The middle portion of the 1940s and 2000s take precedent in this edition of the Countdown. We're to the middle of the list, meaning lots of almost's and what-if's. You've been warned.
#60: Mizzou 1950 (4-5-1)
Best Win: Mizzou 20, Kansas (6-4) 6
Worst Loss: SMU (6-4) 21, Mizzou 0
The 1948 and 1949 seasons saw Mizzou's post-war resurgence as a hard-nosed, innovative team that would go anywhere and play anybody. They went 15-3 against teams not named Ohio State and Oklahoma, split a pair with powerful SMU, went to back-to-back Gator Bowls, and pretty clearly established themselves as the #2 program in the Big 7.
In 1950, cracks began to show. Mizzou still went 3-2-1 in the Big 7, but as programs like Kansas, Colorado and (for one year) Nebraska took steps forward, Mizzou stayed the same. That, and their 'play anybody, anywhere' approach to scheduling backfired. Mizzou played SEVEN teams that finished with a winning record in 1950, going 2-5 in those games. They began the season ranked 17th in the preseason polls but got rolled by both Clemson (34-0) and #3 SMU (21-0), both at home. They played the three worst teams on their schedule in succession, beating Kansas State (28-7), tying Iowa State (20-20) and rolling Oklahoma State (20-0), then faced a ridiculous stretch of teams. Faurot's Tigers always put up a fight -- they lost a tight 40-34 game in Lincoln and beat both 5-4-1 Colorado (21-19) and 6-4 Kansas (20-6) at home, but their slipping talent was clearly evident in games versus #2 Oklahoma (a 41-7 loss) and #14 Miami-FL (27-9).
In all, the 4-5-1 record is at least a little misleading. If that team had played a modern schedule, with three cupcakes and maybe another poor team or two in conference play, they'd have likely gone 7-5 or so, but there was no questioning that 1950 was a step in the wrong direction for the program, and the going was about to get a lot tougher.
#59: Mizzou 2004 (5-6)
Best Win: Mizzou 17, Iowa State (7-5) 14
Worst Loss: Kansas (4-7) 31, Mizzou 14
We all remember more than we'd care to about this season. Coming off of their first bowl bid in five seasons in 2003, the present and future both looked outstanding for Gary Pinkel's young Tigers. Brad Smith was as explosive a player as Mizzou had ever seen in black and gold, and it looks like Mizzou was going to become the new power in the Big 12 North. They were expected to battle it out with Kansas State for the North title. And get this: in the offseason, Gary Pinkel and David Yost had worked extensively on what all Mizzou fans wanted at the time -- making Brad Smith a better passer in the pocket. He was going to be the perfect quarterback!
Of course, it turned out that the implantation of passer instincts into Smith's brain would a) be largely ineffective, and b) take away the good instincts, the ones that caused him to become a 2,000-1,000 talent as a freshman. Mizzou's scoring would actually decrease by three points a game, and the whole season unfolded like a slow-motion crash.
After an easy, 52-20 win over Arkansas State to start the season, Mizzou traveled to Troy to take on a rising Sun Belt program on a nationally-televised, Friday night game on ESPN. While Mizzou fans have been conditioned to expect the worse, they all let their guards down when Mizzou quickly went up 14-0 in the first quarter, engineering two flawless touchdown drives. Unfortunately, the Mizzou team also let its guard down, and when Troy got a little tricky/lucky and stole all of the momentum -- they scored on a WR-to-WR pass to make it 14-7, then they tied the game when offensive lineman Junior Louissaint caught a running back's fumble mid-stride and took it 63 yards for a touchdown -- Mizzou had no answer. The offense that generated 119 yards on the first two drives managed just 217 the rest of the game, repeatedly faltered under pressure, and wouldn't score again. Troy pulled a devastating 24-14 upset, and Mizzou was suddenly unranked.
It got better for a brief few weeks. Mizzou beat Ball State, Colorado and Baylor in succession and put up a really strong fight in a 28-20 loss to Texas ... and that's when the slow-motion car crash really began to unfold. They were 4-2 with a 17-0 late in the first half against Oklahoma State before collapsing and losing 20-17. They laid a horrific egg in Nebraska, losing 24-3 to a bad Huskers team, then blew another big first-half lead against Kansas State. The North was so terrible that year, however, that a win over Kansas and Iowa State could still assure then of a North title, however ... but they were a complete no-show at home against Kansas for three quarters, falling behind 28-0 before finally attempting to make some noise. They lost 31-14, one of the more inexcusable losses in a long time, and both their North and bowl hopes were gone. In what was supposed to be one of the better seasons in recent Mizzou history, the Tigers had lost five in a row to fall to 4-6.
Mizzou would somehow find a reserve supply of heart, traveling to Ames in the season finale and knocking off an Iowa State team that needed to win to clinch their first North title, but it was too little, too late for one of the more crushingly disappointing seasons in Mizzou history.
#58: Mizzou 1946 (5-4-1)
Best Win: Mizzou 21, Colorado (5-4-1) 0
Worst Loss: Texas (8-2) 42, Mizzou 0
Don Faurot returned from war to lead the 1946 edition of the Tigers, but it took a while for the chemistry to come back together. Players like Bus Entsminger returned as well, and the mix of wartime players and pre-war talent returning to action did not coagulate as hoped. Mizzou traveled to Austin for the first game of the season and got romped, 42-0, by the #1 team in the country. After an impressive tie of #14 Ohio State in Columbus, Mizzou would get hot. They knocked off SLU (19-14), Kansas State (26-0) and Iowa State (33-13) to move to 3-1-1, but a 17-0 home slip-up to a mediocre SMU squad set them back. They bounced back to beat Nebraska (21-20) and Colorado (21-0), but in a showdown for the Big 6 conference title, they were rolled up by Jim Tatum's first Oklahoma squad (Tatum and Bud Wilkinson were both assistant coaches under Don Faurot during the war and learned the principles of the Split-T from him ... then beat him over the head with it for the next decade), 27-6. With no conference title to play for, Mizzou was upset, 20-19, by Kansas in a disappointing finale.
Really, this team wasn't terrible -- after the blowout loss to Texas in the season opener, they were the definition of "slightly above average," going 5-3-1 and outscoring opponents 158-124. They would slowly begin to build momentum over the rest of the decade, but this was a season for Faurot to once again get his footing in Columbia.
#57: Mizzou 1987 (5-6)
Best Win: Mizzou 23, Baylor (6-5) 18
Worst Loss: For what-if purposes ... Oklahoma (11-1) 17, Mizzou 13
The ultimate what-if team during the 1984-96 stretch of losing seasons, the 1987 squad was actually, dare I say, decent. With a couple of bounces, they could have finished as well as 7-4 or 8-3, and it is interesting to think what that might have done for the Woody Widenhofer era. Odds are, they'd have still fallen apart in 1988, but he may have bought himself another year on the sidelines before being fired, which would have set off a Butterfly Effect wherein Gary Barnett was hired as Mizzou coach, won the Big Ten instead of Northwestern, and lived happily ever after. Or something.
Regardless, the 1987 team didn't make a bowl game ... they just had to settle for coming tantalizingly close. After unquestioned growth in 1986, the Tigers beat a decent Baylor team (23-18) and mauled Northwestern (28-3) to start the season 2-0 for the first time since 1982. They lost their first heartbreaker of the season, 20-17 on the road to a solid Indiana team (no shame there), then lost 24-13 to a Syracuse team that would go on to finish 11-0-1. They were 2-2, but it was a good 2-2, if that was possible.
Mizzou would move to 4-2 after feasting on a couple of the Big 8's worst teams (Kansas State and Iowa State) and needed to finish just 2-3 down the stretch to make their first bowl game in four years. They hosted Thurman Thomas, Barry Sanders, and a loaded Oklahoma State team that would finish 10-2; they put up a tremendous fight ... but lost, 24-20. A 42-7 loss to Nebraska followed, and bowl hopes began to look dicey. When they traveled to Boulder and got rocked by Colorado (27-10), it appeared hope was lost. They would need to defeat #2 Oklahoma in Norman to maintain their bowl hopes ... and damned if they almost did just that. Sadly, the best 'win' of the Widenhofer era was a 17-13 loss to the Sooners, in which Mizzou fought, scratched, clawed, and became the first team all season to hold OU to under 24 points. OU was clearly looking ahead to the following week's #1-vs-#2 showdown with Nebraska, and Missouri almost bit them. Almost. Instead, the Tigers had to settle for beating Kansas (19-7) and finishing one game short of bowl eligibility. The team had shown grit and more competitiveness against top teams than they had in a half-decade. Unfortunately, they would forget how to play defense in 1988, and the downward slide started all over again.
#56: Mizzou 2002 (5-7)
Best Win: Mizzou 33, Illinois 20
Worst Loss: Bowling Green 51, Mizzou 28
Whereas the 2004 team finished a disappointing 5-6, the 2002 squad finished an encouraging 5-7. Perceptions are a funny thing. Mizzou fans headed into 2002 knowing they were likely staring another rebuilding season in the face. They had shown at least a little fire in 2001, winning twice on the road in conference, but they were starting a no-name redshirt freshman at quarterback, so success would likely take a while.
That no-name turned out to be Brad Smith, and when Mizzou romped over defending Big Ten champion Illinois in the season's first game, all expectations were turned on their head. Smith was a revelation that season, becoming the second 2,000-1,000 (yards passing and rushing) quarterback in history, and doing it as a freshman, no less. Of course, Mizzou still couldn't play defense -- they gave up 29.3 points per game -- and in all, 2002 was the epitome of "two steps forward, one step back." They started 2-0 but were ambushed in a trip to Bowling Green (a 51-28 loss). They came oh-so-close to beating Oklahoma in the first conference game (a game that will get the "Mizzou classic" treatment from me one day), then forgot how to move the ball against Nebraska. They mauled Kansas (the kinda-hilarious, kinda-sad game where the players rushed the goalposts) to move to 4-4, but needing two more wins for bowl eligibility, they came up just short in back-to-back 42-35 losses (to Iowa State -- a game that might get the "Forgotten classic" treatment -- and Colorado). In their second straight overtime affair, they beat ATM at College Station, but needing a big upset for bowl eligibility in the finale, they were destroyed by Kansas State, 42-0.
The hope from the season-opening win over Illinois may have given fans the impression that this was a team that could win up to 7 or 8 games -- and if they were a touchdown better on defense, they'd have been right there -- but there was no question that, with young players at almost every position, the 2002 was more encouraging than it was disappointing. When Mizzou would build on that encouragement in an 8-win 2003 season, it was all the better. Of course, then 2004 happened, and we start this post all over again.