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20 For 20: #5 - Brad Smith puts Mizzou back on track with a wild win in the ‘05 Independence Bowl

It’s rare you’ll hear a Mizzou fan say they want to see the Tigers play in Shreveport, but that’s where the turning point took place for Gary Pinkel back in 2005.

South Carolina’s Stanley Doughty, left, misses a tackle on M Photo by Erik Campos/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In an effort to look back fondly at the successes of Tiger football, the Rock M Nation football staff compiled and ranked the greatest games of the past 20 years. There’s no science or math involved here: we simply listed what we thought were the 20 best games of the past 20 years and counted the votes. We’ll start with the games getting the fewest votes and work our way up to #1.

2005: Missouri 38 - South Carolina 31

Another season ending in Shreveport. It’s not what you’re looking for, but that was the reality for Mizzou football in 2005.

Gary Pinkel was finishing up his fifth season at Mizzou. After a step forward and an 8-5 finish in 2003 — a season that also ended in the Independence Bowl — the Tigers took a major step back in 2004. Missouri entered ‘04 ranked in the top 20 nationally, but Pinkel’s team finished the year 5-6 and failed to qualify for a bowl game.

More of the same would follow in 2005.

Brad Smith provided plenty of highlights, and Missouri had a couple memorable wins against Iowa State and Nebraska, but losses against New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado and Kansas State, along with a blowout against the eventual National Champion Texas Longhorns left a sour taste in Mizzou fans’ mouths as the team entered bowl season.

Shreveport. Again. For the second time in the last three years. A team that was supposed to take off after 2003 found itself stuck in neutral. Calls among fans for Pinkel to be fired were growing louder.

The game began. Those fans asking for Pinkel to be let go only grew more frustrated as the first quarter came and went.

South Carolina’s opening three series resulted in touchdowns that traveled a combined 154 yards in 16 total plays. The Tigers’ first three drives resulted in a total of zero yards, a lost fumble and two punts in a combined eight plays.

That’s pretty much the way things went until midway through the second quarter. South Carolina found itself leading 21-0 with seven minutes to play in the first half. Brad Smith’s career was full of up-and-down moments, and his final game in a Tigers uniform felt like it was going to be anything but a positive memory.

And then something happened that would change the course of Mizzou football history. Some may say that’s overstating things. I don’t think it is.

On second and 10 from the Mizzou 16 with the Gamecocks’ offense once again driving, the Tigers’ defense came up with a massive play that put the Tigers on the board. Blake Mitchell’s pass was intercepted by Marcus King at the 1-yard line. He returned the interception 99 yards for a touchdown.

The Tigers finally had some life.

And then South Carolina scored once again, and it was 28-7 with just two minutes to play in the first half.

That’s when Smith took over. He led Mizzou’s offense on an 8-play, 77-yard touchdown drive to close out the scoring in the first half. The Tigers went into halftime with a manageable 28-14 deficit. They finally showed signs of life offensively.

The Tigers’ offense kicked it into high gear from there. More specifically, Smith turned into Super Man.

Smith, who had 93 yards of total offense with two minutes remaining in the first half, racked up more than 330 yards in the final 32 minutes of the game. The Tigers outscored Steve Spurrier’s team 24-3 in the second half. A team that found itself against the ropes was throwing haymakers at the Gamecocks for the final 30 minutes.

Gary Pinkel turned the page from the hot seat to one of the greatest eras of Mizzou football in program history. Smith went from a stat compiler in some fans’ minds to the player that made everything that happened after him possible.

One game on one day. You never want to overstate its impact. But I don’t know if you can overstate the impact of the Tigers’ comeback in Shreveport against that South Carolina team.

Don’t believe me? Take the great Bill Connelly’s word for it.

“While this program has had many ‘turning points’ through the years, from signing Brad Smith in 2001, to beating Nebraska in 2003, to signing Chase Daniel, to reaching No. 1 in 2007, to moving to the SEC, to coming within one quarter of the BCS title game in 2013, the game that took place in the late afternoon of December 30, 2005, in Shreveport gets nearly top billing on the list. Without this comeback win, it is conceivable that everything that followed over the last wonderful decade may not have come to fruition.”