And the What If... train rolls on ... this time focusing on a single season, one of the most enjoyable in Mizzou history.
So we finally come to 2007. I felt almost odd touching this season in the series, simply because it was so nearly perfect, and because so many moments (good and bad) have been forever seared into the memories of Mizzou fans. And if you think about what Alternate 2007 probably entails, this season will require even more of a suspension of disbelief than most seasons -- does the KU game play out the same without the epic pre-game drama (and with Pig Brown)? Does the Illinois game play out the same at the end of the season in Champaign, maybe without Brown or Eddie McGee? Does Pig Brown get hurt at all if Mizzou isn't having to keep him in late in a mid-October game with Iowa State? Does Danario have a big game against Kansas if KU doesn't know to double-team Maclin? Does Danario break his hand if the Illinois game is in Champaign and at the end of the season? Et cetera.
Instead of figuring out which What Ifs should or shouldn't be addressed, I simply decided not to specifically address any of them. I kept the KU result the same, and only changed the Illinois result by giving Illinois three extra points because of the move from neutral field to Champaign (that's what I do anytime that adjustment comes up). The rest of the season plays out strictly according to the ratings/projections I've been using to play What If... for all the other seasons.
Coming off of a 9-win 2006 season, Mizzou enters the summer of Alternate 2007 feeling a little bit of the same disrespect that they latched onto in Real 2007. They are unranked in the preseason, while a Nebraska team that went 8-5 the previous season and lost much more talent than Mizzou slips into the polls at #20. Wisconsin, who went 12-2 in 2006, is the runaway favorite in the West, while Michigan looks to fill the void left by Troy Smith, Ted Ginn, and the other Ohio State Buckeyes departing after their 13-1 BCS runner-up season. Coming off of a Cinderella season, Rutgers is also ranked pretty high, while Minnesota (who we'll say went ahead and dumped Glen Mason anyway, despite more success in Alternate 2006 than Real 2006) and Iowa looked to take steps backwards.
Really, this was the perfect season for Mizzou to make a move -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Rutgers and Nebraska would all fail to live up to expectations, and the conference as a whole would have one of its worst seasons in the Big Ten/16 era.
#5 Michigan (East)
#7 Wisconsin (West)
#11 Ohio State (East)
#16 Rutgers (East)
#17 Penn State (East)
#20 Nebraska (West)
9/1: vs Kansas (in Kansas City)
9/8: at Ole Miss
9/15: Western Michigan
9/22: Michigan State
10/13: at Wisconsin
10/20: at Pittsburgh
11/3: at Iowa
11/24: at Illinois
So much changes about this game having it at the start of the season. Both teams are unranked, nobody's heard of Jeremy Maclin or Todd Reesing, the Gameday crew isn't there, it's not cold as hell ... but as stated above, the result is the same. You could make a pretty good case for Mizzou winning by a more lopsided margin -- they have Pig Brown instead of Justin Garrett manning the back of the defense, Maclin has the element of surprise, etc. But it's nice symmetry keeping the score the same because it mirrors what really happened to start 2007 -- Mizzou builds a big lead over a rival, then holds on for dear life as the defense starts allowing points and yards in buckets. Mizzou heads to Oxford the next week both relieved and worried about the defense.
Mizzou 36, Kansas 28
Actually, we'll save the safety for later, ahem.
Mizzou 34, Kansas 28
at Ole Miss
This one plays out the same. Will Franklin goes off.
Mizzou 38, Ole Miss 25
This one plays out the same.
Mizzou 52, Western Michigan 24
So Mizzou has plenty of holes to address defensively as they round out the first third of the schedule. Fortunately Brian Hoyer and the Michigan State passing attack are not entirely capable of making Mizzou pay in that regard -- the Tigers' stout run defense shuts down Javon Ringer, and the offense blows up once again. Mizzou heads into an off-week at 4-0, getting ready to face what will supposedly be one of the two toughest challengers in the West.
#25 Mizzou 40, Michigan State 21
Because I wouldn't dare change a thing about this one, it plays out exactly the same, right down to the "Yaaaaaaaaay BOOOOOOOOOOO" wave in the fourth quarter. Mizzou makes a major statement in rocking a Huskers team people assumed would be decent.
#17 Mizzou 41, #25 Nebraska 6
at #19 Wisconsin
Next up for Mizzou: a trip up north to face the preseason West favorites. With P.J. Hill and Travis Beckum doing well, Wisconsin was certainly still a decent team, but they were not the team people expected them to be in the preseason. In Real 2007, Mizzou played its absolute best in early-October, whipping Nebraska, scaring Oklahoma, and whipping Texas Tech. In Alternate 2007, Wisconsin (who just lost to Illinois) is not Oklahoma, and Mizzou makes an even bigger statement in winning this one going away.
#11 Mizzou 38, #19 Wisconsin 24
With the easy wins over Nebraska and Wisconsin, Mizzou is building some major buzz. With everybody else losing (don't forget how insane 2007 was), the Tigers suddenly find themselves ranked sixth in the country behind #1 Ohio State (7-0), #2 South Florida (6-0), #3 Boston College (7-0), #5 Oklahoma (6-1). They are getting votes anywhere between #2 and #10, and with a couple more nice showings, they can move up even further. They travel to Heinz Field to take on a team in the midst of falling apart. LeSean McCoy is great, but they've got nothing else to offer, and a defense that gave up 40+ to Virginia and Navy has no chance against the Mizzou machine. Once again, Mizzou wins going away.
#5 Mizzou 42, Pittsburgh 20
Here's where the Big Ten's down year really begins to pay off. Instead of week after week of ranked opponents, Mizzou has only faced two so far, and neither team (Wisconsin and Nebraska) proved worthy of a ranking for very long. Minnesota comes to town for Homecoming at Ol' Mizzou, and ... it's not pretty. As you may recall, Minnesota made a rather rough transition from Glen Mason to Tim Brewster in 2007, going 1-11 and featuring potentially the worst major conference defense. This would have been a "name your score" game for the Mizzou offense, and we'll be nice and stop at 50.
(More importantly -- this is the weekend in which Pig Brown ruptured his Achilles late in the Iowa State game. Well ... no way does he play more than one series into the fourth quarter in this one. I thumb my nose at the Gods of Alternate History and proclaim that Pig Brown plays the entire season in Alternate 2007!)
#5 Mizzou 50, Minnesota 6
After double-digit wins for the Hawkeyes in 2002-04, Iowa has begun a bit of a tailspin, to nine wins in 2005 and seven in 2006. They will go a putrid 4-8 in 2007, with a nonexistent offense led by Jake Christensen. This is good news, of course, for the #3 Tigers (behind just Ohio State and Boston College), who travel to Iowa City and wreck shop. The Hawkeyes still had a decent defense that year, but it wasn't going to stop this offense. Mizzou is on cruise control at this point, facing a series of down teams and running up even more points/yards than they managed in Real 2007.
#3 Mizzou 44, Iowa 16
Boston College lost last weekend, putting together the storyline for the rest of the 2007 season. In 2006, Ohio State and Michigan were on a collision course for a late-November #1 vs #2 showdown. This time around, it's #1 Ohio State and #2 Missouri. LSU, Oklahoma and others are lurking in case there's a slip-up, but at this point there are two undefeated teams (three including Hawaii, but they were never taken seriously in the polls), and if they can avoid any upsets, they will be playing the first weekend of December.
So Mizzou clearly controls their own destiny, naturally putting the fanbase into extreme paranoia mode. This can't possibly be good, right? We're going to suffer some heartbreaking loss, right? Maybe, but it's not going to happen against Purdue at home. The Boilers were a darkhorse West contender until they started to slide in November, and they just did not have nearly enough juice to hang with Mizzou at this point.
#2 Mizzou 48, Purdue 21
Senior Day for Martin Rucker, Pig Brown, Tony Temple, and company at Faurot Field, and while Indiana sits at 6-4, having clinched their first bowl bid in forever, this still wasn't a great team. They give Mizzou a good fight (close to what A&M did with Mizzou in Real 2007), but it's only close for about a half. Mizzou heads into Thanksgiving Break with one more huge hurdle to clear.
#2 Mizzou 38, Indiana 19
at #6 Illinois
So the whole time this "team of destiny" story has been growing, there's been a landmine nearby. While Mizzou is 11-0 overall, 8-0 in conference, they still have yet to face an Illinois team even more surprising than they are. Ron Zook's shocking Illini are 10-1 overall, 7-1 in conference, and with a win over Mizzou (in Champaign, no less), they can not only keep Mizzou out of the national title game ... they could keep Mizzou out of the Big Ten Championship. Almost every bit of apprehension that Mizzou fans faced in the lead-up to the Kansas game in Real 2007 would have been on display in Alternate 2007 (almost every bit ... the Arch Rivalry still isn't the Border War).
With all that is at stake, what a relief it is when Mizzou takes a 20-6 lead into halftime (thanks to Pig Brown, of course), then pulls ahead 34-13 after a pair of Jeremy Maclin touchdowns. But as with Real 2007, this game takes a turn for the worst. We'll ignore the whole "Does Juice get hurt, and does Illinois come back without Eddie McGee?" thing -- for these purposes, they come back no matter who's the quarterback. Two quick Illinois touchdowns make it 34-27, and when Rashard Mendenhall goes in from four yards out, the score is shockingly tied. All of Mizzou's hopes are spiraling down the drain.
Jeff Wolfert kicks a go-ahead field goal with 8:00 left, then everybody has to hold on tight. Illinois is driving to tie, but when they go for the touchdown and the lead on a long pass from Juiceddie McWilliams, Pig Brown is there to save the day. Mizzou holds on, 37-34, and moves on to the Big Ten Championship game, a de facto Final Four game with the winner assured a spot in the national title game.
#2 Mizzou 37, #6 Illinois 34
|2007 Big Ten(16) Standings|
So Mizzou moves toward a January 1 date with #1 Ohio State at Soldier Field, easily their biggest game since late in the 1960 season. The rest of the conference took shape almost as normal, only with Iowa and Nebraska both taking a mighty tumble. Without Michigan on the schedule, they go a cool 10-2 instead of the 9-3 record of Real 2007. Unfortunately, there will be no Rose Bowl for them, as barring a major blowout, both the winner and loser of the Big Ten title game will go to a BCS bowl.
Big Ten Championship
How close were these two teams statistically in 2007? With the two methods I have for determining scores, Ohio State wins by 2 in one, Missouri by 2 in the other. And since this isn't an Ohio State blog, it should be easy to tell which way we're going to go with this one.
Ohio State was powered by Beanie Wells and a stout defense, with players like Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline providing the damage through the air. With a relatively easy schedule in front of them, the Buckeyes plowed through the likes of Washington, Michigan, and Penn State on the road, while (without Illinois on the schedule) staying untouchable at home. The only true challenges are a 14-3 win over Michigan and a 24-17 win over Michigan State. Otherwise, nobody can stay within two touchdowns. Except Missouri, of course.
Early on, Wells provides just enough muscle to get some points on the board while Mizzou struggles without Chase Coffman and, after a tough knee injury, Danario Alexander (because nothing was going to prevent that dude from getting hurt). It's 7-3 Ohio State late in the second quarter, when Mizzou strikes right before halftime. A touchdown by Martin Rucker puts Mizzou up 10-7 heading into the break.
In the second half, it's the Jeff Wolfert show. He kicks his second and third field goals of the day to put Mizzou up 16-7, and when Maclin scores on a 40-yard reverse, Mizzou's up a comfortable 23-7. After a William Moore interception, the Tigers go up 30-7 on a short run by Jimmy Jackson, then back into a prevent defense. Todd Boeckman finds Robiskie for a touchdown, and it's 30-14. Mizzou punts, then Wells goes in from short yardage. The two-point conversion is good, and suddenly it's 30-22. When Mizzou has to punt again, suddenly things start to look quite dicey. Boeckman bootlegs in from five yards out, and with just over two minutes left, the Buckeyes are within a two-point conversion of tying the game. Of course, Lorenzo Williams stuffs Wells, allowing Mizzou to hold onto the lead, at least briefly. Mizzou recovers the ensuing onside kick, but OSU burns their timeouts and forces a three-and-out. Mizzou has to punt yet again with just 20 seconds remaining, and it is downed inside the 10. With one desperation shot left, Boeckman is sacked in the endzone, giving Mizzou the Big Ten title and forever giving Boeckman the nickname, "Sod Boeckman."
(See what I did there?)
At 13-0, Mizzou is headed to the national championship game in New Orleans.
#2 Missouri 32, #1 Ohio State 28
With his outstanding play against both Illinois and Ohio State over the final two weeks of the season, and with some pretty disgusting stats across the board, Chase Daniel is invited to New York where he finishes a close second to Tim Tebow in the Heisman voting. You'd like to think he might have won with Mizzou being 13-0 and with an offense that was even more obscene in Alternate 2007 than in Real 2007, but alas ... it's still Tim Tebow.
Rose: #7 USC 28, #4 Ohio State 17
Capital One: #10 Florida 35, #9 Illinois 14
Outback: #15 Penn State 20, #17 Tennessee 17
Alamo: #19 Wisconsin, Texas A&M 13
Sun: Michigan State 23, Oregon 20
Music City: Michigan 27, Kentucky 24
Emerald: Oregon State 51, Indiana 23
Insight: Oklahoma State 34, Purdue 28
Motor City: Rutgers 52, Central Michigan 31
Heading into the title game, the Big Ten goes a respectable 5-4 in bowls, but they are thumped in the two most visible ones (Capital One and Rose). While that may be a blow to conference pride, Mizzou fans could not care less. They're headed down to New Orleans to take on LSU in almost literally their backyard. This is an odd situation, really -- there are no 1-loss teams, meaning, at 13-0 Mizzou could lose the title to 11-2 LSU and still finish with a better record. That has never happened before.
Anyway, you've got two ways to think about this game. When I run the simulation the same way I have for all the others, it says LSU 32, Mizzou 21. This makes sense, really. The game's in Louisiana, and LSU is not only damn good, but good in a way that could really hurt Mizzou -- they've got a great pass rush and a ball-hawking secondary that takes advantage of mistakes. So ...
BCS Championship: #2 LSU 32, #1 Missouri 21
HOWEVER ... I also decided, for the hell of it, to run a What If Sports simulation ... and it produced a different result. Since this exercise is all about imagination, if you wanted to envision what Jeremy Maclin scoring from two yards out to give Mizzou the lead, and LSU failing to convert on 4th-and-goal from the 8 with time expiring, would feel like ... you be my guest. I know I just did.
BCS Championship: #1 Missouri 28, #2 LSU 21
To the extent that there is a purpose to this exercise, it is to see if life would be much different for Mizzou fans in the Big Ten/16 as compared to the Big 16. As a whole, it appears that the bad seasons would be worse, and the good seasons would be better. Depending on how injuries played out (it really is amazing to think that, even in this most blessed of seasons, Mizzou was totally screwed by the injury bug -- Pig Brown was their best defensive player before going down for the season, Chase Coffman went down right before Mizzou's two biggest games in 50 years, Danario Alexander went down twice, including in the conference title game, etc.), Mizzou would likely have enjoyed at least as good a season in the Big Ten/16, going 11-1 or 12-0 and, in the conference title game, getting an Ohio State team that was at least a hair more beatable (to me) than Oklahoma. If they'd have won, they probably wouldn't have beaten LSU in the title game, but they could have.
Regardless, 2007 was destined to be one of Mizzou's greatest ever seasons (just as Mizzou was destined to suck in 1999-00, and to choke in 2004, no matter the conference). This is the ultimate in what our buddy LHJK would call 'mental masturbation,' but ... it's May, and it's still four months to football season. Got any better ideas for killing time?
Next up, in the finale of the series: can Mizzou keep it up in 2008? And does the bottom drop out in 2009 as experts predict?