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Countdown: Missouri Football (1920-2010): #65-61

We start today's list with two coaches' final squads, then move to three teams on the cusp of success.


#65: Mizzou 1956 (4-5-1)

Best Win: Mizzou 15, Kansas 13
Worst Loss: Oklahoma 67, Mizzou 14

After the disastrous 1-9 season in 1955, the calls for Don Faurot to retire were quickly growing in volume.  He wasn't willing or able to recruit well out-of-state, and Mizzou's overall talent level and athleticism were not enough to keep up in an improving Big 7 conference.  Oklahoma was in the middle of the greatest stretch of play in their storied history, and Colorado was emerging as a solid #2, but Mizzou was struggling to even compete in the middle of the conference, having gone just 17-17-2 in conference for the first six seasons of the 1950s.  They fought hard and played pretty smart ... but they had lost ground and weren't making it up.  From Bob Broeg's Ol' Mizzou:

A late-season, unsigned petition calling for Faurot's resignation as coach originated in Kansas City, and the grumbling in the western half of the state was, as usual, louder than in the St. Louis area. But Dr. Elmer Ellis, the university president, came out stoutly for the old coach.  So, too, did newspaper columnists and such prominent players as Paul Christman.

Faurot could have hung on longer, no doubt.  He also could sense a weakening of the unity he had achieved. Before the 1956 season he announced flatly that the nineteenth team would be his last.

Like they did for much of the 1950s, Mizzou struggled in non-conference play, losing three tight games to Oregon State, Purdue, and SMU.  But they took a step forward in Big 7 play.  They beat Kansas State and Iowa State by a combined 54-6, and as they took Nebraska to the wire, suddenly it appeared a surprise Orange Bowl bid could be in the works (Oklahoma was still almost certainly going to win the conference, but they had been to the Orange Bowl in 1955, and teams weren't allowed to go in back-to-back seasons then) ... but they came up one point short in Lincoln, losing 15-14.  They rebounded well against a really good Colorado team, tying them in Columbia, but an Orange Bowl bid required an outright win.  When Mizzou got crushed in Norman the next week, it was clear that the Kansas game would be Faurot's final game -- there was no other bowl in play for a 3-5-1 team.

What followed is a game I will need to recap in more detail at some point. It is one of the most famous Mizzou-Kansas games in history, at least from a Mizzou perspective.

In front of 28,000 for Homecoming at Ol' Mizzou, the Tigers trailed 13-7 late, but an acrobatic Larry Plumb touchdown reception tied the game at 13-13.  Unfortunately, a bad snap on the PAT kept the game tied.

A tie looked imminent, but being that this is Mizzou-Kansas, the Jayhawks weren't about to settle for a tie.  With time for only a couple of plays, KU attempted a pass, but Mizzou registered a killer sack at the KU 4.  Kansas would then attempt one of the more daring -- and stupid -- playcalls of all time.  As everybody attempted to back off and make sure KU couldn't throw a miracle 96-yard touchdown pass, the Jayhawks attempted a reverse, to try to get a player running in the open field.  Unfortunately for KU, Mizzou's Chuck Mehrer read the play perfectly, mauling the ball-carrier in the end zone for a safety ... the most famous safety in the series until Sod Reesing.  Shockingly, Mizzou won 15-13, the crowd rushed the field, and in potentially the most famous, recognizable photo in Mizzou history, Faurot was carried off the field on the shoulders of his final team.

This was as successful a 4-5-1 season as one could imagine ... but it was still a 4-5-1 season.  Emotional highs don't register in the numbers, obviously, and Faurot's final team ranks just 65th overall.

(I need to watch myself here -- I can't start writing this many words about every team ... I've still got 64 more to go!)

#64: Mizzou 1977 (4-7)

Best Win: Mizzou 15, Arizona State (9-3) 0
Worst Loss: Kansas (3-7-1) 24, Mizzou 22

Following one of the greatest what-if seasons in Mizzou history -- in 1976, Mizzou won at USC (who finished 11-1) and Ohio State (9-2-1), but lost tight games to Iowa State, Colorado and Oklahoma and got thumped by a bad Illinois team, somehow finishing just 6-5 -- Mizzou's 1977 squad never had a chance. From the first game of the season, injuries, youth and general disarray brought a whimpering end to Al Onofrio's tenure in Columbia.

It started with USC getting its revenge for the 1976 upset, winning 27-10 at Faurot Field.  Mizzou would fall to 0-3 with tight losses to Illinois and California, and even though they upset a really good Arizona State team, they would still fall to 1-5 with two more tight losses to Iowa State and Oklahoma.  If the team were just a touchdown better, they'd have been at least 5-1 ... but they weren't.  A late-season rally that saw wins over Kansas State, Colorado and Oklahoma State were nice, but any chance Onofrio had of saving his job vanished when Mizzou once again lost to Kansas.  Despite the fact that Kansas was never more than a 7-win team in Onofrio's tenure, Mizzou went just 1-6 against the Jayhawks in his time ... and while that alone wasn't enough to get him fired, combined with Mizzou's continuous letdowns, it did the job.  After a season in which Mizzou went 0-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less, Onofrio was out.

#63: Mizzou 1996 (5-6)

Best Win: Mizzou 42, Kansas 25 -or- Mizzou 38, Clemson 24
Worst Loss: Memphis (4-7) 19, Mizzou 16 -or- Iowa State (2-9) 45, Mizzou 31

It's hard to play the what-if game too much with the 1996 team, just because the potential they showed that season came to fruition the next year.  But there's no questioning that Mizzou was very close to being much better.  They put up a decent fight in a monsoon in Austin (their first Big 12 game ever) but suffered two regrettable September losses that would come back to haunt them.  Special teams doomed them in a 19-16 loss to a bad Memphis team at home, and after a shockingly easy upset of Clemson (a team ranked in the preseason polls), they got thumped by a terrible Iowa State team in Ames.  From then on, looked like a bowl-caliber team. Yes, they were handled easily by North heavyweights Kansas State (who finished 17th in the AP polls), Colorado (8th) and Nebraska (6th), but they beat Oklahoma State, blew a lead but still beat Baylor in OT, and, in the ultimate "make sure nobody can wait for next year" move, ran for approximately 1100 yards in a 42-25 win over Kansas.  The future looked all sorts of bright, and though Mizzou was oh-so-close to bowl eligibility that season, they wouldn't have to wait too much longer for a bowl bid after 13 years of ineptitude.

#62: Mizzou 1935 (3-3-3)

Best Win: Mizzou 20, Colorado (5-4) 6
Worst Loss: Wash. U. 19, Mizzou 6

This post started with Don Faurot's final team; well, here's his first one.  Frank Carideo's tenure as Mizzou head coach mercifully came to a close after the 1934 season, and Mizzou replaced him with Faurot, one of their own.

Imagine the thrill involved when, after winning two games in three seasons under Carideo, Mizzou started the 1935 season at 3-0.  Granted, the first two wins were against William Jewell and Central Missouri State, but ... they were wins!  And when they thumped a decent Colorado team in Columbia, Mizzou football had suddenly won back all the fans they had lost in the first half of the 1930s.

Of course, those were the only three wins this team would nab.  But Faurot immediately brought this team back to respectability.  They would tie Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State and lose by two touchdowns to Oklahoma, Nebraska and Wash. U. (the last win Wash. U. would ever claim against the Tigers), but ... to say the least 3-3-3 was a vast improvement over the disgusting 2-23-2 record Carideo had managed in three years.

#61: Mizzou 1923 (2-3-3)

Best Win: Mizzou 4, Kansas State (4-2-2) 2.  Yes, 4-2.
Worst Loss: Wash. U. 13, Mizzou 7

Who's that handsome man carrying the ball and setting up his blockers in the above picture?  Why, Don Faurot of course!  Before he was engineering Mizzou's turn-around from the sidelines, he was part of Gwinn Henry's program-building journey.  Mizzou's first sustained head coach -- nobody had stayed more than four seasons before -- Henry did not do a lot in his inaugural 1923 season.  Mizzou beat SMS (10-0) and Kansas State (4-2), lost to ISU (2-0), Oklahoma (13-0) and Wash U. (13-7 -- damn, they were always tripping us up) and tied SLU, a good Nebraska team, and a really good Kansas team.   They were salty, competitive, and well-managed ... and relatively unmemorable.  They laid the foundation for Mizzou's first era of great play, however.  Mizzou would go 34-12-1 from 1924 to 1929.