Two great teams who should have been just a win or two better...
#11: Mizzou 2008 (10-4)
Best Win: #4 Mizzou 52, Nebraska 17
Worst Loss: #17 Oklahoma State 28, #3 Mizzou 23
The first Mizzou football season captured in its entirety by the Rock M Nation archives, the 2008 Mizzou team was by most definitions a success. Mizzou won their second straight Big 12 North title, won their second consecutive bowl game, wrapped up a 2-year span in which they won 22 games, set an infinite number of annual and career Mizzou records and allowed players like Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman to stake their claims as Mizzou's best ever at their positions.
But it wasn't 2007, which, in and of itself, made it a bit disappointing. Coming off of a 12-2 season that finished with them ranked fourth in the country, Mizzou returned a vast majority of their key weapons and began the season ranked sixth in the country. While there were concerns about who would man the safety position alongside William Moore and who would provide the "Who's with me??" leadership void created by Martin Rucker's graduation to the NFL, for a team coming off of potentially its most successful season ever, Mizzou returned a rather ridiculous amount.
The season began as well as one could hope. Almost with ease, they scored 52 points against an Illinois team coming off of a 9-4 Rose Bowl campaign, holding off a late charge and winning 52-42. After dominating SE Missouri State, Mizzou took on a dangerous Nevada team and put on potentially the best offensive performance Mizzou fans will ever see. (Seriously, The Beef turned to me sometime in the second quarter and said "It's never going to get better than this.") They scored on long runs, long passes, and everything in between in racking up an insane 69 points and 651 yards in a startlingly easy 69-17 win.
After a sloppy win over Buffalo (Mizzou fumbled numerous times but still won 42-21), it was time for Mizzou to exorcise virtually the only demon who wasn't vanquished the season before: Lincoln, NE. As you can see in the above video ... mission accomplished. Mizzou was clinical and merciless in their 52-17 pantsing of the Huskers. This game was almost certainly the peak of the Chase Daniel era. Mizzou had now won 17 of their last 19 games, they were #3 in the country, they were averaging 53 points per game, and they were staring down a schedule that only had one real challenge -- a road trip to Austin in two weeks that looked like it would likely be #1 vs #2 in the country if Mizzou could avoid a landmine against Oklahoma State the week before.
The next week, Mizzou stepped directly onto the landmine. If you believe in mojo, Mizzou-OSU is Exhibit #1 why it might truly exist. Somewhere in the first quarter, likely around the time that Mizzou settled for a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on their opening drive, Mizzou's offensive mojo vanished. For the coming weeks, Mizzou fans would wonder if Chase Daniel had maybe hurt his arm or something. Suddenly the offense was out of sync, Daniel's pass lacked a level of zip, and things got a lot tougher. Daniel threw three interceptions, including one on what looked like it would be the game-winning drive, and Oklahoma State pulled off a monster upset, 28-23. The next week, instead of a #1-vs-#2 showdown, Texas-Mizzou was a mid-'80s Tyson fight. Everything that could go wrong, did; Texas seemingly landed the knockout blow on their second drive of the game, eventually taking a jarring 35-3 lead into halftime. The final score was a "respectable" 56-31 Texas triumph.
One must give credit to this Mizzou team for one thing: they bounced back. Their national title hopes were gone, and they had been embarrassed by Texas on prime time television, but they sucked it up and got back to work. First up: Colorado. In one of the odder games I have ever attended, Mizzou seemed to be playing at half-speed, still not 100% sharp after the last two humbling weeks. And they beat Colorado, 58-0. If nothing else, this was a sign that, even if they were a few steps behind the South's best teams, they were still infinitely better than anything the North had to offer.
The South hex continued the next week. Mizzou traveled to Waco for what should have been an easy tune-up game. Instead, they found themselves tied with Baylor, 28-28, late in the contest. Baylor safety Jordan Lake dropped what would have likely been a pick six on Mizzou's final drive; having dodged that bullet, Mizzou brought on Jeff Wolfert, who made the go-ahead field goal. Brock Christopher intercepted Robert Griffin on the following drive, and Mizzou held on, 31-28. (In the last two years, Mizzou has gone 1-5 versus the South, 8-2 versus the North.)
Bullet dodged, Mizzou easily locked up the North title with dominant wins over Kansas State and Iowa State, then headed to Arrowhead for Armageddon II. The less said about this one, the better. Mizzou's offense pulled a disappearing act for the game's first 25 minutes, the defense wore down trying to keep the Tigers afloat, and when the offense got rolling in the second half, the defense fell apart. Kerry Meier caught the game-winning touchdown in a devastating 40-37 loss. It wasn't devastating for any real reason beyond the simple fact that it was a loss to Kansas, but that's enough. In a regular season where Mizzou hoped to go 12-0 or 11-1, 9-3 certainly felt like a crushing disappointment. It got worse the next week when Mizzou took on Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game -- OU was on a historical offensive roll, having scored at least 60 points in four straight games. Mizzou's defense offered little resistance, and OU made it five straight with a 62-21 win.
With one game remaining in the Daniel-Coffman-Maclin era, Mizzou threatened to lay a disinterested egg in the Alamo Bowl. The once-unstoppable offense managed just three points in the first half, and Mizzou stayed in the game only because of a decent defensive effort and Jeremy Maclin's 75-yard punt return touchdown with a minute left in the half. The score was tied at 10-10 at halftime, but Northwestern immediately took the lead again with a long touchdown pass in the first drive of the second half. Mizzou took a 20-16 lead on a Danario Alexander touchdown and a Jeff Wolfert field goal, but the Wildcats surged ahead again late in the third quarter.
Defenses took over in the fourth quarter. Mizzou managed only a game-tying field goal from Jeff Wolfert, and the Northwestern offense went into a shell. Wolfert had a chance to win the game with another field goal at the end of regulation, but he missed. The game went to overtime, where, in the final pass of his collegiate career, Daniel found Maclin for a 7-yard touchdown. William Moore and Sean Weatherspoon sacked C.J. Bacher for a big loss on Northwestern's possession, and a desperation fourth-down pass fell incomplete, giving Mizzou the win.
By most accounts, a 10-4 record and a spot as the #11 Mizzou team of the last 90 years would seem like a stellar accomplishment. But expectations wreck perceptions, and a season that was supposed to become Mizzou's best ever fell short.
#10: Mizzou 1926 (5-1-2)
Best Win: Mizzou 14, Nebraska 7
Worst Loss: Oklahoma 10, Mizzou 7
It seems fitting to Mizzou's lore and luck that the best team of Mizzou's first great era actually didn't win a conference title. Gwinn Henry's Tigers won Missouri Valley crowns in 1924, 1925 and 1927, but the 1926 was easily the most dominant of the Henry era. But (as is the case for all of Mizzou's history) one slip-up cost them dearly.
A big, tough team featuring the likes of George Flamank and Mizzou's first All-American, lineman Ed Lindenmeyer, Mizzou gave up just 33 points in eight games (more than seven points in just one game) while opening the doors to Memorial Stadium for the first time, outscoring their opponents by an almost four-to-one margin for the season.
Mizzou christened Memorial Stadium in the middle of record rainfall. Tulane came to town for a rematch of the previous season's 6-6 tie (Tulane's only blemish), and neither team could get moving in the mud puddle that would one day become Faurot Field. The end zones were two giant puddles, but that didn't really matter, as neither team scored. After the 0-0 kissing of the proverbial sister, Mizzou traveled to Lincoln to take on a very good Nebraska squad. To once again quote The Savitar...
On October 9, in the great grey walls of Cornhusker Stadium at Lincoln from which, until then, no Valley eleven had ever departed victorious and where Notre Dame, Illinois, New York University and other heralded teams had met their downfall; the Tigers squared their shoulders, and by a great display of speed and skill and courage shattered whatever title hopes Nebraska might have had, 14 to 7.
After a Bert Clark fumble led to an early Nebraska touchdown, Clark redeemed himself a 35-yard punt return touchdown in the second quarter. Clark then caught a tipped Emmett Stuber pass and took it for another touchdown. Mizzou held off four Nebraska trips to the red zone after that, and a fourth-quarter, goal line stand at the half-yard line put the Huskers away for good. Nebraska had handed Notre Dame their only losses of both the 1922 and 1923 seasons inside Cornhusker Stadium's walls, but Mizzou outmanned and outgunned them that day. Like I said, this was a really, really good football team.
Next up came a visit from mighty SMU, a team that would go undefeated in all games not against Mizzou. The Mustangs came to town 3-0, having outscored overwhelmed opponents by a 127-0 margin They were manhandled by Henry's Tigers ... but Mizzou just couldn't quite break a 7-7 tie. Mizzou faltered at SMU's 1 in the third quarter, and a Flamank field goal attempt bonked off the goal post in the fourth quarter. A tie against a great SMU team was far from shameful (especially in those days, where teams seemingly tied at least twice every year), but to severely outplay an opponent and have to settle for a tie was disappointing.
At 1-0-2, Mizzou gathered itself for a three-game road trip. First came a tough 7-3 win over Iowa State; Bert Clark's 50-yard run was the difference-maker. Then, Mizzou took the train to Morgantown for a battle with undefeated West Virginia. Not even yet another rainstorm could slow down the Tigers; they were flawless. Flamank had a long run, Lindenmeyer caught a short touchdown pass, and the Mizzou defense picked off pass after pass in a 27-0 win so exciting that a thousand Mizzou fans awaited Mizzou's midnight arrival back at the Columbia train station. At this point, Mizzou was 16-3-3 in their last 22 games, having won two straight conference titles, zooming in on a third, and starting to receive another round of "Best of the Midwest" recognition.
Unfortunately, the next game was in Norman. You know what trips to Norman have done to Mizzou over the years.
This one started out just fine. OU threatened early but missed a couple of field goals, and when Bert Clark caught a 37-yard pass, then scored from 10 yards out on the next play, Mizzou took a 7-0 lead. One-touchdown leads were rather comfortable ones in those days, but late in the first half, as Mizzou was attempting to drive for a double-digit lead, they were picked off. The Sooners returned the interception 60 yards for the game-tying touchdown. It was quite a momentum-turner. OU successfully kicked a go-ahead field goal in the third quarter, and the clock would run out on a late Mizzou drive. The Tigers lost, 10-7.
The Tigers had lost their shot at a third-straight conference crown that weekend, but they still had plenty of fire. A bitter exchange of words in the lead-up to the November 13 battle with Wash. U. led to a fiery, sloppy game. Eventually, the angry Tigers overwhelmed the Bears, running up the score a bit in a 45-6 win.
That led to the season finale, a Border War battle in front of a packed house of 30,000 for Homecoming at Ol' Mizzou. Another long reception by Bert Clark set up the game's first touchdown and gave Mizzou a 6-0 lead. They would expand in the fourth quarter, when Mizzou captain Carl Bacchus blocked a Kansas punt through the end zone for a safety. Mizzou officially salted the game away when Emmett Stuber picked off a pass and returned it to the Kansas 6, and Ted O'Sullivan passed to Bacchus for a touchdown on the next play. Mizzou won 15-0, pitching their third shutout of the season.
In all, Mizzou's 1926 was as dominant as any Mizzou had seen to date. But the slip-up in Oklahoma gave them a bitter blemish. Still, they would continue the program's overall momentum, winning another conference title in 1927 and putting the finishing touches on a four-year span that saw them go 25-6-3, win three titles and qualify for their first postseason game.