SAN ANTONIO – They want to end it the right way. Since his team was muzzled in losses to Kansas and Oklahoma, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has been honest about a cold conclusion to a season once filled with possibility.
Consider a dream deferred. This isn’t the BCS national championship game, the desire of many within the program after a Cotton Bowl title and a program-best 12 victories in 2007. This isn’t the Fiesta Bowl, where the Tigers would have made their first BCS appearance had they stunned the Sooners on Dec. 6 in Kansas City. And this isn’t the Holiday Bowl, where Missouri probably would have played for the first time since 1997 had Oklahoma State failed to zap a 10-game home-winning streak on Oct. 11.
Missouri (9-4) vs. Northwestern (9-3)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday
WHERE: San Antonio
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM
No, this is the Alamo Bowl, a game void of the pomp of Missouri’s preseason ambitions that falls fourth in the Big 12 Conference’s non-BCS bowl selection order. It’s an event at which the Tigers have never appeared since the event's inaugural year in 1993, and Monday’s game against Northwestern (9-3) provides an opportunity for positive closure in a season otherwise strained.
“We have a chance to get some respect back,” Pinkel said. “We have lost a little respect. I have been very honest with my players about that.”
A victory would create program history. Missouri (9-4) has never won 10 games or more in consecutive seasons. Its last opportunity came in 1961, when the Tigers followed an 11-0 Orange Bowl campaign with a bowl-less 7-2-1 mark. The Alamo Bowl marks the first time Missouri has appeared in four consecutive bowl games since a streak of postseason berths from 1978 to 1981.
Pinkel said senior quarterback Chase Daniel will play at full strength. Daniel experienced flu-like symptoms upon Missouri’s arrival last Tuesday in San Antonio. His condition here has become something of a trend. Last year, before a Big 12 championship game loss to Oklahoma, he battled similar symptoms.
“We want to go out on top,” Daniel said. “We felt some disappointment the last two games, and we don't want to feel that again. We just have to go out there and execute the offense, execute the defense, execute the special teams and put all three phases together and hopefully come out with a big win.”
Some have predicted a sizable offensive display. Missouri produced 38 points and large yardage outputs in each of its last three bowl appearances. In the 2005 Independence Bowl, the Tigers gained 504 yards in a victory over South Carolina during which they overcame a 21-point first-half deficit. In the 2006 Sun Bowl, Missouri compiled 561 yards in a last-minute loss to Oregon State. In the 2008 Cotton Bowl, the Tigers ripped Arkansas’ defense for 459 yards.
Northwestern, meantime, will attempt to exploit Missouri’s porous secondary. The Tigers rank No. 117, third-to-last, in passing yardage allowed per game (285.31). The Wildcats have averaged 209.4 passing yards per game, No. 63 in the country.
“It reads well, and I think it looks good on TV,” said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, whose team is trying to win its first bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl and snap a five-game postseason losing streak. “But at the end of the day, it comes down to both teams trying to aspire to play their best football.”
During recent postseason appearances, Missouri’s rushing threat has been particularly effective. Former tailback Tony Temple ran for 194 yards in the Sun Bowl and 281 in the Cotton Bowl. In his first season as a starter, sophomore tailback Derrick Washington needs eight more yards to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing. This season, he has run for more than 100 yards three times (against Illinois, Nebraska and Iowa State). Northwestern ranks No. 35 in rushing defense, allowing an average of 127.7 yards per game.
“For the past two years, Tony has set the standards high for the running backs in bowl games,” Washington said. “He came out and competed great and for me to come out this year, I'm really looking forward to this.”
The Alamo Bowl represents an era’s end. Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen will leave to serve as Wyoming’s coach, becoming the first assistant under Pinkel to earn a head-coaching position since Pinkel arrived in Columbia before the 2001 season. The Tigers lose Daniel, safety William Moore, John Mackey Award-winning tight end Chase Coffman and 10 other starters to graduation. Sophomore wide receiver Jeremy Maclin continues to weigh his professional decision and submitted his name to the NFL Draft Advisory Committee before the Dec. 19 deadline, along with junior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.
In August, Missouri might not have envisioned ushering out one the most successful runs in program history in San Antonio, far from BCS glitz. But the Tigers have arrived, and they are eager to make the most of their situation.
“We have worked very hard around here to earn not only respect in the Big 12 but nationally,” Pinkel said. “We took a little bit of a hit. You know what? We have a chance to earn it back."