri (8-0)
5. Oregon (7-0)
6. Arizona State (8-0)
7. West Virginia (7-1)
8. Kansas (8-0)
9. Oklahoma (6-2)
10. Georgia (6-2)

#4 Missouri at Colorado

I was pretty nervous before this game...a bit on edge.  This just screamed "TRAP GAME!", and that was with Mizzou ranked #9.  With Mizzou ranked #4, though...yikes.

And Mizzou still wins, 55-10, officially becoming a national title threat.  Boston College loses, but LSU is still LSU.

1. Ohio State (10-0)
2. LSU (8-1)
3. Missouri (9-0)
4. Oregon (8-1)
5. Kansas (9-0)
6. West Virginia (7-1)
7. Oklahoma (7-2)
8. Boston College (8-1)
9. Arizona State (8-1)
10. Georgia (7-2)

Texas A&M at #3 Missouri

Of course Mizzou beats ATM, 40-26, but more importantly....Illinois springs the upset on #1 Ohio State.

1. LSU (9-1)
2. Missouri (10-0)
3. Oregon (8-1)
4. Kansas (10-0)
5. West Virginia (8-1)
6. Oklahoma (8-2)
7. Ohio State (10-1)
8. Georgia (8-2)
9. Arizona State (9-1)
10. Virginia Tech (8-2)

#2 Missouri at Kansas State

Mizzou hasn't won in Manhattan since the '80s.  They haven't been #2 since the '60s.  Sounds like the perfect time for a Mizzou Jinx moment.  Instead, MIzzou wins 49-32.  Thanksgiving weekend will see #2 vs #3, only this time it's Mizzou who's #2.

1. LSU (10-1)
2. Missouri (11-0)
3. Kansas (11-0)
4. West Virginia (9-1)
5. Ohio State (11-1)
6. Georgia (9-2)
7. Arizona State (9-1)
8. Virginia Tech (9-2)
9. Oregon (8-2)
10. USC (8-2)

#2 Missouri vs #3 Kansas

LSU loses to Arkansas on Friday, so the winner of MU-KU will be #1.  And of course...that's Mizzou.

So Mizzou is indeed #1.  The main difference is by how much.  When Mizzou really moved to #1, it was by a 1,604-1,574 vote margin over West Virginia.  Now it's not nearly that close.  Mizzou is 12-0.  There is no question who's #1.

1. Missouri (12-0)
2. West Virginia (10-1)
3. Ohio State (11-1)
4. Georgia (10-2)
5. LSU (10-2)
6. Virginia Tech (10-2)
7. Kansas (11-1)
8. USC (9-2)
9. Florida (9-3)
10. Hawaii (11-0)

#1 Missouri (12-0) vs #12 Oklahoma (9-3)

Granted, Bob Stoops can't play the "They think they should have won last time--they don't respect us" card.  Instead, he plays the "They think they can beat us again?  They don't respect us!" card.  And Mizzou still falls apart in Q3.  OU wins, 38-17, and the question becomes...who faces Ohio State in the national title game?

To figure this one out, let's start by consulting the final BCS standings. There are three components to the standings--the Harris Poll, the USA Today Poll, and the computer rankings.  We'll have to blindly guess on the computers.  The computers were friends to Mizzou in the end (2007 Anderson & Hester NATIONAL CHAMPS!!!), as they averaged a #4 computer finish in the BCS standings (as opposed to #7 in the human polls).  Changing Mizzou from 11-2 to 12-1 and adding another marquee win would, I think, have put them in the neighborhood of #2 instead.

To figure out the human polls, let's take a look at how far #1 teams tended to fall throughout 2007.

  • October 6: USC loses to Stanford, falls from #2/#1 to #10/#7, losing 34% of their poll votes.
  • October 13: LSU loses to Kentucky, falls from #1/#1 to #4/#5, losing 20% of their poll votes.
  • November 10: Ohio State loses to Illinois, falls from #1/#1 to #7/#7, losing 25% of their poll votes.
  • November 23: LSU loses to Arkansas, falls from #1/#1 to #5/#7, losing 23% of their poll votes.
  • December 1: Mizzou loses to OU, falls from #1/#2 to #7/#7, losing 25% of their poll votes; meanwhile, West Virginia loses to Pitt, falls from #2/#1 to #11/#9, losing 33% of their poll votes.

How much would Mizzou have lost here?  Conservatively, you'd have to say at least 20%.  But only LSU loses 20-23%.  Everybody else loses 25%, minimum.  So Mizzou loses 25% of its votes.  I'd like to say that there would have been backlash against putting a 2-loss LSU (or Georgia) team in the title game ahead of a team who had beaten two Top 10 teams on the season (OU, KU), but they're still LSU and Georgia.  Mizzou is Mizzou (needless to say, this column would have still been written had Mizzou been undefeated), and they'd have still dropped a decent amount. 

An undefeated #1 team at that stage in the season (being the only undefeated team not named Hawaii) would have had about 3300 votes combined in the USA Today/AP polls.  A 25% drop would have bumped them to 2475 votes...and something resembling #5 or #6 in the country.  Let's say voters have something resembling a conscience and don't drop Mizzou below three 2-loss teams.  So they're #4 and #4.  The polls look like this:

Harris Poll

1. Ohio State
2. LSU
3. Georgia
4. Missouri
5. Virginia Tech

USA Today

1. Ohio State
2. LSU
3. Georgia
4. Missouri
5. USC

We all know Mizzou'd have been behind USC in the USA Today poll, but I digress.

Here are the final BCS Standings.

1. Ohio State (0.9488)
2. LSU (0.9294)
3. Missouri (0.8959)
4. Georgia (0.8772)
5. Virginia Tech (0.8669)

Mizzou misses out on the title game in favor of a 2-loss LSU team.  Order is restored.  Mizzou goes to the Orange Bowl, throttles Virginia Tech, and finishes 13-1, #2 in the country...to a 2-loss team.  (Possibly #3 behind two 2-loss teams.)

I'd like to say that the outcry from that (relative) screwjob would result in serious discussions about having a playoff, etc., but I think we all know that that wouldn't have happened...at least no more than the discussions that took place anyway.

CONCLUSION

So what would have happened if Pig had caught that ball?  We'd have felt just as screwed in the end (albeit not by Kansas), and I wouldn't have gotten to spend New Year's in Dallas.  This was fun, wasn't it?

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