I pondered waiting until after Monday's National Championship to write this, but with my thoughts and observations regarding Friday's victory fresh in my mind, I decided to go ahead and write my final column for the 2013 college football season now. . I appreciate all the feedback throughout the season, and penning my weekly thoughts made the season more enjoyable! With that in mind, here's the final edition...and for this final issue and with hoops season well under way, I have included a bonus five thoughts -- all on college hoops. I may bring it up a couple more times before March, we'll see how things go!
On Mizzou football....
1. Congratulations to Coach Pinkel. Four months ago I never thought we'd be talking about Coach Pinkel breaking the record this season, so to do so is a heck of an accomplishment. I've always counted myself "between the camps" of those who love Coach and those who do not, but he has without a doubt been a huge success, even if there is still a mountain or two to climb. I think he more than deserves now the chance to reach those last milestones of at least a conference title and perhaps more, and I think we'll have every shot to do so..
2. What a great win against a great team. I enjoy bowl season simply because I love college football, but I have to admit I'm one of those who largely finds the system a bit silly. That said, the Cotton Bowl is one of the big ones (BCS or not) and it will be going forward, so that was big in itself. To pull off a win against a fellow Top 15 team in our former conference was even more noteworthy and I'm proud of the way we performed, even if it wasn't pretty at times. Congratulations to the entire team for a memorable victory to cap off a special season.
3. Thank you to...
- James Franklin. Though 3/4 of yesterday's game were certainly great, he responded when it counted and I'm so thankful that Pinkel didn't succumb to temptation by pulling him despite being off his game. The fact is that though winning is the thing that matters the most, there are other things that matter too, and one of them is loyalty and sticking with your senior QB in his last game, even when it was ugly for a while. And, the decision proved correct because Franklin did what he needed to do in the 4th quarter. Though I get the sense Franklin may be the subject of some debate among Missouri fans in the next few years, it is my hope and belief that history will judge him favorably. I'm glad I had the honor of cheering for him.
- Michael Sam. That wonderfully-timed strip will go down as one of the best plays in Mizzou history, and you will go down as one of the players that put is on the SEC and national map. Textbook "clutch" play and we all look forward to watching you play on Sundays.
- Henry Josey. Has there ever been a more inspiring player in our history than Henry? I really hope he returns for one more season, and if there was ever a case for the relaxing the rules on retiring numbers for the "wall", it's Henry, in my mind. I think he's earned his place, should he stay for his final year. That's how strongly I feel about his comeback and his contributions on and off the field.
4. Some of our fans embarrass me. I don't mean to be too harsh, as I understand the emotions of a game can be quite extraordinary, but if there was ever a game that demonstrated some fans need to stay away from message boards during a ballgame, yesterday was it. I was watching from my living room but would occasionally check my phone to gauge the reaction, and was largely dumbfounded by some of the comments I would see, particularly those directed towards Pinkel and Franklin. Listen, I understand the emotions of saying something even like "I feel like we're going to lose this game" -- okay, we've all done that, and sometimes it can be heck of a reverse jinx. But that's a far cry from "die in a fire" and "Franklin sucks, I can't wait til he's gone" and other such garbage I saw posted on various platforms. It's as if people forget we are playing another team, equally motivated to win as we are, who is also in the Top 15. And, honestly, some people really need to dial it down just a tad and realize it's a football game, not an actual real war. I get the emotions, don't get me wrong, but my goodness. I really do hope that's a minority of our fans.
5. 12-2, baby. Just awesome. Just incredibly awesome. Yes, South Carolina will haunt us all but interestingly, it may not have mattered in the long run, as we still would have played Auburn and still would have lost that game. So, yeah, we probably should have been 13-1, but given 3, 5, 6 and 7 all lost -- in the end it might actually only have cost us a ranking or two, as I think we'll end up 4th, maybe 5th. As it should be. A simply outstanding season.
On college football....
6. The SEC reigns supreme. Don't buy into any of the other nonsense. I know Alabama lost to Oklahoma and that's great, the Big 12 is a decent league as shown by the performances of K-State, Oklahoma State (even in a loss), and Texas Tech. Texas will bounce back I think with Strong and Oklahoma is going to be consistently good, still. Baylor, even though they lost, I think is primed to keep it going. But, the SEC is still the best league. This is how I'd rank the leagues: 1) SEC 2) Pac 12 3) Big 12 4) Big Ten 5) ACC.
7. UCF is a sleeping giant. I was glad to see them win as I like when new programs emerge and I think Central Florida has every ability to be a sleeping giant that awakens in the coming few years. They're in an absolute recruiting hotbed, have a huge student body and have the potential to grow their fan base over time. I actually think the Big 12, if it really wants into Florida, should look at UCF. I'm also looking forward to seeing them come to Columbia next year.
8. A playoff is now here! I'm very glad we'll now be moving to the first year of the 4 team playoff, and an improved bowl system with the selection committee determining the matchups, in most cases for all the big six bowls. I'm glad to see that making the playoff will replace simply making a BCS bowl as a significant achievement, with making one of the "other four" Big Six bowls being a secondary achievement. That itself is a step in the right direction. Though it will be a bit confusing with contracts and which years which bowls host the semifinals, I think it's the right step.. I will say I do think the bowl system, in general, needs to be rethought given even schools like Nebraska are having problems traveling, now. This topic deserves much greater depth than "one thought", but I think a model based on more regional locations and/or scrapping it entirely in favor of something else is worth looking at over the life of the new playoff. More on this in the future...but a teaser is that my choice for a ideal number of teams in a championship playoff is 12....
9. I hope the uniform craze tempers a bit. I know some don't care about this, but uniforms are part of college football and that's why people talk about them. Plus, it's a good topic to bring up in the last week. :). First of all, I will note that I did like the big tiger on the shiny black helmet rather than the matte black it typically is on, as I actually think black is better shiny. There are some colors (Utah State's navy blue, for example) that look quite nice in matte (which is a bit trendy to me, but certainly better than chrome to the point I'm okay with it in some instances) - but for black, I like shiny and I hope we use that going forward for both the oval (my preferred helmet) and the big gold tiger. But that leads me into my main point, which is that I hope the 150-different-combination-craze dies down a bit over the coming 2-3 years. Don't get me wrong, while I generally would prefer each team only have 2-3 combinations and ONE helmet, I'm not opposed to different looks if they're reasonable. For example, the Illinois blue matte helmet with the orange "I" is classy, as is their orange shiny helmet with the Blue I. Navy's new helmet is actually really cool. But, at Indiana, who had a wonderful classy helmet with their maroon interlocked "IU" helmet, screwed it up with their candy canes this year. I much prefer Baylor's traditional gold BU helmet to the chrome gold things they wore this week. Washington's gold is also better than their chrome. For example, I was really glad to see Stanford and Michigan State both wear their traditional helmets for the Rose Bowl. So, I'd characterize myself is as a "open minded traditionalist". I generally prefer a traditional look but am not opposed to different looks if they're consistent and nice looking. Go Oregon or Maryland on me and I'm not a fan.
10. Go Auburn. I don't hate Florida State, I just think what Auburn did was particularly special this year, even though some of it was fluky in nature. I also want to be able to say we lost to the team that won the title. :) It's certainly an intriguing matchup and I'm looking forward to it. I think Auburn wins in a tight one.
On to the five basketball-related bonus thoughts...
1. 12-1 is 12-1. Our team is quite good but they also worry me at times, I'll be honest. Sometimes I'm not sure we're running an offense out there but then at other times I get this feeling we could do some damage in March. So far, the fact is they have only lost one game to a rival by one point, and they have two nice resume wins in NC State and UCLA. The SEC is actually pretty poor this year, so in my mind the goal for conference play is 14-4, which is an improvement over last year. I think we should and will sweep at home -- including Kentucky -- but suspect we'll drop road games at Florida and at least a couple others. But, I think we'll be in the race at the end and earn anywhere from as high as a 3 to as low as a 7 or 8. We'll see.
Announced attendance is 8,679.— Steve Walentik (@Steve_Walentik) January 4, 2014
2. Attendance is a problem. I think this is a situation that needs to be addressed. I think the reasons for the lack of attendance are not limited to any one area, but are multi-faceted and deserve attention by the AD. Not with tweaks, mind you, but by a full re-evaluation of how we approach basketball as a university. For a long time we've largely put it alongside football as one of two major sports, but I think that needs to be changed for the time being, as I think college basketball is largely turning into a one-month sport and is in decline. It's just not a priority for people and if you treat it like it's a premium sport, you'll continue to bleed fans, who will pay attention on the periphery but not pay to attend games on a consistent basis such as for season tickets. While some may disagree with the severity of the problem, I think the signs are there that it's not going to get better and that MU should get ahead of the curve. Pretending like nothing is happening and waiting it out is not the answer. I think there are a number of factors at play here -- from things out of Mizzou's control like the quality of the game and the one-and-done situation to things well within our control like the screwed up parking situation and the pricing structure which overvalues the sport in a head-scratching effort to defy the laws of economics.
3. To me, it's all about tournament wins this year. Because college basketball is so much of a March sport now, I think our overall record and placement in the SEC matters only to the degree it gets us a more favorable seed in March. For Haith's sake and our sake, we need to get past the first round this year, as I think the fact we haven't done anything since 2009 is itself making the sport a yawner in people's eyes and excitement needs to be restored. That excitement is generated largely from tournament runs. This has to be the focus this year, as if we're out in the first round again I think people will rightfully start to raise questions.
4. I do miss Big XII hoops. As much as I've grown to like the SEC move, the side of it that still is sad to me is missing basketball. This year is a good example as there are 4 Big 12 teams in the Top 16. It would really be a fun season over there this year with some epic battles. Yes, Kentucky and Arkansas coming in will be fun, but I'll take Iowa State and even Baylor over Vanderbilt and Georgia. Throw in the Big 12 Tournament kicking the crap out of the SEC tournament and this is the part of the move that sucks. Just being honest on this one!
5. A really early Final Four. This is not based on a lot but here goes Arizona, Ohio State, Wichita State, and Iowa State.
Well, that's it for this week -- and this season in college football. Thank you again for the reads. Until next time...TiK.