Onward we roll in the second-to-last part of this series. Here's what you've missed so far:
Part One: Intro
Part Two: 1996-99
Part Three: 2000-02
Part Four: Reintroduction & 2003
In this Imagination Land scenario, the Big Ten moved to 12 teams in 1996, then 16 (by adding Nebraska, Pitt, Rutgers and Syracuse) in 2003. Here are Mizzou's records in that time.
1996: 5-6 (2-6)
Big Ten Championship: Ohio State 35, Iowa 6
1997: 7-5 (5-3) - lose to #16 Arizona State in Sun Bowl
Big Ten Championship: Michigan 42, Iowa 14
1998: 9-3 (5-3) - beat #3 Kansas State in Alamo Bowl
Big Ten Championship: Ohio State 31, Penn State 20
1999: 5-6 (3-5)
Big Ten Championship: Penn State 24, Michigan State 21
2000: 2-9 (1-7)
Big Ten Championship: Michigan 28, Purdue 23
2001: 3-8 (1-7)
Big Ten Championship: Illinois 30, Ohio State 28
2002: 8-5 (5-3) - lose to #14 Colorado in Alamo Bowl
Big Ten Championship: Ohio State 23, Iowa 13
2003: 8-5 (5-4) - beat Colorado State in the San Francisco Bowl
Big Ten Championship: Michigan 31, Purdue 6
Not a lot of difference between this and real-life, other than the fact that they were one game better in 1998 (and got to play the role of Purdue in the Alamo Bowl) and a whopping three games better in 2002. The 2003 season saw Mizzou's second straight 8-win season, meaning expectations were likely going to be out of control for Brad Smith's junior year.
In real-life, Mizzou started 2004 ranked 18th in the preseason polls. With 16 wins in two seasons (instead of 13 in real-life), I say people are even higher on Mizzou heading into 2004. They are one of five West teams ranked to start the season, but they are the favorites by a nose. Is this the year Mizzou hits the big-time?
No, no it's not.
#8 Michigan (East)
#9 Ohio State (East)
#14 Missouri (West)
#19 Iowa (West)
#21 Wisconsin (West)
#24 Purdue (West)
#25 Minnesota (West)
9/4: vs Kansas (in Kansas City)
9/11: Arkansas State
9/18: Ball State
9/25: at Minnesota
10/16: at Purdue
10/30: at Nebraska
11/6: at Rutgers
11/20: at Indiana
The real 2004 season started with an easy win over Arkansas State, then a disastrous trip to Troy. There is no trip to Troy on the Alternate 2004 slate -- with only four conference home games and a neutral site game against Kansas, Mizzou uses the other two non-con games just to get to six home games. But no Troy doesn't equal no disaster. In fact, disaster strikes a week earlier, as Mizzou heads to Arrowhead expecting to get revenge for a disappointing 2003 result against Kansas ... and ends up with an even more disappointing loss.
In real life, this one was 31-14 KU at Faurot -- I'm actually making this one closer because it wasn't on the heels of four straight Mizzou losses. Mizzou actually has some confidence in this one ... but they still don't win. They fall behind 21-0 before making a mad charge and coming up short. For the second straight season, they fall out of the rankings after an upset loss at the hands of Mark Mangino and KU, and any goodwill from the 2003 bowl win just vanished.
Kansas 28, Mizzou 20
This one happened.
Mizzou 52, Arkansas State 20
This one happened. Mizzou seems back on track at 2-1, still with reasonably realistic hopes of winning the West.
Mizzou 48, Ball State 0
at #19 Minnesota
Mizzou takes a 20-14 lead into halftime, but the offense dries up, and Laurence Maroney salts the game away with a pair of second-half touchdowns. This is a tough loss to take, especially with Maroney doing the damage.
Minnesota 28, Mizzou 20
Mizzou returns home to face a solid-not-great Michigan team, and they quickly bolt to a 16-0 lead ... and as is the case for much of 2004, they do absolutely nothing after that. Mizzou is now 2-3 on this quickly disappointing season.
Michigan 24, Mizzou 16
Not a good time to take on an explosive offense on the road. The losing streak goes to three, and the goal becomes bowl eligibility.
Purdue 37, Mizzou 17
Mizzou goes up 17-7 ... surely they won't blow it again, right? Wrong. Another second-half collapse moves the losing streak to four. Mizzou is just 2-5 overall, a ghastly 0-4 in conference.
Wisconsin 28, Mizzou 24
This one was just 24-3 in real life, but at this point I think Mizzou's confidence is shot even more in Alternate 2004 than it was in Real 2004. This is rock bottom.
(Side note: so we don't have to think too hard about this, I went ahead and assumed that Frank Solich was still let go after 2003 in favor of Bill Callahan. That's not a given, since in Alternate 2003 NU went 10-3, missing the West title by just one game. Solich still may have been let go -- clearly NU wasn't high on him at that point -- but he may have bought some time with the extra win or two in there.)
Nebraska 35, Mizzou 3
At 2-6, Mizzou faces a much easier November slate, with Rutgers, Indiana and Illinois on the horizon. But they'll have to win all three and pull an upset on Iowa to make a bowl. They creep by Rutgers, but it's not pretty ...
Mizzou 21, Rutgers 19
... and then they blow a 14-3 lead, lose to Iowa, and officially get eliminated from bowl contention.
Iowa 31, Mizzou 17
Luckily Indiana was terrible...
Mizzou 30, Indiana 27
And luckily Illinois was terrible...
So Mizzou finishes a 5-7, having won three of four to finish the season and hopefully build momentum for 2005. Unfortunately the blown leads cost them dearly, and their bowl streak is stopped at just two games.
Mizzou 21, Illinois 10
|2004 Big Ten(16) Standings|
Once again, the 16-team Big Ten produces five teams with double-digit wins. The four newcomers (NU, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Rutgers) combine to go just 8-28 in conference play, and if Solich wasn't let go after 2003, he definitely would have been after 2004.
This is a rather entertaining conference title race -- Iowa wins the West by beating Wisconsin, 30-7, and Purdue 23-21, both at home. Meanwhile, Michigan has the East title wrapped up before a season-ending loss to Ohio State, but the big surprise is Northwestern. They go 0-3 in non-conference play (with losses to TCU, Arizona State and Hawaii) but rebound to go 7-2 in conference play, upsetting Ohio State and Penn State and losing only to the Michigan schools.
One other thing: in Real 2004, Pittsburgh won the Big East and snuck into the Fiesta Bowl. My Estimated S&P+ ratings (what I use to fill in the results of games that weren't played in real life) hated the Big East that year, as shown by the fact that they go 2-7 in the Big Ten East. Ouch.
Big Ten Championship
#11 Iowa 23, #7 Michigan 17
After positioning themselves as a darkhorse national title contender at 10-1, Michigan finishes by losing two in a row, including this upset loss. Instead of Texas playing Michigan in that epic 2005 Rose Bowl, Iowa gets the call (with their first championship game win in four tries) and competes almost as well.
Rose: #5 Texas 38, #8 Iowa 33
Capital One: #12 LSU, #6 Wisconsin 10
Outback: #9 Georgia 34, #13 Michigan 21
Alamo: #11 Ohio State 24, Oklahoma State 7
Sun: #21 Arizona State 27, #19 Purdue 23
Music City: Penn State 23, Alabama 20
Emerald: Northwestern 42, Navy 38
Insight: Oregon State 38, Minnesota 30
Only eight of 16 conference teams manage to get themselves bowl eligible, and the conference goes just 3-5 in those bowls. Ohio State plays well, but all the other ranked teams (#6 Wisconsin, #8 Iowa, #13 Michigan and #19 Purdue) all lose. This was supposed to be an epic year for the Big Ten/16, with seven teams ranked in the preseason polls. Instead, they finish with only four ranked and with no marquee bowl wins. Meanwhile, instead of taking the next step toward the conference's upper tier, Mizzou crashed and burned, and Gary Pinkel would start 2005 with little to no goodwill.
Naturally, the overall disappointment from 2004 leads to less-impressive standing for the conference in the preseason polls. Only four teams are ranked to start the season (Pitt was ranked #23 in real life, but that would not be the case if they had gone 5-7 in 2004). Your favorites are familiar -- Michigan and Ohio State in the East, Iowa and Purdue in the West.
#4 Michigan (East)
#6 Ohio State (East)
#11 Iowa (West)
#15 Purdue (West)
9/3: vs Kansas (in Kansas City)
9/10: vs Arkansas State (in St. Louis)
9/24: at Iowa
10/15: at Ohio State
11/5: at Wisconsin
11/26: at Illinois
This was 13-3 in Lawrence, so we'll make it 13-6 at Arrowhead. Three straight years with an 0-1 record at the hands of the Jayhawks. That's some pretty good ammo for angry Tiger fans.
Kansas 13, Mizzou 6
vs Arkansas State
This game was originally a "road" game played at Arrowhead ... but since Arrowhead is familiar territory, and St. Louis is closer anyway, we'll move this game across the state. Same result, though.
Mizzou 44, Arkansas State 17
Since they didn't make the return trip to Troy in 2004, this really would have been Random Cupcake A here, and probably not Troy. (It wouldn't be New Mexico either, as they would not be able to make the return trip to Albuquerque in 2006 because they once again need six home games.) Regardless, it's an easy win.
Mizzou 52, Random Cupcake A 21
at #21 Iowa
Mizzou goes to Iowa City to take on a stumbling Hawkeye team that has just lost to Iowa State. Unfortunately, Iowa has Brad Smith's number every bit as well as Kansas does, and Mizzou falls to 2-2. The "Fire Pinkel Hire Barnett!!!" crowd is growing more vocal by the week ...
Iowa 28, Mizzou 16
... and this doesn't help. In Laurence Maroney's final game versus Mizzou, he once again takes it to them, and though Mizzou's offense goes crazy, Minnesota's goes crazier. Mizzou is 2-3, and things are looking dire.
Minnesota 41, Mizzou 35
at #15 Ohio State
Make that 2-4. Mizzou never has a chance in this one. The offense is going nowhere, people are calling for Chase Daniel to become starter, and Mizzou is staring directly at back-to-back no-bowl seasons ...
Ohio State 41, Mizzou 6
... and then Brad Smith runs for a bazillion yards against Nebraska. Has the season turned around?
Mizzou 41, Nebraska 24
No, not yet ... 3-5 ...
Northwestern 24, Mizzou 20
... and then 3-6 ... Mizzou needs to win out to make a bowl and potentially avoid getting Gary Pinkel fired.
Wisconsin 26, Mizzou 17
With Purdue up 24-14 midway through the fourth quarter, things are beyond dire. Then (maybe you've heard this story before) Brad Smith gets hurt, in comes Chase Daniel, and after putting together a field goal drive to cut the score to 24-17, he gets the ball back and engineers the game-tying score with under 30 seconds remaining. After Purdue misses a field goal in overtime, Adam Crossett boots in the game-winner, and Mizzou's season is at least temporarily saved.
Mizzou 27, Purdue 24
People are still calling for Chase Daniel to start, but Brad Smith has no trouble with the Hoosiers' defense (or lack thereof).
Mizzou 27, Indiana 10
And after struggling early, Mizzou officially becomes bowl eligible with a second-half surge against Illinois. Not pretty, and not all that impressive (6-6), but they'll be bowling ... if there is a spot available.
Mizzou 33, Illinois 24
|2005 Big Ten(16) Standings|
This is the third Big Ten Championship game since the move to 16 teams, and there have now been five different teams represented. Wisconsin loses at home to Iowa, 20-10, but when the Hawkeyes are upset at Northwestern (28-27), the Badgers head to the title game. Meanwhile, Ohio State is edged out for the East title, losing at Penn State by a touchdown.
With Texas and USC playing in the Pac-14 Championship the first weekend in December, that means the winner of Penn State (12-0) and surprising Wisconsin (11-1) are almost playing a semifinal game. Unless the Texas-USC game is so close that the voters give them a rematch in the Rose Bowl, the PSU-Wiscy winner will get a shot.
Big Ten Championship
#3 Penn State 31, #4 Wisconsin 14
Texas and USC were so far and away the two best teams in the country in 2005, that I'm almost thinking the voters would have just had them playing each other again for the national title. But since a) Penn State was undefeated and had just thumped #4 by 17 points, and b) the voters passed on the opportunity to give Ohio State and Michigan a rematch in 2006 under similar circumstances, I'll just say that Vince Young's go-ahead touchdown with seconds left gave them a spot in the national title game against the hot Nittany Lions.
Meanwhile, here's an interesting question for you: do you think an expanded Pac-10 would just have their conference title game at the Rose Bowl? It would be pretty sweet, right? Do you think Texas would try to get it pulled over to Dallas at some point? Or Washington to Seattle (not that U-Dub carries any weight right now)? That conference would be so spread-out geographically that I'm not sure what the best solution is. Would they be willing to have it in Dallas one year ... and run the risk of Texas slipping up? How many would be in attendance for, say, an Arizona State-Oregon title game at Jerry World or Reliant Stadium? 18,000?
Rose: #1 Texas 35, #2 Penn State 21
Fiesta: #4 Ohio State 34, #6 Notre Dame 20
Capital One: #7 Wisconsin 24, #8 Auburn 10
Outback: #16 Florida 31, #25 Iowa 24
Alamo: Minnesota 27, Kansas 24
Sun: #20 Michigan 24, UCLA 13
Music City: Nebraska 28, Virginia 26
Emerald: Northwestern 42, Utah 34
Insight: Arizona State 30, Michigan State 27
Motor City: Missouri 31, Akron 20
Hawaii: Rutgers 42, Nevada 40
So Texas wins the national title in much more anti-climactic fashion than they did in Real 2005. But the overriding stories of bowl season, as far as the Big Ten/16 is concerned, are a) the fact that all 11 bowl-eligible teams find bowls, and b) the fact that they go 8-3 overall. They go 2-1 in battles of Top 10 teams, and they go 6-1 in pre-January 1 bowls. A nice showing all around.
As for Mizzou, they fall asleep for a while in Detroit (not unlike what happened in Shreveport against South Carolina), but against a less-talented Zips team, they are able to rally and pull away a lot sooner. Brad Smith goes out a winner, even if it's in a half-empty dome in Detroit. And in the end, the Chase Daniel Comeback game against Purdue is even more exciting than the real one against Iowa State (since Mizzou was 3-6 at the time), but the comeback win over Akron, needless to say, probably doesn't create as many great memories as the Indy Bowl did.
You remember the 2006 preseason, right? Where everybody completely and totally wrote Mizzou off? The Sporting News had them going 3-8 and losing to Ole Miss at home. Rawr, disrespect, et cetera. Well, in an improving Big Ten, they'd have been even more forgotten. Luckily, Chase Daniel was still in charge in Alternate 2006.
#1 Ohio State (East)
#14 Michigan (East)
#16 Iowa (West)
#19 Penn State (East)
#20 Nebraska (West)
Ohio State is the runaway favorite in the East, while it looks like a battle between Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin in the West.
9/2: vs Kansas (in Kansas City)
9/9: vs Ole Miss
9/30: at Northwestern
10/7: at Minnesota
10/28: at Purdue
11/4: at Nebraska
11/11: Ohio State
11/18: at Indiana
Low expectations, brutal previous performances against Kansas ... I cannot even imagine the doom-and-gloom from Tiger fans heading into this game in Alternate 2006. Which would make the whooping Mizzou laid on Kansas all the more satisfying. Mizzou is 1-0 for the first time since 2002!
(It would be interesting, by the way, to see how expectations were built around Jared Perry if, in Alternate 2006, he burned Aqib Talib for a long touchdown in his very first game in black and gold.)
Mizzou 38, Kansas 17
After a surprisingly great season opener, Mizzou heads home to face Ed Orgeron's Rebels, a team that was supposed to be one of the season's darkhorses ... yeah, not so much. After whipping both Kansas and Ole Miss, Mizzou almost cracks the Top 25.
Mizzou 34, Ole Miss 7
This one happened.
Mizzou 31, Ohio 6
As frustrating as the losses to Kansas were in recent years, at least they didn't carry conference weight. Iowa had pwned Mizzou with Brad Smith at the helm, winning 20-7, 30-10, 31-17, and 28-16 in the Brad Smith years. Gary Pinkel was 0-5 against the Hawkeyes, and Mizzou hadn't beaten them since 1999. So imagine the joy involved when Mizzou races out to an early lead and holds on for dear life, not blowing the lead (like they did all throughout 2004) and moving to 4-0 for the first time since before Mizzou moved to the Big Ten/12/16.
Mizzou 30, Iowa 28
Ranked for the first time since early-2004, the Tigers respond well to success, heading to Evanston and knocking off a shaky Northwestern team. They are now 5-0 and ranked ... we'll say 17th.
Mizzou 35, Northwestern 24
And they STILL can't get past Glen Mason's Gophers. 5-1.
Minnesota 42, Mizzou 35
5-2. They lose their fourth straight to the Badgers, and on Homecoming, no less. Are the wheels falling off again?
Wisconsin 24, Mizzou 23
Not yet, they're not. All sorts of yards in this one, as Mizzou holds on and moves to 6-2. At 3-2, they've still got a shred of hope for the West title, but Wisconsin is looking awfully tough to catch.
Mizzou 35, Purdue 31
Yeah, no more West title hopes. This one happened, and it sucked.
Nebraska 34, Mizzou 20
#1 Ohio State
Luckily, it's going to be another seven years before Mizzou has to play Ohio State again. That's two straight home losses, and a 1-4 stretch after starting 5-0.
Ohio State 34, Mizzou 10
But luckily Mizzou can finish their season on a high note once again, taking down the dregs of the West division. It's not pretty in Bloomington, but Mizzou moves to 7-4 ...
Mizzou 28, Indiana 18
... and then 8-4 on Senior Day at Ol' Mizzou.
Mizzou 31, Illinois 13
|2006 Big Ten(16) Standings|
Illinois and Indiana have combined to go 8-64 in conference since the expansion to 16 teams. Whatever it takes to prop up Mizzou's record...
Mizzou's gain is Iowa's loss, as the Hawkeyes take a step back to the pack while Mizzou catches back up. Meanwhile, Mizzou's nice season is completely and totally overshadowed by Rutgers' surge in the East. Granted, they get smacked around by Michigan and Ohio State (it would certainly not be fun having to play them every year ... at least until 2007, when Michigan started to fall apart), but they still win ten games and get MUCH more rewarded for their efforts -- instead of playing in the Texas Bowl, in front of about 38 TV viewers, ten wins in the Big Ten/16 gets you a pretty January 1 bowl to attend.
A great defense powers Wisconsin to another 11-1 season and top five ranking. Will they fare better against their undefeated East Division champ this time around?
Big Ten Championship
#1 Ohio State 28, #5 Wisconsin 3
No, not so much. It's easily forgotten because they laid an egg after losing Teddy Ginn in the national title game, but this was a really good Ohio State squad. Really good.
BCS Championship: #2 Florida 41, #1 Ohio State 14
Rose: #8 USC 32, #3 Michigan 18
Capital One: #8 Wisconsin 17, #13 Arkansas 14
Outback: #11 Rutgers 28, #17 Tennessee 20
Alamo: Oklahoma State 38, #22 Nebraska 29
Sun: #25 Minnesota 38, #24 Oregon State 37
Music City: Missouri 34, Kentucky 31
Emerald: Penn State 20, UCLA 14
Insight: Texas Tech 28, Iowa 24
Motor City: Pittsburgh 30, Central Michigan 10
You could make the case that having to play the Big Ten championship, and not getting a full six weeks off between games, might have helped Ohio State against Florida ... but it would have only helped so much. Make the score 34-20 if you want, but Florida was not going to be denied.
Mizzou still can't crack much of the bowl hierarchy, but for the first time in three bowls, they get a shot at a major conference opponent ... and they take down Andre Woodson and Kentucky in entertaining fashion. They finish the season 9-4 and ranked 23rd. Mizzou fans will hope for big things in 2007, but will the hope be rewarded for once? We'll see.
Next up: does Mizzou soar as high in Alternate 2007?