Once more: This is a look at 20 games in which a) the combined quality of Missouri and its opponent was really, really high (they're ranked in order of combined S&P+ percentile ratings), and b) Mizzou won.
So I've been debating how to move forward with the series, since the top three wins on this list are all from 1976, and counting down from 3 to 2 to 1 would mean going in reverse chronological order. What I've decided is to turn the last three pieces of this countdown into a look back at the 1976 season as a whole. That being the case, now that we've counted from 20 to four, we'll now go from one to three. Totally not confusing at all, right?
History + Stats
I've written about this one before. Let's build off of that piece.
Since his inaugural 1971 season (in which Mizzou went 1-10), Al Onofrio had brought pretty decent results to Columbia. The problem was, a) they weren't as decent as what Dan Devine had produced, and b) there hadn't been improvement for a while. An 8-4 season in 1973 was followed by 7-4 in 1974 and 6-5 in 1975, and while upset wins-- Nebraska in 1973 and 1974, Alabama in 1975 --were great, consistency was nowhere to be found.
Mizzou fans hadn't seen anything yet.
The craziest season in Mizzou history started with the Tigers waltzing into the L.A. Coliseum and not only upsetting a top-10 USC team, but thumping them.
It all went right from the start. In strangely rainy conditions, USC's opening drive ended with a botched punt snap that went sailing over Glen Walker's head. He was tackled at the USC 22, and four plays later, Mizzou's Curtis Brown scored from five yards out to give the Tigers an easy lead.
USC responded with a 12-play, 84-yard drive and a six-yard Ricky Bell touchdown. Bell and backup Charles White were huge for the Trojans in 1976, combining to rush for 2,291 yards and 24 touchdowns. Bell gained 49 yards in seven carries on this drive alone.
The game was not tied for long. Brown took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, and though a bad snap foiled the PAT attempt, Mizzou still led 13-7 without having thrown a pass yet.
USC recovered a field goal in Missouri territory and got a 25-yard field goal out of it to cut the Tigers lead to three, but Mizzou again respnoded. A 28-yard field goal made it 16-10, then Steve Pisarkiewicz went to work. He completed a 20-yard pass to Kellen Winslow and a 15-yarder to Lamont Downer, then found Leo Lewis for a 25-yard touchdown with 2:15 left. After a USC three-and-out, Pisarkiewicz then floated a swing pass to Brown, who raced 49 yards for another score in the dying seconds of the half.
USC would respond to this loss by winning its next 15 games, but a great Trojan team found itself getting crushed, 30-10 at halftime. And it was 33-10 when Lewis applied the dagger, taking a reverse 24 yards for a touchdown.
This was not just a run-of-the-mill upset. Not only had Mizzou handled the wet conditions better than USC, but the Tigers appeared faster than USC as well. New Trojan coach John Robinson's tenure had not started as planned. USC would win the final 11 games of the year and finish No. 2 in the country; this was an outstanding team, and Mizzou squashed the Trojans like a bug.
Had Onofrio's program turned a corner? It sure seemed like it. Missouri surged from unranked to sixth in the AP poll after this one. But the joy lasted only a week. Mizzou followed up this win with one of the biggest duds of Onofrio's tenure. In the Tigers' home opener, a relatively weak Illinois team outgained them, 418-257, and coasted, 31-6.
There was just no way Mizzou was going to rebound in time to take on another top team, right? Because a trip to Columbus to face No. 2 Ohio State was only a few days away.