In a couple of months, I’ll be insufferably asking (and asking, and asking) you to buy a book I wrote. It’s about the 50 most interesting college football teams of all time. It was a really fun (and arduous) piece to write. It encompasses 108 seasons (1906-2013) and 42 programs. I finished writing it last weekend and finished editing it yesterday afternoon. (Which is why you’re not reading this piece until now.)
Basically, this was the type of history book that I wanted to write. Yes, Alabama, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Nebraska, USC, Ohio State, Michigan, etc., all play obvious roles. Of course they do. But so do Utah, TCU, Minnesota, Northwestern, Miami (Ohio), Boise State, and even Tampa. And so does Missouri.
Here’s basically every role Missouri plays in my book:
- Don Faurot invents the Split-T and shares the recipe with future Oklahoma head coach Bud Wilkinson and future Maryland head coach Jim Tatum with 1943 Iowa Pre-Flight. They then take it to their future employers and dominate with it.
- Faurot is among a large group of famous coaches who retire in the 1950s, leaving a bit of a leadership void in the sport. Of all of football’s bluest bluebloods, Oklahoma is just about the only one to be consistently good in the 1950s. And 1955 Oklahoma crushes the Tigers.
- While 1959 Ole Miss is still forbidden to play integrated teams, SEC champion Georgia agrees to play Missouri in the Orange Bowl (which has, itself, only recently agreed to accept integrated teams).
- In a crazy season, 1960 Iowa loses its top spot in the ranking by losing to Minnesota, the eighth straight ranked opponent it has faced. Mizzou moves into the No. 1 spot instead and “loses” to a Kansas team playing an ineligible player. (Uh, maybe you’ve heard the story before.)
- Among the players helping to turn 1962 Nebraska around: defensive back Warren Powers, who will take over as Missouri’s head coach 16 years later. The Huskers’ famous sellout streak begins in the fall of ‘62 ... with a 16-7 loss to Dan Devine’s Tigers.
- In the middle of a crazy season of dramatic games, 1965 UCLA comes to Columbia, takes a 14-0 lead on Mizzou (the Tigers are eventually Sugar Bowl bound), then gives up two return touchdowns in the fourth quarter and leaves with a 14-14 tie.
- Though 1970 Alabama famously got whooped by an integrated USC team to begin the season, supposedly convincing everybody in Alabama that it segregated rosters were holding them back, Tennessee’s integrated team had done the same the year before, and Missouri’s integrated 1968 team had crushed the Tide in 1968’s Sugar Bowl as well.
- 1972 Tampa’s best player was defensive end John Matuszak, a future No. 1 pick and movie star who began his career at Fort Dodge junior college, then signed with Missouri ... and then got kicked off of the Tiger squad for getting into a fight at a post-game party. The 1972 Spartans also played Kent State in the program’s first bowl game that December. Kent State’s starting tight end: Gary Pinkel.
- 1978 Missouri got its own chapter. One of my favorite teams and seasons for Mizzou’s Giant Killer era.
- One of the most dominant teams of the 1980s, 1988 Miami prepared for the famous “Catholics vs. Convicts” game against Notre Dame by destroying a now-decrepit Missouri squad, 55-0.
- 1990 was almost 2007-level crazy, and as Mizzou was losing to Colorado via the Fifth Down, 1990 Virginia was rising to No. 1 in the country ... and then suffering its own soul-crushing loss, via last-second field goal against eventual national co-champion Georgia Tech.
- 1991 Washington completed a stunning rebound under Don James, producing the program’s best ever team. The Huskies were put together, in part, by James’ right-hand man and offensive coordinator, Pinkel. Pinkel would become Toledo’s winningest head coach before coming to Mizzou and doing the same thing. He would his Rockets to Seattle in 1991; they would get mauled, 48-0.
- 1993 Texas A&M is in the book. Yeah.
- 1994 Nebraska is in the book. The Huskers crush Mizzou ... I describe the the game as “a 42-7 breather at Missouri” before NU’s biggest game of the year, Colorado.
- In 1998, arguably the best team in the country didn’t make the national title game. 1998 Ohio State had everything and appeared finally ready to go all the way with John Cooper. Before their soul-crushing home loss to Nick Saban and Michigan State, they trailed Missouri 14-13 midway through the third quarter, thanks in part to Barry Odom’s strip of QB Joe Germaine and Carlos Posey’s fumble return touchdown. (The Buckeyes would come back to win.)
- 2004 Texas eventually clicked and rolled to an 11-1 record, but not before getting shut out by Oklahoma and nearly falling to Missouri at home. Vince Young scores an early touchdown against the Tigers but gets benched after throwing back-to-back interceptions.
- Upstart Missouri makes it to No. 1 in the country in 2007, partially because 2007 Oregon was in the process of a massive collapse. The Ducks looked like the best team in the country heading into November before Dennis Dixon suffered a knee injury and crumpled to the ground at Arizona, a couple of weeks before Mizzou-Kansas. (Excerpt here.)
- 2010 Boise State may have legitimately been the best team in the country and was putting itself in position for a top-two or top-three finish before an all-time classic loss to Nevada. Part of the reason the Broncos were actually able to briefly rise to second in the polls: Missouri’s win over Oklahoma. Maybe you remember that one.
- While 2011 LSU was putting together a classic regular-season run, college football was changing off of the field. A good portion of that chapter discusses conference realignment, in which Missouri had a pretty significant role (to say the least).
- After two of the greatest finishes in college football history, 2013 Auburn faces 11-1 Missouri in the SEC title. game. Mizzou leads with four minutes to go in the third quarter before AU pulls away.
Innovator, fodder, power, giant killer, fodder, upstart. Missouri’s role in college football history has been rich and varied.
A secondary goal in this book was to convey the importance of college football’s entire ecosystem. Its greatness comes from how it sucks so many fanbases in, not from how good a handful of bluebloods can be. Missouri’s role has been integral, as have Minnesota’s and Iowa’s and Virginia’s and every other program considered second-tier.
Writing this book, and covering so much historical ground, also reaffirmed something I found myself thinking and writing a lot last year:
Missouri will be good again. In football, basketball, and everything else. We get wrapped up in the present tense, and to be sure, some years are far more fun than others. But the ups and downs are going to happen, and while there is sometimes a hopeless feeling as a fan -- watching the last two versions of Missouri’s basketball team, watching a 2015 Mizzou football offense that felt like it was a decade away from being able to play competently again — things always get better again. And worse. And better again after that.
We’re on a long, long ride. Maybe 2016 is a bounce back year for the Tigers. Maybe it’s completely forgettable in every way. Maybe it solidifies a more long-term down stretch for the program. We never really know in advance. We have our educated suspicions (my guess is this is more forgettable than great or terrible), but we never know. We didn’t know that Mizzou would reach No. 1 in 1960 or 2007. We didn’t know that Nebraska was about to turn into Nebraska as the Tigers were manhandling the Huskers in Lincoln. We didn’t know that The Tooz would become when he was a reserve tight end getting kicked off the team. We didn’t know that Missouri was going to beat Notre Dame and Nebraska, scare Alabama, and lose to Oklahoma State in 1978. We didn’t know Mizzou was going to be advanced enough to nearly beat Colorado in 1990 (though we did probably know that team was capable of losing four of its next six). We didn’t know Mizzou would be strong enough to nearly beat a good 2004 Texas team, and we certainly didn’t know it was ill-prepared enough to lose the next four games, too.
What we know or think we know gets us through the offseason. And it often prepares us for most of what’s ahead in the coming fall. But we never completely know how a specific set of 12 games is going to play out. That’s why we watch.
This year’s ride begins in three and a half hours. It might be thrilling and it might not, but we’re all on board regardless. Let’s see what happens.