There were a few fleeting seconds this week when I actually thought the Missouri Tigers would pull a miracle over third-ranked Texas on Saturday night.
What a fool I can be.
I should have known better. After all, it's a well-known fact that a program like Missouri simply doesn't sneak up on a program like Texas. Especially when history suggests the two don't even reside in the same stratosphere.
With 839 victories all-time, Texas is the nation's second-winningest program, behind only Michigan. The Longhorns have won four national titles. Nearly 100 different Texas players have been All-American selections, two have won the Heisman Trophy, and 13 have won one or more national awards.
And when graduation and the NFL draft threaten to pick away at that traditional luster, the Longhorns routinely dip into their bottomless reserve of in-state talent, allowing for the cycle to begin anew and the winning to continue.
Since Missouri football was born in 1890, the program has struggled keep its head above mediocrity, often resorting to periods of utter futility. Save for 1960 and 2007, the two most successful seasons in school history, Missouri hasn't come close to competing for a national championship. It's been 40 years since the Tigers last laid claim to a conference title. Inexplicable losses to inferior opponents have been upstaged only by massive-sized slaughters at the hands of superior opponents.
And when the Tigers haven't been raked over the coals by ranked teams, they've had landmark victories vaporized by moments of maddening misfortune, like the Fifth Down and the Flea Kicker. And then there's the whole matter of Texas treating Missouri like a disobedient red-headed stepchild for a quarter-century, having won 14 of the past 15 meetings, dating back to 1931.
But, of course, due to the topsy-turvy nature of college football, Missouri (4-3, 0-3) still had reason to believe it could register its second win over a top five team since 1978—and only its 10th in the last 70 years.
Upsets have been a weekly theme in 2009. A top 10 team has lost in each of the first seven weeks of the season; a top five team has gone down on six occasions. Hours before Missouri and Texas kicked off, a .500 Tennessee team was done in by a blocked field goal in an attempt to knock off No. 2 Alabama. And by the time the game had begun, perennial SEC whipping-boy Mississippi State was exchanging blows with top-ranked Florida.
Heck, even Iowa State, a team that had won five games the previous two seasons, took down heavily favored Nebraska for its first win in Lincoln since 1977.
Though it may have been a bit of wishful thinking on my part, it seemed as if the conditions were ripe for a one-of-a-kind performance from the Tigers.
If trap games do indeed exist, this was one for Texas. The Longhorns (7-0, 4-0) were a week removed from an emotionally draining win over archrival Oklahoma. And although Texas has never lost the week following the Red River Rivalry, it wasn't foolish to think the Horns weren't looking ahead to a Halloween matchup with Oklahoma State. Plus, Colt McCoy was nursing an injured thumb and the lingering effects of a week-long bout with the flu.
And, how fitting would it be if Missouri, in danger of falling into an inescapable 0-3 hole in the Big 12 North, would capture its first conference win of the season and end its two-game losing streak all in the same night, against the No. 3 team in the country?
Given all this, imagine my disappointment when it took all of one play for all my hopes and reasoning to be rendered meaningless, completely asinine, and idiotic. For as far as I am concerned, the second McCoy hooked up with his roommate and wide receiver, Jordan Shipley, for a 31-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage, the game was decided.
As frustrating as this loss is, it's simply par for the course as far as Missouri lifers are concerned. When the Tigers are heavy underdogs, they simply don't show up. And that goes for the past two seasons, when Missouri was winning the Big 12 North but laying eggs against teams that offered up the stiffest competition.
A Missouri win on Saturday night would have been arguably the biggest in school history. Instead, the Tigers whimpered their way to another lopsided loss against a dominant opponent that now has me slinging expletives and perhaps unjust criticism, as well as counting a lot more questions than answers.
It's plain to see this Missouri team is one in transition, and I have been adamant in proclaiming to the fan base it's important to exercise patience with the Tigers' abundance of youth. But I can hold my tongue only so long. There's a number of other teams out there that are getting along just fine with as many, if not more, underclassmen than Missouri.
In the aftermath of the 41-7 debacle against Texas, head coach Gary Pinkel offered up a tired summation, chalking up the one-sided loss to an exorbitant amount of mistakes.
How long do we have to hear the same excuse? The same mistakes were made against Oklahoma State. The same mistakes were made against Nebraska. And you could argue those same mistakes were made during Missouri's breezy non-conference schedule.
In a perfect world, Pinkel's postgame thoughts would have sounded like this: "I would like to apologize to all Missouri fans for this loss, the first of which being the 71,004 in attendance tonight, as well as the countless alumni who have stuck by this program despite having to endure too many performances like this one.
"My coaching staff and I were out-classed tonight, but I will be the first to acknowledge that tough stretches like the one we are experiencing now are necessary when building a team that challenges for a Big 12 title every four or five years."
A bit harsh, I know, but my point is this: If these same mistakes keep creeping up, why aren't they being corrected? What the hell is taking place during the week in practice? Are the coaches missing something, or are Missouri's players really that less talented than those who suit up for Texas? What exactly is hampering this Missouri football program from taking the next step?
During their current three-game losing streak, the Tigers have been dominated in all phases of the game. The offense has looked anemic. After a strong start, the defense has become pedestrian. And stupid penalties continue to cripple special teams play. On top of that, Missouri has scored all of three points in the second half during the streak.
Blame is certainly widespread. And while I never like to refrain from pointing fingers at the players, in my fit of rage, I'll reserve a majority of my ridicule for the coaching staff. I understand that Missouri may never possess the collection of athletes that a Texas, Alabama, or USC does, but it seems to me that this coaching staff is doing a noticeably horrible job of putting these players in a position to win.
The gameplan against Texas was terrible. It's one thing to lose to the third-ranked team, but it's an entirely different animal to get blown out in front of a record crowd on homecoming.
The Tigers, with 74 yards rushing, managed to penetrate Texas' top-ranked run defense, but offensive coordinator David Yost had no answer for the Longhorns' blitz packages, which eventually forced Blaine Gabbert to leave the game. The more I witness Yost run this offense, the more I wonder whether he is flexible and/or smart enough to make the deft in-game adjustments that so often characterize the country's first-rate coordinators.
And same goes for defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, whose lone claim to fame thus far this season has been caught arguing with his embattled cornerback (Carl Gettis) on national television.
If anyone can tell me why Steckel insisted on playing his coverage a good 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, I'll gladly listen. If Texas' receivers win the one-on-one matchup, that's fine. But it's odd that Steckel, a man who preaches toughness and physicality, would prefer that his defensive backs sit on a cushion than challenge the opponent at the line. His choice of tactic clearly wasn't working, and that should have been evident after Texas' opening possession.
Despite these deficiencies, I am willing to cut the two first-year coordinators some slack. When it comes to Pinkel, however, the jury should be a little less lenient.
In his eight-plus seasons, Pinkel has carried the program to new heights and restored some legitimacy in the eyes of the national media. Or has he? The Tigers may be good enough to survive from season to season in the pathetic Big 12 North, but under Pinkel's watch, Missouri is 0-11 against Texas and Oklahoma—the two biggest measuring sticks by which this program can gauge its growth and maturity.
To put it bluntly, something's missing.
To ascend to that next level, Missouri has to beat the best teams. This program desperately needs a win over a team that it has no business beating. But judging by Saturday night, the Tigers can't be deemed worthy of being compared to either of those Big 12 South powers or any other national contender.
I always explode when people imply Missouri will never be able to grow into a dominant brand. "Why the hell not?" I argue. But maybe those people are right.
Maybe Pinkel isn't the man for the job. Maybe the Tigers aren't recruiting as well as we thought. Maybe athletic director Mike Alden should ponder shelling out more money for a big-name coach with an impeccable track record in big games and an aura that commands nationwide respect.
Or maybe I should just shut my mouth. It's entirely possible the Tigers could walk into Boulder, Colorado, next weekend and rout the Buffaloes for the third straight season. That would be nice, but I would be left eating only a small portion of crow, not the whole helping. Because Colorado is no Texas.
Plus, after what I was forced to witness Saturday night, Missouri's next game seems light-years away. And, for now, I'd rather focus on my pity and disgust anyway.
Photo credit: Columbia Daily Tribune