Young teams (1963) and old teams (1948 and 1980), all held back by special teams miscues...
As we've made our way through this countdown, it's been interesting to see how we seem to go through pockets of happiness and regret. Teams like that of 1997 were not great, but we look back on them fondly for one reason or another (a great win, a turnaround from losing seasons, etc.). Now we reach a batch of teams that were very good in every way ... but they felt disappointing because of how close they were to being so much better. For a program that has had many very good teams but always came up a few points short of greatness, the regret and pride are both high as we reach the top of the list.
#16: Mizzou 1948 (8-3)
Best Win: Mizzou 20, #4 SMU 14
Worst Loss: #15 Oklahoma 41, #9 Mizzou 7
The 1948 season was another one of those that was very good ... but looked like it was going to be even better for a while. Missouri was receiving first-place AP votes as late as November 1 and outscored opponents not named Oklahoma by a 324-120 margin. No matter the what-if potential, Mizzou rode Bus Entsminger and a stellar line to a great season.
The season began with Mizzou's seventh trip to Columbus in eight seasons to face Ohio State. As mentioned many times here, Athletic Director Don Faurot tended to pay the athletic department's budget by taking big paydays to send the football team (and its coach, Don Faurot) off to Columbus and other Big Ten locations with no promised return trip. And as was typical, the preseason Top 10 Buckeyes sent them home with a loss. Mizzou was within 13-7 in the fourth quarter when Ohio State iced the game and won, 21-7.
With the typical early-season loss out of the way, it was time to get to business. Seven different Tigers scored touchdowns in a 60-7 romp at SLU, then Mizzou returned home for one of their greatest home openers in history. Fourth-ranked SMU came to town with some guy named Doak Walker, and Mizzou took them out.
SMU was 2-0 and ranked 4th in the country when they came to Columbia, and they were welcomed by a Mizzou team playing one of its most perfect games. Walker was every bit as dominant as advertised, and SMU played well...and Mizzou won anyway.
A record crowd of 30,892 watched SMU take a 7-0 lead in the second quarter after Walker made a leaping 25-yard grab to the Mizzou 3, then take it to the house off-tackle the next play (oh yeah, and he kicked the PAT too).
SMU led 7-0 at halftime, but Mizzou responded, with big runs from Nick Carras and Mike Ghnouly. Eventually Bus Entsminger scored, and it was 7-7.
The switch had flipped for the Mizzou offense. On their next drive, they drove to SMU's 1 before faltering, but they turned right back around and drove 69 yards for another score--Dick Braznell went in from 21 yards, and early in the fourth quarter it was 14-7 Mizzou.
Mizzou got the ball back, and with under four minutes to play Wilbur Volx scored on a 2-yard run. Despite a missed PAT, Mizzou had seemingly an insurmountable 20-7 lead.
Fifty seconds later, it was 20-14. After Walker returned the kickoff to the SMU 26, he caught a 74-yard bomb for a touchdown. SMU kicked off with 2:10 left and not only got the ball back via punt, but via poor punt. The Mustangs took over near midfield, but Loyd Brinkman stepped in front of a pass intended for Walker (seriously, I would hope they'd have had him quadruple-teamed), and Mizzou was able to run out the clock and clinch the stunning victory.
In the end, Walker was great (he did everything in the above write-up, plus he tracked Entsminger down from behind, preventing a TD on a long run), but the Mizzou rushing attack was too strong. They rushed for 356 yards, dominated the field position battle, and came away with the huge win.
From there, Mizzou caught fire. They blitzed Navy in Baltimore, 35-14. (This wasn't as impressive as it would have been in other years -- Navy went 0-8-1 that season.) Then, it was time for conference play to begin. Ranked #9 in the country, Mizzou mauled Iowa State, 49-7, then turned around and beat Kansas State by the same score. At this point, they were 5-1, still ranked ninth, receiving four first-place votes. Entsminger's run-pass threat was unstoppable. Mizzou had outscored opponents 220-70. With Ohio State long in the rearview mirror, only a challenge with Don Faurot's former pupil from the Iowa Pre-Flight days five years earlier, Bud Wilkinson, stood in the way of a 9-1 regular season and potential Top Five finish.
But if there's one thing we've learned about Mizzou history in these pieces, it's that if OU's standing in the way, things aren't going to work out well for Mizzou. In a huge game in Norman, Mizzou scored quickly to go up 7-0, but OU tied it at 7-7 in the second quarter. And then it went from "close" to "blowout" in record time. Mizzou fumbled the second-half kickoff, and OU scored on the next play. Then they blocked a punt and scored. Then forced a punt and drove for another score. Et cetera. Mistakes killed Mizzou, as they were outgained only 323-225 but were outscored, 41-7. Ouch.
This was a good, tough team, however. The crushing disappointment of the OU loss didn't stop them from pummeling everybody else. They beat Colorado by a 27-13 margin, then killed Nebraska in Lincoln, 33-6. In the regular season finale, a battle of 7-2 teams, Mizzou took out a stout Kansas squad with a series of goal line stands, winning 21-7. Though the bitter taste of the OU loss prevented them from being ranked or winning the conference, this was a great team, and they were rewarded for their efforts with the first of back-to-back Gator Bowl bids, this one against undefeated #11 Clemson.
In the Gator Bowl, mistakes killed Mizzou early. Two fumbles led to two easy Clemson scores, and CU was up 14-0. Mizzou bounced back, with Entsminger scoring twice in the second quarter -- it was 14-14 at half. Clemson drove for a score and a 21-14 lead, but a Mizzou safety made it just 21-16. After a Clemson field goal, Mizzou drove for a touchdown and, this being before the adoption of the two-point conversion in 1958, Mizzou trailed 24-23. They would not get another opportunity to score and lost by one.
This was one of Don Faurot's most balanced teams. The offense was a consistent threat with Entsminger, Faurot's last great quarterback, leading the way. Meanwhile, the defense ranked 13th according to my Est. S&P+ ratings. Mizzou would make the Gator Bowl again in 1949, but this was the final dominant team of the Faurot era.
#15: Mizzou 1963 (7-3)
Best Win: Mizzou 7, #8 Arkansas 6
Worst Loss: Nebraska 13, Mizzou 12
Whereas 1948 was a culmination of sorts, 1963 was a season of transition. Taking on a brutal early schedule, a team loaded with sophomores put together a series of nice results while building for the loaded 1965 team. Despite the year-long suspension of Johnny Roland for alleged tire theft (okay, not really a suspension per say ... he was kicked out of school and brought back a year later), Mizzou was 11 points and a couple of fluky plays from a Big 8 title.
Mizzou began the season by hosting #6 Northwestern, and for the only time all season, they were simply outmanned. The Wildcats took them out, 23-12, and injured a couple of Tigers in the process. The thinned-out Tigers then had to travel to Little Rock to take on turncoat former coach Frank Broyles and #8 Arkansas. Down 6-0, Mizzou used a long pass from Gary Lane to Bud Abel to set up a short Gus Otto touchdown. The PAT gave Mizzou a shocking, and extremely satisfying, 7-6 win.
This was an extraordinary boost for the young Tigers; they would then plow through four lesser opponents -- Idaho (24-0), Kansas State (21-11), at Oklahoma State (28-6) and at Iowa State (7-0) -- before returning home to host Bob Devaney's resurgent Huskers for Homecoming. A record Mizzou crowd of 50,500 watched a relatively sloppy, intense battle. After Nebraska went up 7-0, a poor punt gave Mizzou a short field; they would quickly score but miss the PAT, and they trailed 7-6 at the half. It was 13-6 when Lane found Ken Boston for a 53-yard bomb, but a go-ahead two-point conversion pass (Dan Devine hated ties ... strange, since they went 8-1-2 in 1962) was broken up, and Nebraska held on for a crushing 13-12 win.
After an easy win over slumping Colorado, Mizzou returned home to face #5 Oklahoma with a potential Big 8 title on the line. And what's the lesson we've learned about OU? That's right ... they're dream killers. An early punt return touchdown gave the Sooners a 6-0 lead; it was just 6-3 in the fourth quarter, but Mizzou just could not mount another drive. OU added an insurance touchdown late and won 13-3.
With no conference title on the line, and with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy taking place the week before the game, the MU-KU finale was one of the more anti-climactic Border War battles. With KU up 7-0 and driving for another score, Mizzou's Vince Turner, playing in his final game, pulled a Pig Brown; Jayhawk Ken Coleman fumbled as he was going into the endzone, and Turner caught the ball in midair, returning it 102 yards for a score. Mizzou's Bill Leistritz missed the PAT (that was a problem that year) but made a field goal later on, and Mizzou held on for a 9-7 win.
For the season, Mizzou outscored opponents 151-86. Special teams miscues cost Mizzou against both Nebraska (missed PAT, leading to a failed two-point attempt) and Oklahoma (punt return touchdown that made the difference in the score for the first 59:30) and prevented a Big 8 title, but the win over Arkansas had to feel really good for the retired Don Faurot, and the win over Kansas capped a solid 7-3 season. It was close to being much better, but for a team loaded with sophomores, it was still quite an accomplishment.
#14: Mizzou 1980 (8-4)
Best Win: Mizzou 31, Kansas 6
Worst Loss: Purdue 28, Mizzou 25
So many seasons in the 1970s featured big-time upset wins and big-time upset losses, making for a rather frustrating, 'what if' laden decade. The 1980 season, on the other hand, was the opposite. Mizzou faced eight teams that won seven games or fewer that year, going 8-0 and winning by an average of 33-8. They just couldn't come up with that breakthrough win.
Returning most of their key players from the 7-5 1979 campaign -- seniors Phil Bradley, James Wilder, and Eric Wright, plus Brad Edelman and three other all-conference stars -- Mizzou was ranked 17th in the preseason. Against an easier non-conference schedule (Warren Powers worked to get away from Al Onofrio's too-grueling scheduling), they quickly moved to 3-0 by defeating New Mexico (47-16), Illinois (52-7) and San Diego State (31-7).
When 17th-ranked Penn State (who had just lost to #3 Nebraska) came to town, Mizzou was up to 9th in the country. In front of an all-time record Columbia crowd of 75,298, Mizzou rode the arm of Phil Bradley to a halftime lead. Touchdown passes to Ken Blair and Ron Fellows gave the Tigers a 21-16 edge. But they blew a series of third-quarter opportunities and crumbled, losing 29-21.
No matter. As conference play began, Powers' Tigers took out their frustrations on a series of unsuspecting (and lackluster) opponents. They took out Oklahoma State, Colorado and Kansas State by a combined 88-17 margin, working their way back up to 15th in the country and readying themselves for a big-time Big 8 showdown in Lincoln against the 8th-ranked Huskers. (This being an even-numbered year, Mizzou faced trips to both Nebraska and Oklahoma.) Unfortunately, the same mistakes that killed Mizzou in the second half against the Nittany Lions doomed them again. Against NU's powerful I-formation, they gift-wrapped a couple of touchdowns and fell behind by a 28-6 margin. They attempted to mount a comeback, getting to within 28-16, but Nebraska finished them off for an easy 38-16 win. (For a reference point, it played out almost exactly like the 2006 MU-NU game.)
After avoiding a trap game loss to Iowa State (they defeated the lowly Cyclones 14-10 at home), Mizzou headed to Norman with conference title hopes on the line. If they could beat OU, and OU could beat Nebraska, Mizzou would go to the Orange Bowl. For the first time since 1976, Mizzou got to face an OU team that had lost more than one game, but the 10th-ranked Sooners were still too much. They won the physical battle, 17-7.
With conference title hopes out of the window, Mizzou bounced back yet again. On Senior Day, Phil Bradley went 16-for-21 passing for 206 yards, and James Wilder added to his career rushing record. Mizzou pummeled Kansas, 31-6, earning their second bid in the Liberty Bowl in three years.
After back-to-back bowl wins, Mizzou was likely due a postseason setback, and they got it thanks to the right arm of Purdue's record-setting quarterback Mark Herrmann. Herrmann completed 13 of 18 first-half passes as Purdue jumped out to a 21-12 halftime lead. Only a Ron Fellows kickoff return touchdown kept Mizzou close, but a missed PAT and a failed two-point conversion kept Mizzou more than a touchdown away. This would make a huge difference later on. Herrmann's fourth touchdown pass gave the Boilermakers a 28-12 lead before Mizzou made a late charge. A 45-yard field goal (naturally they'd make that after missing a PAT) made the score 28-15, and as time began to run out, Herrmann intentionally kneeled in the endzone to avoid any potential disaster. Down 28-17, Mizzou drove for a quick score and successfully executed the two-point conversion to get within 28-25, but that was as close as they would get. All of the game's marquee stars did well except Wilder, who managed just 49 yards on 16 carries and was stuffed from the Purdue 1 on a fourth-and-goal attempt.
For the season, Mizzou was an un-Mizzou-like 8-0 against mediocre and bad teams, 0-4 against teams who won nine games or more. They ranked 14th overall in Est. S&P+ thanks to a 13th-ranked offense and 22nd-ranked defense. There were no what-if upset losses, but Mizzou just couldn't quite get over the top against the conference's powers. They would jump out to a 5-0 start in 1981, but the 1980 team was really the last really good Warren Powers team -- his own recruiting couldn't match that of Al Onofrio, and the talent level began to slip.