KANSAS CITY— This was a long way from the ending the Missouri Tigers envisioned to the Big 12 championship.
Instead of holding a trophy and celebrating their first Big 12 Conference title, they were watching the Oklahoma Sooners’ mascot swing a stuffed tiger on a noose, to the delight of a large block of red-clad Sooner fans.
Even though Missouri knew it was a huge underdog, this score, 62-21 wasn’t supposed to happen.
All week long, the Tigers talked about how they were getting no respect and given no chance to upset No. 4 Oklahoma. On one occasion, Missouri defensive tackle Jaron Baston even said that the Tigers’ families probably weren’t giving them a chance.
“I think you draw off that a little bit,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said on Friday. “You want to prove people wrong.”
But the only people the Tigers proved wrong were Pinkel and themselves. For a team whose quarterback listed its accomplishments and a team that talked about how it was such an underdog, Missouri did nothing to make either of those statements matter.
The only statement came from the Sooners, who had heard all week that they didn’t belong in this game because they hadn’t beaten Texas. Ironically, with Missouri talking about how nobody gave it a chance, it was Oklahoma who took motivation from what it heard.
“I think we were kind of tired of listening to everyone talk about how we didn’t deserve to be in this game,” Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford said. “It was a big part of what got us motivated for this game, listening to all the media talk about how we didn’t deserve to be here, and having to listen to Missouri talk about how the last two times we beat them were a fluke.”
If the Tigers got any motivation from anything they had heard, they didn’t show it. Given one last chance to fulfill the promise that its season once had, the Tigers played their worst game of the year.
Much like their other game this season against a Top 5 team (Texas) Missouri’s chances to win were finished by halftime. Pinkel attributed that to the program simply not yet being at the level that its fans wanted to put it at.
“Certainly, we have not arrived, and I’ve said that often,” Pinkel said. “My job is to get it there. We’re just not there. Until you win a Big 12 championship, you haven’t arrived.”
But having arrived or not, Missouri was at least expected to keep the game competitive against the Sooners, like it had in its previous three meetings.
Instead, Missouri’s three turnovers and eight touchdowns given up prevented the Tigers from showing they could compete on an elite level.
“We just weren’t able to win games,” said Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, who finished his career with an 0-4 record against Oklahoma. “It’s disappointing, this one hurts the worst. It’s your senior year and you can’t get it done. You can’t win a game against a team like that if you turn the ball over.”
Missouri’s postseason destination is now likely its third consecutive trip to the state of Texas, this time to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Geographically, it’s only 274 miles from where the Tigers ended their last season, but in terms of prestige, it’s a long way from the place they wanted to be.
Still, with the chance to secure a 10-win season—for the third consecutive game — Missouri believes it has an opportunity to make this season special.
“I think whatever bowl we get, we have to take advantage of the opportunity we have,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “Missouri’s never won 10 games back-to-back seasons. We’re disappointed that we didn’t get the win tonight and go to a BCS bowl.
“But you can’t hang your head low, you’ve got to pick your team up and go out there and win a football game.”
Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin agreed that the Tigers still had something to be proud of and something to play for in their bowl game.
“Unfortunately, the season didn’t turn out the way we wanted to,” he said. “But we are Big 12 North champs, back-to-back, and we’ve got another ball game to play.”