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Missouri’s No. 1 ranking lasted just one week in 2007

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Forget the Alamo.

Big 12 Championship - Oklahoma v Missouri Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Let’s begin this piece with what I already recently wrote about the 2007 Big 12 Championship game:

On December 1, 2007, in San Antonio, Mizzou was 25 minutes from the BCS title game. The Tigers had survived Kansas in Arrowhead the week before. They had survived shaky early play to tie Oklahoma at 14-14 late in the first half. They had forced an OU punt to start the third quarter. And a 22-yard end around to Jeremy Maclin had given the Tigers a first down at the Sooners’ 25 yard line five minutes into the second half.

There was plenty of time to go, of course, and this was OU — Mizzou fans had no reason to feel optimistic about beating the Sooners until the clock officially ran out. The Tigers hadn’t done so since 1998, and they had suffered particularly frustrating losses in 2002, 2006, and earlier in 2007.

Still, it was possible to begin believing. The Tigers had to settle for field goals after creating a couple of early goal-to-go situations, and they trailed 14-6 late in the second quarter. Everything was shaping up to be a frustrating, “just one of those days” loss.

But that drive late in the second quarter had changed the vibe. It was a perfect Mizzou 2007 drive. The ball went everywhere — Tony Temple, Jeremy Maclin, Tommy Saunders, Danario Alexander, Martin Rucker, Will Franklin, and Chase Daniel himself had all touched the ball on the drive before Daniel scored from the 4 with 14 seconds left in the half. Then Maclin threw a two-point conversion pass to Rucker for some extra spice.

The camera caught Daniel pumping his fist. This felt significant. Fun Mizzou had shown up. Fun Mizzou was very, very good that year.

What a week it was between Missouri’s historic win over Kansas at Arrowhead stadium and the trip to San Antonio. Mizzou moved to No. 1 in the polls for the first time since 1960. Chase Daniel was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The team held a pep rally on the steps of Jesse Hall (in which Sean Weatherspoon paraphrased Varsity Blues: “Saturday, we play Oklahoma. Saturday, we beat Oklahoma.”).

At one point, a former roommate of mine who was writing for Sports Illustrated called me to get ideas for the commemorative Your Team Just Won The National Title! issue should things play out just right. (It’s not a jinx if it’s for your job, right?)

Whereas I spent most of the week leading up to Kansas in a state of epic paranoia, I felt mostly relaxed during this week, mainly because, well, Oklahoma wasn’t Kansas. There wasn’t a “What if we lose this game and have to hear about it for the next 100 years?” worry. We all talked ourselves into Missouri having an excellent chance of winning, but I think we all understood that “What if [something that has happened for most of the least four decades] happens?” didn’t carry quite the same paranoia.

Still, though. This was Missouri’s chance. Two years after half the Missouri fan base (and like 99.8 percent of the Missouri internet) wanted Gary Pinkel fired, he had brought Mizzou to, for all intents and purposes, the Final Four. And like the teams’ first 2007 meeting, this game started in familiar fashion for a game against OU: with Missouri struggling.

On the fist play of the game, Jeremy Maclin dropped a pass. On the second play, a reverse to Tommy Saunders got eaten up for a huge loss. Mizzou went three-and-out, and while the Tiger defense forced a punt on OU’s first possession, Mizzou would soon punt again.

The Mizzou defense held up again, though. Thanks in part to an OU personal foul penalty, the Sooners punted, and the Tigers took over at their 32. Daniel found Maclin for 15 yards, and a third-down pass interference penalty set Mizzou up inside the OU 40. Daniel hit Rucker for 17 yards, then two Temple rushes got the Tigers down to the 9. The drive stalled there, but Mizzou got on the board first with a 28-yard Jeff Wolfert field goal.

Unfortunately, the score woke OU up a bit. The Sooners drove 67 yards in eight plays, scoring on a three-yard Chris Brown run to open the second quarter.

Again, Missouri’s offense moved the ball. Again, the Tigers stalled out near the end zone. A 21-yard pass to Saunders, a pass interference penalty, and a couple of nice Daniel rushes (a 20-yarder and an eight-yarder) set Mizzou up with second-and-goal from the 1. But Jimmy Jackson got stuff, and Daniel did too. On fourth-and-goal, Mizzou chickened out and kicked an 18-yard field goal, my least favorite call in football.

After a couple of punts, OU got rolling again. Sam Bradford connected with Brown for 18 yards and Malcolm Kelly for 10, and another short Brown touchdown made it 14-6. Both teams had created two scoring chances, but OU was scoring TDs with theirs. Chase Coffman’s absence — the junior tight end and Daniel’s favorite red zone weapon was out with injury (and big Danario Alexander, coming off of his best ever game, got hurt as well) — was devastating.

Then came Mizzou’s tying drive to end the half. The Tigers had created more chances and should have led, but things were still looking up midway through the game. And then OU punted to start the second half.

Here was Mizzou’s chance to seize control of the game. Despite starting at their 7, the Tigers quickly crossed midfield after a pass to Saunders and a couple to Maclin. But as mentioned above, the drive indeed stalled out. OU drove 80 yards for a touchdown and a 21-14 lead, and on the second play of Mizzou’s next drive, Daniel fired too hot for Rucker. The ball went through the All-American tight end’s hands and into those of Mizzou killer Curtis Lofton. He returned the pick to the 7, and two plays later OU was up 28-14.

In retrospect, that was the ball game. But Mizzou didn’t quit. Thanks to big catches by Rucker, Saunders, and Rucker again, the Tigers advanced to the OU 6 as the third quarter was coming to a close. But once again, Mizzou was allergic to the goal line. Temple was stuffed for a loss of three, and a pass to Washington lost six. They had to settle for another field goal, and when OU responded with a 65-yard touchdown drive — capped with a scoring pass to current Mizzou tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley — that was that. OU would go on to tack on a field goal and win, 38-17. The dreams of national titles and commemorative Sports Illustrated issues was dead.

Worse yet, Orange Bowl officials evidently chose that Saturday to begin watching college football. Not wanting to choose a Mizzou team that had just gotten thumped, the bowl instead chose ... Kansas, the team Missouri had beaten a week earlier. Another Mizzou victim, Illinois, went to the Rose Bowl.

Mizzou drew future SEC rival Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. Would the Tigers be able to rebound from the disappointment and give themselves a shot at a top-five finish?

(Yes.)

Key stats:

  • Yards: OU 375, Mizzou 317.
  • First downs: Mizzou 23, OU 19.
  • Scoring opportunities (first downs inside the 40): OU 6, Mizzou 5.
  • Points per scoring opportunity: OU 6.3, Mizzou 3.4. This game was in no way lopsided, play-for-play and drive-for-drive. But one team took advantage of its scoring chances, and the other very much did not.
  • Daniel: 23-for-39, 219 yards, 1 INT, 2 sacks; 9 carries, 38 yards, 1 TD
  • Maclin: 8 catches for 69 yards, 4 carries for 40 yards
  • Rucker: 6 catches for 76 yards
  • Saunders: 6 catches for 61 yards
  • Temple: 13 carries for just 26 yards
  • William Moore: 11.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 pass breakup. Everybody else on the team: 2 TFLs, no passes defensed.
Big 12 Championship - Oklahoma v Missouri Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images