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From laughingstock to bowl bound: Missouri completes an astounding turnaround

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The Tigers held a media gathering to formally announce their Texas Bowl pairing with Texas.

Faced with harsh media coverage, a half-empty Memorial Stadium, and constant murmurs about the security of coach Barry Odom’s job after a 1-5 start, Missouri had to block out a lot of noise.

“People jump off the bandwagon, and it’s fashionable to do that,” Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk said. “That’s sports, people are passionate, and we want people passionate, but we want them on our side.”

The Tigers repeatedly affirmed that they viewed the second half of their schedule as a new season, and that they were focused on going 1-0 every week. Many tossed the statements aside as empty statements.

Mizzou kept its belief strong. Even if media and the fans had given up on the season, the coaches and players wouldn’t. As long as things were shored up inside the locker room, nothing else mattered.

Then they proved everyone on the outside wrong.

Mizzou reeled off six straight wins and washed away all of the negativity surrounding a season that seemed lost. They didn’t just squeak by opponents, either, they crushed them by an average of 30 points.

“I’ve always got faith,” Odom said. “I knew it was gonna happen, I didn’t know when it was gonna happen. Sitting at 1-5, I wouldn’t recommend that, that’s not a whole lot of fun for anybody. But also anything in life worth having, it’s not ever easy. It’s not just gonna be handed to you. Eventually you’ve got to break down the wall.”

Mizzou’s resiliency was rewarded Sunday afternoon with the announcement that it would meet Texas in the 2017 Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl. The game will take place at 8 p.m. on Dec. 27 inside NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Odom hoped to break the news to his players himself, but in the age of social media that just doesn’t happen too often anymore. While in his office, Odom could hear “the eruption of guys having excitement” from the meeting rooms below.

“It’s why you, as an administrator, as an athletics director, you don’t jump to conclusions,” Sterk said. “There were a lot of great things that we saw going on behind the scenes. The team was a lot closer, better, they were a group that wanted to win together. That’s why this is so special to have this kind of ending to the season.”

With a win, Missouri would be just the second team in college football history to win eight games after starting the year 1-5. In its 32nd bowl game, Mizzou is looking to bring its all-time record to 16-16.

“There’s a lot of familiarity with our staff and that university,” Odom said when asked about the Longhorns. Defensive line coach Brick Haley was on the Texas coaching staff last year, and Missouri’s recruiters are familiar with several of the athletes. “I’ve got a lot of respect for them, and it’ll be a great opportunity and challenge for us.”

Mizzou has been allotted 8,000 tickets for the Texas Bowl, priced at $125 for Club Level seats and $85 for Lower Level seats. These may be purchased at mutigers.com/tickets. The game will also be nationally televised on ESPN.

Mizzou plans to travel to Houston on Dec. 22 as of now, but that isn’t finalized yet. The Tigers will take advantage of its extra practices to prepare for Texas until then.

Odom’s first game as a player at Missouri actually came against Texas in 1996 in the first year of Big 12 conference play.

As a true freshman he wasn’t sure whether he’d be get to play, but when the depth chart was released he got his answer.

“I remember calling home and saying ‘Hey I don’t know what you guys are doing this weekend, but it looks like I’m playing,’” Odom said. The Tigers lost 40-10, but Odom still cherishes the memory. “It’s a lot of history between Missouri and Texas obviously and I’ve been a part of a lot of that.”

Terry Beckner Jr. has had his mind made up for a while.

Beckner announced on Friday that he was returning to Mizzou in 2018 instead of jumping to the NFL.

“Being very frank and honest, he’s had [his mind] made up for a while,” Odom said. “He cares deeply about our football program and he wants to be a leader and continue to do what we have started in motion with this season.”

Finishing up his degree and graduating was also a point of emphasis for Beckner Jr. “Obviously a big recruiting get for us, having him back, and I’m excited for him and he’ll do an outstanding job.”

Again, hats off to Terry.

Injury updates:

Freshman linebacker Jamal Brooks, who went down against Arkansas, will undergo knee surgery and miss the game against Texas. “Unfortunately Jamal had a knee injury and he’s gonna have surgery right after finals week,” Odom said.

Brooks is expected to have a full recovery and will be back for Spring practice and offseason workouts. He appeared in seven games this year and registered nine tackles.

Christian Holmes has recovered from a shoulder injury he suffered earlier in the year, but Odom said the freshman corner will not play against the Longhorns. “I don’t know if it would be wise to play one game and use one game for a year,” he said.

Damarea Crockett, on the other hand, “has an opportunity to play.” Crockett last appeared against Georgia and has been nursing a shoulder injury of his own. Even if it’s just for one game, a rushing trio of Ish Witter, Larry Rountree III and Crockett will be fun.