What If...Mizzou had joined the Big Ten? (2000-02)

Whether anybody's still interested in this series or not, by god I'm going finish it.  Part one got officially too long, so I'm starting fresh with this one.  For 2003-09, we might come up with a more succinct way to get through the seasons.

How does Brad Smith fare further into the midwest?

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2000


After a brutal finish to the 1999 season, Larry Smith faces pressure to make some changes to his coaching staff.  He brings in Bill Cubit to install a spread-ish offense.  This is the same offseason in which Randy Walker was doing the same at Northwestern, so the wide open style is gaining a foothold in the Big Ten.  To say the least, Walker has a bit more early success.

Preseason Rankings:

4. Wisconsin
6. Michigan
16. Ohio State
21. Illinois
22. Penn State
25. Michigan State

So the strength of the Big Ten has shifted squarely to the North, which has four teams ranked in the Top 25.  Illinois and Penn State are expected to duke it out for a spot in the title game.  In the end, Illinois will disappoint, and the South will finish a ridiculous ten games behind the North.

2000 Schedule

9/2: Western Illinois
9/9: at Clemson
9/16: Kansas
9/30: at Iowa
10/7: at Purdue
10/14: Wisconsin
10/21: Northwestern
10/28: at Minnesota
11/4: Penn State
11/11: at Indiana
11/18: Illinois

Western Illinois

This one happened.

Mizzou 50, Western Illinois 20

at #17 Clemson

This one happened.  The Beef and I were there.

#17 Clemson 62, Mizzou 9

Kansas

Happened.

Kansas 38, Mizzou 17

at Iowa

Here's where it becomes pretty clear that Mizzou is not turning things around.  Kirk Ferentz has begun to get his foundation set in Iowa City, but the results haven't quite followed in 2000 yet.  Iowa is 0-4 when they host Mizzou, and after an early trick play touchdown for the Tigers, Iowa shuts things down and holds off a late comeback.  Mizzou falls to 1-3.

Iowa 28, Mizzou 20

at Purdue

Another decent showing by the Mizzou offense matters not, as Drew Brees and Purdue roll.

Purdue 35, Mizzou 20

Wisconsin

No Ron Dayne?  No problem.  Brooks Bollinger has a nice passing day, finding Chris Chambers and Nick Davis for touchdowns, and while Mizzou keeps up for a while, Kirk Farmer breaks his collarbone early in the fourth quarter, and a Zack Abron fumble allows Wiscy to ice the game.  Mizzou is now 1-5.

Wisconsin 38, Mizzou 28

#25 Northwestern

A 5-1 start for the conference's other spread team allows the Wildcats to creep into the Top 25, and they don't fall after a trip to Columbia.  KCK native Sam Simmons has himself a big day, and with NW'ern up 38-35 late, Dwayne Missouri strips Darius Outlaw, who was having himself a decent first start.  Napoleon Harris takes the fumble back for the game-clinching touchdown.

#25 Northwestern 45, Mizzou 35

at Minnesota

After giving up a couple of huge offensive games, the Mizzou defense starts to buckle down...and it doesn't matter.  The one-game shine wears off for Outlaw, and Mizzou has no offense to speak of.  An early touchdown scramble by Asad Abdul-Khaliq holds, and Mizzou is 1-7.  At this point, it's not "Is Larry Smith done?", it's when.

Minnesota 13, Mizzou 3

Penn State

With just a handful of games remaining in the Larry Smith era, Mizzou fights back.  They host a mediocre Penn State squad still fighting for a bowl bid after an offensively-challenged first half of the season.  They are 4-5 when they hit Columbia.  Thanks to an early safety and Dwayne Blakley touchdown, Mizzou is up 12-7 at halftime.  They take a 19-14 lead early in the fourth quarter, but Eric McCoo and Larry Johnson take over.  The Nittany Lions methodically drive 74 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, and Darius Outlaw is picked off on the final drive.  Mizzou has been competitive all conference season, losing just once by more than 10 points, and yet they fall to 1-8.

Penn State 21, Mizzou 19

at Indiana

Make it six close losses in seven games.  Antwaan Randle El and Levron Williams combine for 250 rushing yards, and Indiana goes up 27-7 in the fourth quarter.  Touchdown Joe Chirumbolo and Justin Gage score late touchdowns, but a Mizzou onsides kick attempt fails, and Indiana holds on.  After weeks of speculation, Mike Alden officially announces that Larry Smith will be let go after next week's Illinois game.

Indiana 27, Mizzou 21

Illinois

After a preseason Top 25 ranking, Illinois is 5-6 heading to Columbia to face what they hope is a lifeless Mizzou squad.  Unfortunately for them, Mizzou is playing inspired in their coach's last game.  Julian Jones picks off an early deep ball (Illinois misses an injured Brandon Lloyd), and Eric Spencer scores on a 73-yard touchdown on the next play.  Down 20-14 in the third quarter, Mizzou goes back ahead on a short Abron touchdown plunge, and from then on, it's all on the defense.  Twice, Mizzou stops Illinois on fourth down in Mizzou territory, and they hold on for the win.  Larry gets the Gatorade bath, and Mizzou gets a second win.

Mizzou 21, Illinois 20

In comparison to their real-life 3-8 season in the Big 12, Mizzou faced a Big Ten slate with fewer great teams and fewer terrible ones.  This results in a series of tight losses (really, it's a wasted opportunity, as a good Mizzou team could have easily gone about 6-2 against this schedule), and Larry Smith sees the door just as he did in the real 2000 season.

2000 Big Ten(12) Standings
North
South
Michigan 7-1 9-2 Purdue 6-2 8-3
Northwestern 6-2 8-3 Penn State 5-3 6-6
Ohio State 5-3 8-3 Iowa 3-5 3-9
Wisconsin 5-3 9-3 Illinois 2-6 5-6
Minnesota 4-4 6-5 Indiana 2-6 3-8
Michigan State 2-6 5-6 Missouri 1-7 2-9


As I said, there were few great or terrible teams in the Big Ten this season.  A decent Michigan team holds off an inspired Northwestern squad for the North title and heads to Chicago to face Drew Brees and Purdue.

Big Ten Championship
#11 Michigan 28, #15 Purdue 23

One thing is certain about the "new" Big Ten -- it provides fewer opportunities for underdogs like Wisconsin and Purdue to sneak in and win a conference title by avoiding either or both Michigan and Ohio State.  The title game means fewer fun underdog runs.  Your first five Big Ten(12) champions: Ohio State, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan.

Bowls

Rose: Washington 31, Michigan 28
Citrus: Auburn 28, Purdue 26
Outback: South Carolina 38, Northwestern 10
Alamo: Nebraska 44, Ohio State 14
Sun: Wisconsin 21, UCLA 20
MicronPC: N.C. State 38, Minnesota 30

Another brutal bowl season for the Big Ten, but that's to be expected here, as there simply weren't any great teams.

2001

It's a new start in 2001!  Gary Pinkel leaves Toledo to become Mizzou's new head coach, and if he can generate any sort of momentum in his first season, the South division is there for the taking.  Exactly zero South teams are ranked in the preseason Top 25.

Preseason Rankings:

12. Michigan
16. Northwestern
22. Wisconsin
23. Ohio State

These really were a barren couple of years for the conference.

2001 Schedule

9/1: Bowling Green
9/8: Texas State
9/15*: at Kansas
9/29: Iowa
10/6: at Wisconsin
10/13: Minnesota
10/20: at Michigan
10/27: at Penn State
11/3: Indiana
11/10: Purdue
11/17: at Illinois

* To be moved to the end of the season thanks to 9/11.

Bowling Green

Sadly, this one happened.

Bowling Green 20, Mizzou 13

Texas State

So did this one.

Mizzou 40, Texas State 6

Iowa

After a three-week break, Mizzou comes out strong on defense against Ladell Betts and the improving Hawkeyes, but they just don't have enough juice against Bob Sanders and the first strong Kirk Ferentz defense.  Missouri boy Betts gives the Hawks the offense they need, and Mizzou falls to 1-2.

Iowa 23, Mizzou 10

at Wisconsin

Freshman Anthony Davis goes off.  Mizzou's offense keeps them in the game, but Davis gashes a Justin Smith-less Mizzou front for 185 yards and three touchdowns, and a rebuilding Wisconsin team gets a relatively easy win.

Wisconsin 31, Mizzou 20

Minnesota

Homecoming at Ol' Mizzou!  Thomas Tapeh and a freshman Marion Barber combine for 150 rushing yards, but Mizzou pulls this one out thanks to Justin Gage, Zack Abron, and a late Tauras Ferguson interception.  Mizzou is 2-3.

Mizzou 24, Minnesota 22

at #10 Michigan

Make that 2-4.  An experienced Wolverines defense led by Cato June shuts down the Mizzou attack until late, and John Navarre, Chris Perry and Michigan coast.

#10 Michigan 28, Mizzou 7

at Penn State

Penn State does not have the horses to make a Big Ten title run, but they ride Eric McCoo and Larry Johnson to another easy win over the Tigers.  The Mizzou offense is relatively lifeless, as it just doesn't have the athletes (beyond Gage) to go up against big, strong defenses.

Penn State 31, Mizzou 14

Indiana

Tay Jackson drops a sure touchdown pass, then fumbles a kickoff as Mizzou falls apart late against Randle El and the Hoosiers.  Mizzou drives to the Indiana 7 as time is expiring but can't find the endzone on the game's final play.  Mizzou has now lost 20 of its last 24 games.

Indiana 35, Mizzou 30

Purdue

Make it 21 of 25.  Purdue's offense is in transition with the Brandon Hance/Kyle Orton combo at quarterback, but a strong, experienced defense makes sure that Mizzou's offensive surge in the previous week is halted.  Another late touchdown by Mizzou makes the game more respectable, but it's another loss.

Purdue 17, Mizzou 13

at #12 Illinois

Make it 22 of 26.  Illinois is in the midst of a dramatic run toward the South title.  The threesome of Kurt Kittner, Antoineo Harris and Brandon Lloyd run wild, and even though Eugene Wilson cannot neutralize Justin Gage, there is too much offense for Mizzou to keep up.  A year after extreme disappointment, Illinois has clinched the South.

#12 Illinois 45, Mizzou 28

at Kansas

This one happened.  The quintessential Kirk Farmer game, and one of the stranger I've ever attended.  KU goes up 14-0 early thanks to a couple of horrid picks by Farmer, and the KU crowd starts chanting "Ki-irk Farmer".  Mizzou surges ahead, 31-21, in Q2 and Q3, thanks to Farmer's great play, but then he throws his second pick six, and it's 31-27.  Mizzou falls behind, 34-31, but Farmer engineers a perfect come-from-behind drive, finding Dwayne Blakley for the go-ahead touchdown halfway through Q4, and Mizzou gets a rare win in Lawrence.  Mizzou has won just five games in the last two seasons, but they end 2001 on a positive note.

Mizzou 38, Kansas 34

2001 Big Ten(12) Standings
North
South
Ohio State
6-2
8-3

Illinois
7-1
10-1
Michigan
6-2
8-3

Iowa
5-3
7-4
Wisconsin
4-4
6-6

Penn State
5-3
6-5
Michigan State
3-5
6-5

Purdue
3-5
5-6
Minnesota
3-5
5-6

Indiana
3-5
4-7
Northwestern
2-6
4-7

Missouri
1-7
3-8


Illinois' unexpected run to the South is the most surprising thing taking place in an otherwise ho-hum season.  Once again the North is decided by Ohio State-Michigan.

Big Ten Championship
#8 Illinois 30, #17 Ohio State 28

With an impressive win over tOSU in their back pocket, Illinois enters bowl season at #5 instead of #7.  But that doesn't make much of an overall difference, as the BCS title game is still Miami-Nebraska.

Bowls

Sugar: #12 LSU 47, #5 Illinois 34
Citrus: #8 Tennessee 38, #22 Ohio State 34
Outback: #14 South Carolina 31, #17 Michigan 16
Alamo: Iowa 19, Texas Tech 16
Sun: #13 Washington State 31, Penn State 27
Silicon Valley Classic: Michigan State 44, #20 Fresno State 35

Hey, hey!  The Big Ten went 2-4!

2002

The 2002 season starts with Mizzou naming a redshirt freshman as its starting QB.  The dramatic run that follows blindsides Mizzou fans in the best way possible.  In a conference much weaker than the Big 12, Mizzou quickly finds bowl eligibility in Brad Smith's first season behind center.

Preseason Rankings:

12. Michigan
13. Ohio State
18. Michigan State
24. Penn State
25. Wisconsin

Once again, the South is embarassingly low on top talent.  Illinois starts the season outside of the Top 25 despite the 11-2 final record in 2001, and Penn State is once again a narrow favorite to win the South.  Nobody has any idea what Iowa is about to do to the South.

2002 Schedule

8/31: vs Kansas
9/7: Ball State
9/14: at Bowling Green
9/21: Troy
10/5: Penn State
10/12: at Purdue
10/19: at Iowa
10/26: Michigan
11/2: at Michigan State
11/9: Wisconsin
11/16: at Indiana
11/30: Illinois

vs Kansas

With the 12-game schedule introduced, Mizzou starts a two-year swing against Kansas at Arrowhead.  Thanks to the scheduling quirks of 2001, that means this is Mizzou's second straight game against Kansas.  Whereas Kirk Farmer was the story of the 2001 battle, this one is clearly all about #16.  Brad Smith runs roughshod in Mark Mangino's first game, and John Kadlec still gets to say "We have a quarterback."

Mizzou 33, Kansas 12

Ball State

This one happened.

Mizzou 41, Ball State 6

at Bowling Green

Aaaaand...so did this one.  Justin Gage catches roughly 113 passes, but Mizzou still can't keep up with Urban Meyer's ridiculously good offense.

Bowling Green 51, Mizzou 28

Troy

Happened.  Mizzou is 3-1 heading into Big Ten play...this is significant simply because that's as many games as Mizzou has won in either of the last two seasons.

Mizzou 44, Troy 7

#20 Penn State

Against the first decent defense Mizzou has faced, Brad Smith is bottled up a bit.  Defensive tackles Jimmy Kennedy and Anthony Adams dominate in the trenches, and Mizzou shows that it is not quite ready for prime time.

#20 Penn State 28, Mizzou 17

at Purdue

However, against a rebuilt Purdue defense, Smith shines.  Kyle Orton has a huge passing day for the Boilers, but Smith steals the show, rushing for two touchdowns and throwing for three.  With Mizzou down 42-35 late, Mizzou runs a trick play, with Justin Gage taking an end around and finding Thomson Omboga in the endzone for the touchdown.  Mizzou decides to go for two and converts with Smith on the read option.  Mizzou sneaks out of Indiana with a thrilling win to move to 4-2.

Mizzou 43, Purdue 42

at #15 Iowa

And then they run into Iowa's defense.  Iowa tight end Dallas Clark scores twice, and with Bob Sanders leading the way, the Hawkeyes roll.  Iowa caught fire in 2002, and they have quickly snuffed out any hopes of Mizzou making a darkhorse run to the South title.

#15 Iowa 20, Mizzou 7

#8 Michigan

Welcome to the big time, Braylon Edwards.  Mizzou takes a 24-23 lead on a dramatic 30-yard touchdown run by Brad Smith, but Michigan responds, finding Edwards over the top for a 50-yard touchdown.  Michigan holds on, but even as Mizzou falls to 4-4, the world is starting to learn about #16.

#8 Michigan 31, Mizzou 24

at Michigan State

Charles Rogers, Justin Gage.  Jeff Smoker, Brad Smith.  David Richard, Zack Abron.  Every major skill position player has a huge day, but once again Mizzou is comfortable in a shootout.  With Mizzou nursing a 42-41 lead, Sean Doyle picks off Smoker over the middle.  Abron then takes over, gashing the Spartans, milking the clock, and finally scoring the game-clinching touchdown late.  Mizzou's 5-4 and becoming known as one of the more exciting teams in the country.

Mizzou 49, Michigan State 41

Wisconsin

Hey, hey!  Look at all the close wins!  Against a super young Wisconsin front seven, Abron and Smith do the most damage as Mizzou races out to a 24-10 lead.  Lee Evans catches a long touchdown to cut Mizzou's lead to 24-20, but a late James Kinney sack of Brooks Bollinger clinches the win.  Mizzou is bowl eligible for the first time in four years!

Mizzou 24, Wisconsin 20

at Indiana

Things have fallen apart for Indiana without Randle El, and even though they keep things close, they have no answer for Smith, who torches the Hoosiers defense via ground and air.  Smith officially joins the 2,000/1,000 club, and Mizzou moves to a shocking 7-4.

Mizzou 42, Indiana 28

Illinois

Yeah, we know how this one goes.  Illinois is beaten down by a super-disappointing season, and even without the season-opening element of surprise, Smith is untouchable.  Mizzou won a combined 5 games in 2000 and 2001; they've won eight in 2002.

Mizzou 33, Illinois 17

So far in this little experiment, good Mizzou teams have found more success than in real-life, while bad Mizzou teams find more struggle.  I guess that's what happens when you've got such a large batch of decent-not-great teams.

2002 Big Ten(12) Standings
North
South
Ohio State
8-0
13-0

Iowa
7-1
10-2
Michigan
7-1
10-2

Penn State
7-1
11-1
Wisconsin
3-5
8-5

Missouri
5-3
8-4
Minnesota
3-5
7-5

Illinois
3-5
5-7
Michigan State
1-7
3-9

Purdue
2-6
4-8
Northwestern
1-7
3-9

Indiana
0-8
2-10


Mizzou has emerged nicely this year, but the season belongs to Ohio State and Iowa.  Iowa goes 10-2 instead of the real-life 11-1, simply because they had to travel to Columbus in the new schedule.  Still, the Big Ten championship is a dogfight and pits two Top Ten teams for the first time since 1999.

Big Ten Championship
#2 Ohio State 23, #8 Iowa 13

Iowa's two losses to the Buckeyes make the difference between a dramatic Orange Bowl run and a nice run to the Citrus Bowl.  Penn State is the beneficiary of Iowa's downfall -- despite their loss to Iowa, they get the Orange Bowl nod thanks to an 11-1 overall record.

Bowls

Fiesta: #2 Ohio State 31, #1 Miami 24 (2OT)
Orange: #5 USC 35, #8 Penn State 13
Capital One: #19 Auburn 20, #12 Iowa 17
Outback: #10 Michigan 38, #22 Florida 30
Alamo: #14 Colorado 35, #24 Missouri 33
Sun: Wisconsin 31, Washington 24
Music City: Minnesota 29, Arkansas 14

In all, the Big Ten goes 4-3, with Minnesota scoring an upset over Arkansas and #24 Missouri almost knocking off #14 Colorado.  This is a nice rebound year for the conference.  Even though Iowa falls to four losses, the Big Ten finishes with five ranked teams and a national title, Ohio State's third since the inception of the 12-team league.  (And yes, for continuity's sake, I'm just saying that John Cooper retired after 2000 instead of being fired.  Makes things much easier.)

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