That's right, it's time for the next official Rock M Nation tournament. On the heels of last year's Mizzou 25 competitions and this offseason's Meme Madness, we are now going to spend the next month looking at some of the greatest wins in Mizzou football history and attempting to pinpoint the single biggest one.
But before we can do that, we have to solidify the field of 32 wins. There are four regions, once again skewed slightly toward recency--the 2000s Region, the 1976-2000 Region, the 1963-1975 Region, and the Pre-1963 Region. Seven of the eight games from each region have been chosen, but for the next four days we will be using Play-In Games to set the field.
First up: the 2000s Region. Without revealing the seven games already determined worthy of inclusion in the field, here are the nominees for the eighth and final spot:
August 31, 2002: Mizzou 33, Illinois 20
Why it is notable: It was Brad Smith's coming-out party. While fans and analysts alike were questioning Gary Pinkel's decision to start a redshirt freshman over the more experienced Kirk Farmer in the season opener against the defending Big Ten champions, Smith calmly posted 138 yards rushing and 152 passing to lead Mizzou to a startlingly easy win. When he scored from 24 yards out early in the fourth quarter, giving Mizzou a 33-14 lead, Mizzou radio announcer Mike Kelly pronounced, "Mizzou fans, you've got yourself a quarterback." To which John Kadlec responded, with his voice cracking, "We've got a quarterback."
Why it isn't already in the field: Mizzou went 5-7 that year, and the promise of the Brad Smith era only resulted in two Independence Bowl bids.
October 25, 2003: Mizzou 62, Texas Tech 31
Why it is notable: Until his final game in a Tiger uniform, Brad Smith's finest hour probably came midway through his sophomore year. Against a 5-2 Tech team boasting the nation's best passing attack, Mizzou's defense was angry and opportunistic, forcing five turnovers and harassing Tech QB B.J. Symons all afternoon long. But nobody really remembers that--all that is remembered is the performance by #16 (documented here). Smith rushed just 19 times for 291 yards and five touchdowns, while adding another 128 yards through the air. He simply embarrassed the Tech defense, and his efforts moved Mizzou to 6-2 on the season.
Why it isn't already in the field: Mizzou turned around and lost to a 3-6 Colorado squad the next week. For all of his amazing moments, rarely was consistent momentum ever built.
October 4, 2008: Mizzou 52, Nebraska 17
Why it is notable: Even though the race ended up closer than anticipated, for all intents and purposes Mizzou won the Big 12 North in the first game of conference play in 2008. The Tigers completely and totally manhandled the Huskers, winning in Lincoln for the first time in 30 years and doing it in awe-inspiring fashion. After a 58-yard Jeremy Maclin touchdown on the third play of the game, Nebraska tied the score at 7-7 five minutes in. Over the next 40 minutes, Mizzou would outscore NU (in Lincoln!), 45-3. NU's first-stringers would score a touchdown against the MU scrubs on the game's final play, limiting the damage to only 35 points.
Why it isn't already in the field: This was Mizzou's fourth win over Nebraska in six tries--the novelty is wearing off; plus, while the team absolutely harbored national title hopes at that point, the aura of invincibility would end just seven days later in a surprise loss to Oklahoma State.
December 29, 2008: Mizzou 30, Northwestern 23 (OT)
Why it is notable: In Chase Daniel's final game as a Tiger, he led Mizzou to its first successful fourth-quarter comeback with him at the helm. Mizzou struggled on offense most of the game, and a couple of broken defensive plays appeared to be all NW'ern would need to pull the upset. A season that started with national title aspirations--aspirations that continued as late as five weeks into the season--was suddenly looking like it would finish with Mizzou at a heartily disappointing 9-5. But the Mizzou defense locked down the Wildcats in the fourth quarter, and despite one of Daniel's least accurate performances, not to mentioned a missed Jeff Wolfert field goal as time expired, Mizzou pulled of the win when Daniel found Maclin for an OT touchdown and William Moore and Sean Weatherspoon came up with huge sack to kill NW'ern's chances to tie.
Why it isn't already in the field: Here's why the whole "fourth quarter comeback" thing is overrated. A large majority of fourth-quarter comebacks come after the favored team has been underwhelming for the first 45 minutes. Bowl wins should never be discounted, and this did allow Mizzou to get to 30 wins in three seasons, but winning this game filled fans with relief more than excitement.