Missouri Tigers Football: Do They Belong in the SEC?
On July 1st, the Missouri Tigers will formally join the Southeastern Conference, ending what will have been a a 105-year stand with the conference originally known as the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
You can debate about why they're leaving, or whose fault it is, all day. Depending who you ask, it could be anyone. Whether it was a school, TV network, underground agreement...it doesn't really matter at this point, because it's happening.
But with a solid tradition of SEC football that might as well be a religious experience anywhere you want to watch a game in the south, do the Missouri Tigers bring that much to the table in terms of tradition, competition and the ability to win?
We examine five cons and five pros of Mizzou football—starting with the bad.
You're going to hear it from now, until they either start winning or losing games. Missouri's overall winning history as a program is not very impressive.
Coach Gary Pinkel does have the Tigers pointed in the right direction, but if you want to talk about history, it might be best for Mizzou fans to stick with the St. Louis Cardinals.
In the three previous coaches before Pinkel, Missouri boasts a 60-115-4 overall record, from 1985 to 2000.
Their postseason history isn't all that impressive, either. A 12-16 all-time bowl record doesn't really add much to the dull resume. Interestingly enough, Missouri is 6-1 all-time in bowl games against current SEC teams.
The Tigers can say that they've had a legend as a coach in Dan Devine from 1958 to 1970, but after that, the profile of the team sinks into the dirt, save Pinkel who has come in and dusted a little bit of that off.
Lack of Championships
Missouri fans and historians will tell you that their team has won 15 conference championships. But none of those are Big 12 titles—in fact, Missouri hasn't won their conference since 1969 when it was the Big 8, and even that was only a co-championship.
Missouri's last outright conference title was when they were Big 8 champions in 1960 under coach Dan Devine.
Missouri's best season was arguably that 1960 season. Ranked No. 1 in the nation going into the final game of the season against cellar-dwelling Kansas, the Tigers dropped a stunner at home 7-23. Missouri would then beat Navy in the Orange Bowl, but would not win the national title.
Which is something Missouri has does not have any of—national titles.
The Tigers did play against Oklahoma twice for the Big 12 title as the representative of the Big 12 North, but twice came away getting blown out.
If Missouri is going to even think about winning a championship in the SEC, they'll need to be able to take care of the East division first, with common opponents like Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
Even if they were to slip out of the east somehow, they'd get thrown up on the sacrificial altar to the West team.
How much fun is it going to be for the University of Florida to send teams to Missouri? Cross country, gymnastics, softball...all making the long trip every time they see "@ Missouri" listed on a schedule.
And who can say they're going to want to go play in the middle of upper Missouri in mid-late November? The temperatures may serve to favor the Tigers, much like the advantage the Green Bay Packers enjoy for home games in the playoffs.
And here's a really fun heads-up...there's no major airport in Columbia. If you're flying to a game at Mizzou, and you're taking a major airline, your choices are St. Louis or Kansas City, both of which are a two hour drive to Columbia. Have fun.
You can fly in to the Columbia Regional Airport, but you must come via the only chartered route that is run—the Memphis hub officially called the Delta Connection offered by Pinnacle Airlines.
This may not be all that important, but it does seem worth noting that this is the third "Tigers" team now in the conference. At least Mizzou will be the only Tigers in the East division.
Aubie and Mike have been fighting for years now over supremacy, and maybe even identity. It's not going to help to add Truman to that mix.
Truman the Tiger is named after former U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who was born in Independence, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City. He is a regular fixture at all home and away football games, as well as several other Missouri athletics events.
One thing that opposing players love in the Big 12 is coming to play at Missouri. Why?
For one, the obvious reason—there's a huge grass area on the north end of the field that has a rock "M" on it. Noise escapes that area of the stadium like a pig covered in grease.
The other reason?
On either side of the field—the west and east sidelines—there are grass berm areas that angle up to the brickwork. These grass berms are angled up and high enough where most visiting players say you can hear just about anyone yell on the field.
The south end seating is nothing elaborate either. Although stadium expansion plans have been discussed, for now Memorial Stadium only holds about 68,000.
Missouri's record attendance is 75,298 set against Penn State in 1980. But because of stadium renovations that removed seats since then, that number cannot be reached under the current configuration.
Since the remodel, the record for attendance as against Texas in 2009, where fans totaled 71,004.
Now for the Good...
Okay, that's enough on the negatives. Missouri clearly has work to do in many areas.
We now turn our attention to five things Missouri does bring to the table in the SEC.
Kansas City-Style BBQ, Tailgates
I am aware that most every team in the SEC has fans that get serious about tailgating. Visiting fans, prepare yourselves. Columbia is just down the road from Kansas City, and the classic traditions of "KC-style BBQ" run rampant through the surrounding lots on game days.
Just what is Kansas City style BBQ? It is best described as a slow cook, smoked method that usually involves beef and using a think molasses-based sauce or marinade.
The flavors associated with KC-style BBQ make it a hit at any local tailgate or get-together. Not only that, but the tailgates in general are very welcoming and inclusive, including areas set aside for visiting fans to tailgate.
In addition, Columbia has several local BBQ joints, whose specialties may have you booking rooms by them instead of the stadium.
I realize that every school has a "Homecoming" game. But when you talk about history and tradition, this is one thing that Missouri has done better and longer than anyone else.
The Homecoming tradition originated in Columbia, Missouri. In 1911, the Alumni Association was worried that fans just weren't going to show up to see top-ranked Kansas play in Columbia.
After some planning and careful thought, it was decided that the Alumni Association was going to throw an event that encouraged all graduated students to "come home" and see Missouri play.
On November 25th, 1911, the first ever Homecoming game was held at Rollins Field—now called Stankowski Field—on the MU campus. Over 10,000 fans (a record at the time) endured the weather and watched Missouri and Kansas play to a 3-3 tie.
It was decided that the amazing crowd had contributed to the fact that Kansas didn't win, and that a Homecoming game would be held every single season.
The Homecoming Parade in Columbia is a tradition embraced by the entire town.
In 2010, ESPN College GameDay showed up on Homecoming, and had a big surprise in store. Missouri fans showed up in force and shattered the GameDay attendance record that was previously held by Nebraska in 2001. Over 18,000 fans showed up at the "The Quad" for the televised event.
When Gary Pinkel and company first came to Missouri from Toledo, the expectations were not high.
Pinkel was viewed by many as the used car dealer type, who was a slick talker and was going to come in and try to save the sad thing that we called the football team.
Pinkel's first big milestone, and what still may be his greatest victory of all-time, was beating Nebraska in 2003, snapping a 25-game winning streak that the Huskers had dating back to 1978.
When Pinkel beat Nebraska, not only had he immediately won the majority of fans back over to positive thinking, but many top recruits in the state began to want to play near home, as well.
Pinkel's ability to change the culture, as well as change the attitudes of many high school students across the state, has been seen as the main difference off paper to the football program.
As a coach and a teacher, he is also exceptional. Pinkel has signs that hang in the locker rooms that say, "No Excuses! An excuse is the first thing out of a person's mouth that attempts to justify failure."
With his winning attitude and personality, the SEC will be glad to see the Missouri representative for football at SEC media days.
Can Beat Anyone, Can Lose to Anyone
As stated earlier, Missouri is an impressive 6-1 in bowl games against current SEC teams.
This includes a 35-10 drubbing of a Bear Bryant Alabama squad, a team Missouri holds a 2-1 all-time advantage over.
In fact, counting Texas A&M, Missouri is 5-0 in their last five games against current and future SEC teams. Granted that one of the wins was at Ole Miss in a year that they were clearly terrible, but it should be noted that all five of those game were away from Columbia.
Though Missouri does have a generally poor history winning, especially in big games, don't always hang them out to dry, even if they're not having a great year.
Missouri is notorious for winning huge games they weren't expected to win.
No one gave Mizzou a chance in 1966 to beat quarterback Steve Spurrier's Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl. By halftime, Missouri was out to a 20-0 lead, and secured a huge win as far as Missouri's national profile was concerned at the time.
There are also the games that Missouri can just bumble away.
On September 14th, 2002, Missouri lost to Bowling Green of the Mid-America Conference by the score of 51-38. This came after Missouri had beaten defending Big Ten champion Illinois two weeks prior.
These are just two examples, but their unpredictable nature of head-scratching results has been a Mizzou trademark throughout the years.
Over the last three seasons, Missouri has turned out five first-round draft picks. That's more than anyone the country, less Alabama with seven.
Kids in Missouri and abroad now know that if you're a talented football player and you want to go to the NFL, playing for the Missouri Tigers is one of the best ways the achieve your goals.
Besides the 49ers, the Atlanta Falcons also boast a pair of Missouri players on their defense. William Moore and Sean Weatherspoon, both anchor a solid Atlanta linebacking group.
The educational success of the student-athlete is something Mizzou has always taken very seriously as well. With above-average scores nationally in graduation rates, Mizzou athletes are always among the top of the conference in terms of academics.
And with coaching that drives home educational values, it's no wonder why Missouri is a very well-rounded institution.
Does Missouri Belong?
So there you are, some of the good and the bad about the Missouri Tigers football program.
Be sure to weigh in with what you think...if there's something that needs to be included on here, or if there's something that doesn't make any sense to you, let me know in the comments below.