I normally shy away from writing about my Tigers because it is hard to be objective about my Tigers, but here is a look at where the Mizzou football program has come from in recent years:
Like all other Mizzou fans after our Homecoming win over the Oklahoma Sooners, I was plotting on how I was going to afford tickets to the BCS championship game; at worse, the Fiesta Bowl. Travel would be the easy part. I live in Arizona now and my house is literally within walking distance from the University of Phoenix Stadium, so all I needed was for my Tigers to keep winning.
Then Nebraska. Ouch.
Later Texas Tech? Bigger ouch.
My delusions of grandeur came crashing down, but my head was still held high as an alum. Make no mistake I was pissed, but remembering my time in Columbia helped me keep it in perspective.
My senior year in high school ('98 season) Corby Jones was an electrifying quarterback and Devin West was a stud running back at Mizzou, so when I made my college decision to go there, I assumed the program was in an upswing and I'd be able to watch great college football.
I was mistaken.
After those guys left the cupboard was bare. We no longer had the talent to be as competitive as we were when Jones and West were in the backfield.
At that point it wasn't as though our program competed for titles year in and year out, but we did better with Jones at the helm as qb than we did with the mixture of Jim Daugherty, Kirk Farmer, Justin Gage, and Darius Outlaw attempting to run the offense.
Then two very important things happened. In 2001 Gary Pinkel became the coach, and in 2002 a young man named Brad Smith stepped onto the field and things began to look much brighter.
At this point the program still was not in the upper echelon of college football teams, but we got much more national respect because of our quarterback and solid coaching.
Despite our strides in the right direction, our program still lacked the ability to consistently play well and take the next step up with the "Big Boys" of the sport. As Brad Smith's record setting career at MU came to a close, I was nervous we'd take a step back like we did when Jones left.
Chase Daniel had gotten some time here and there Smith's senior year, but running the offense 100 percent of the time by himself would be something new. He quickly calmed my nerves with his superlative play on the field.
Unfortunately, he did not have enough athletes around him for our program to play with the "Big Boys."
As his record setting Mizzou career came to a close, I had the same uneasy feeling.
Blaine Gabbert had numerous accolades, but I was still nervous because he was an unknown at the college level. I saw him play in Army All-America game, but my nerves still were unsettled.
Again, his play calmed me down.
Fast forward to this fall. October 23rd to be exact. We had done it. We had finally beaten one of the "Big Boys."
The following two weeks hurt, but the point still remains our program has remained strong through the graduation of quarterbacks.
Our win over Oklahoma does not put us on par with schools like Texas nor Florida, but look at the seasons those schools are having after graduating their most recent top flight quarterbacks.
Texas has looked miserable at times without McCoy, and the Tebow-less Gators have not enjoyed the success they've become accustomed to either. Certainly Texas' 4-5 mark is much tougher to swallow than Florida's 6-3 record, but it illustrates the point of how tough it is to maintain a program at the college level.
Everyone associated with Mizzou wants this year's Nebraska and Texas Tech games back, but the level Coach Pinkel has been able to maintain throughout his decade at Mizzou is remarkable. Any coach can catch lightning in a bottle and have one great quarterback and ride his talents to a few impressive seasons, but Pinkel is building a solid program in its entirety.
We haven't quite taken that big step forward to be considered one of the "Big Boys," but we haven't taken steps back either. Hats off to Coach Pinkel and AD Mike Alden for that. Hopefully Mizzou can get back on the right track this weekend against KSU this weekend. Winning our last 3 games coupled with a nice bowl victory are necessities in taking steps forward for our program.
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