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Countdown: Missouri Football (1920-2010): #55-51

Devine's final squad and Broyles' only one are perhaps the most notable ones on today's list.  As we reach the midpoint of the list, we've got a whole lot of average squads to get through...


#55: Mizzou 1954 (4-5-1)

Best Win: Mizzou 35, Kansas State (7-3) 7
Worst Loss: Maryland (7-2-1) 74, Mizzou 13 (!!!)

Looking simply at overall records for the Mizzou teams of the mid-1950s is a bit misleading.  From 1952 to 1954, the Tigers went 15-14-1, which is pretty much the definition of mediocrity ... but in Big 7 play, they were rock solid.  Heading into 1954, the Tigers were coming off of two seasons in which they had gone 9-3 in conference games, 9-1 against teams not named Oklahoma.  But Don Faurot's "anybody, anywhere" approach to scheduling had backfired -- Mizzou had gone 2-8 in non-conference games, losing twice to Jim Tatum's Maryland squads, once to Pappy Waldorf and California, twice to SMU, etc.

In the end, 1954 was basically an exaggeration of 1952-53.  Mizzou was once again decent in Big 7 play (outside of a 21-point loss to undefeated OU).  They whipped Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State, tied a good Colorado team and barely lost to Nebraska.  Unfortunately, the NU loss prevented them from getting the Orange Bowl bid that OU was not allowed to take because of the no-repeat rule.  But still, this was by all means another solid, competitive Big 7 campaign.

Oh yeah, and Mizzou went 1-3 in non-conference play, beating a bad Indiana team and being outscored by Purdue, SMU and Maryland 130-19.  130-19!  They began the season with a 31-0 road loss to Purdue, returned home after whipping KSU to lose to SMU 25-6, and after the reasonably successful Big 7 campaign, they traveled to College Park over Thanksgiving weekend and gave up an insane 74 points.

Maybe it's good that Mizzou didn't get that Orange Bowl bid?  The Big 7 was a decent-not-great conference, and as with Norm Stewart, clearly conference success was Don Faurot's main goal, but these non-conference results were downright demoralizing for both players and fans.  Combined with the fact that Mizzou was always competitive in the conference but could never quite snag one of the non-OU Orange Bowl bids (that season, 6-4-1 Nebraska got the bid with the win over MU and got romped by Duke; in 1956, it was Colorado), it was a frustrating time for Mizzou fans.  The bad 1955 season would lead to the "Faurot should retire!" petitions, but despite the mediocre records, Faurot really only ended up having a couple of truly bad seasons.  Most were like the 1954 campaign -- encouraging, competitive, and super-frustrating, all in one.

#54: Mizzou 1957 (5-4-1)

Best Win: Mizzou 9, Colorado (6-3-1) 6
Worst Loss: Kansas (5-4-1) 9, Mizzou 6

More on this one here, here and here.

Having read about him both for the 1957 pieces linked above and in Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson, one of the first round of upcoming Rock M Book Club books, I can say two things about Frank Broyles with 99% certainty: 1) Broyles was an extraordinarily competent coach and administrator, and 2) Broyles was most loyal to himself.  If your goals coincided with Broyles', you were probably going to do okay, and for one season, Mizzou's and Broyles' goals were the same.

When Don Faurot retired after the 1956 season, he searched long and hard for his Mizzou heir, finally deciding on Broyles, then a star Georgia Tech assistant.  Broyles inherited a salty team that was not ready to compete at a truly high level because of a relative lack of talent/athleticism. His first (and only) recruiting class rectified that issue a bit, bringing in famous Mizzou players like Danny LaRose and Mizzou's first two African-American players, Norris Stevenson and Mel West.  Dan Devine wouldn't have won big at Mizzou without Broyles' recruiting class, but Broyles wasn't sure Faurot's preference for recruiting Missouri kids would allow him to build the talent necessary to win a national title and ditched Mizzou when Arkansas came calling after just one season.

In Broyles' lone season, however, he produced solid results, all things considered.  Mizzou was rolled by Bear Bryant's best Texas A&M squad, but a 9-6 upset win at Colorado made them 5-1-1 and gave them a shot at a surprise conference title.  Of course, they got whooped by Oklahoma with the title on the line and fell into a late-season funk, with surprise 2-point losses to both Kansas State and Kansas, but Broyles had quickly proven his coaching acumen.  if he had stayed at Mizzou, the Tigers would likely have won at a high level ... but it's pretty easy to assume that Broyles' departure worked out well for everybody involved -- Broyles won big at Arkansas, and Mizzou won big with Broyles' replacement, Devine.

#53: Mizzou 1928 (4-4)

Best Win: Mizzou 25, Kansas 6
Worst Loss: Oklahoma 14, Mizzou 0

Amid an overall stretch of great seasons with Gwinn Henry at the helm came this mediocre season.  It was certainly unique in one way -- Mizzou only played one game that was decided by less than nine points (a 6-0 loss to 7-1 Drake).  They killed the Centre Praying Colonels (that was seriously their nickname) by a 60-0 score, beat Iowa State 28-19, won at Kansas State by a 19-6 margin, and whipped Kansas, 25-6.  In all, they were a rock solid 3-1 at home, outscoring opponents (who were clearly disheveled by the half-black Rock M ... anybody know the story with that? The M first made an appearance in 1927, so it's not like it was half-completed when the above photo was taken or anything ... interesting) 112-31.

They also lost at Nebraska 24-0, at NYU 27-6, and at Oklahoma 14-0, going 1-3 on the road and getting outscored by a 71-25 margin.  It was an up-and-down season for a young team that would bounce back in 1929.

#52: Mizzou 1970 (5-6)

Best Win: Mizzou 28, Kansas 17
Worst Loss: Iowa State 31, Mizzou 19

If you're keeping track of the countdown-within-a-countdown, the 1970 squad was officially the best Missouri team to ever finish with a losing record.  Despite the departure of quite a bit of talent from the 1969 Big 8 champions, Missouri still put a competitive team on the field in 1970, Dan Devine's final season on the Mizzou sidelines.  Injuries, however, knocked this group around in a major way.  The great Joe Moore was poised for an All-American season, leading the nation with 610 yards and 6 touchdowns just four games into the season.  However, he injured his shoulder against #6 Nebraska and was lost for the season.  The Huskers would score two late touchdowns and beat Mizzou, 21-7.  The next week, against #3 Notre Dame, Mizzou held a 4-point third-quarter lead before Joe Theismann and the Irish pulled away late.  The Huskers and Irish would go on to finish #1 and #2 in the country.

From then on, it was a season of injuries and missed opportunities.  Kicking woes and timely breakdowns led to a three-game losing streak against decent-not-great Kansas State, Oklahoma and Iowa State, and for the first time in Devine's tenure, Mizzou would finish with a losing record.  Mizzou would defeat Kansas in the season finale to finish 5-6.

The 1970 squad was a talented, relatively young, and completely snake-bitten squad.  One season of disappointment is probably pretty easy to take (especially considering how great Mizzou was for all of the 1960s), but sad feelings were multiplied when Devine resigned after the season to become coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers.  He is the last Mizzou coach in any major sport to leave Mizzou for a higher job ... and "Going to the Packers to replace Vince Lombardi" is pretty damn excusable in the grand scheme of things.

#51: Mizzou 1922 (5-3)

Best Win: Mizzou 9, Kansas 7
Worst Loss: Oklahoma 18, Mizzou 14

While the 1928 Mizzou team barely knew what a close game felt like, the 1922 squad knew all about it.  Only three of their nine games were decided by double digits -- a 23-0 win over Grinnell, a jarring 48-0 loss at Nebraska, and a 27-0 win over Wash. U.  Beyond that, these battle-tested Tigers had to fight, scratch and claw for a winning record.  Sandwiched around the blowout loss in Lincoln were a tight 6-3 win at Iowa State and a 9-0 win at SLU (a three-game road streak ... yikes).  In the November home stretch, things didn't get any easier.  They lost a tight 14-10 contest to Kansas State then lost 18-14 at Oklahoma, but finished off the season by romping Wash. U. and winning a squeaker over Kansas, 9-7.

The 1922 team, the only one coached by former Alabama head man Thomas Kelly, wasn't particularly good at anything, to be honest.  Of the 112 teams that roughly constituted "Division 1," they were 72nd on offense and 65th on defense.  They averaged 12.3 points per game and allowed 11.3.  They were average in every way, but aside from the debacle in Lincoln, they were salty and competitive in every game, and they earned a winning record because of it.