COLUMBIA — It might be another sign of the rift between Missouri and the Big 12 Conference. It might just be that Missouri finished the regular season at 7-5.
Whatever the reason, the Missouri football team fell all the way out of the Big 12’s bowl selection order and accepted a bid to the Independence Bowl against North Carolina on Dec. 26 in Shreveport, La. The game is at 4 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.
The biggest injustice Missouri fans will claim is that 6-6 Iowa State, whom the Tigers throttled 52-17 on Oct. 15 for Homecoming, was chosen over Missouri for the Pinstripe Bowl, the Big 12’s final selection.
Speculation was that because the Tigers are leaving the conference, they would be dropped in the selection order. Coach Gary Pinkel even alluded to that in his postgame news conference after the team’s regular season finale against Kansas.
But Associate Athletic Director for Football Operations Mark Alnutt, who is responsible for the bulk of the work in negotiating with the bowls, praised the Big 12’s effort in helping Missouri finding a destination, even if it wasn’t one of the Big 12’s usual bowl tie-ins.
“They didn’t work against us at all,” Alnutt said. “The Big 12 really took initiative and was proactive in searching for bowl games that the team that was going to be left out — whether it was us or Iowa State — would be in a position to go to.”
Pinkel is taking pride in reaching a school-record seventh straight bowl game.
“It would not be wise to take going to bowls for granted,” Pinkel said. “We worked very hard, it’s been a very difficult season, and my players battled and fought to put us in this position.”
The saving grace for Missouri’s Big 12 bowl hopes could have come if Kansas State had been chosen for an at-large berth in the Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl selected Virginia Tech instead, meaning Oklahoma State will be the Big 12’s lone representative in a BCS bowl. LSU and Alabama will play for the national championship, and the Cowboys will play in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2.
Here is the Big 12 bowl lineup, in order of selection:
- Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 2, Glendale, Ariz.): Oklahoma State (11-1) v. Stanford (11-1)
- Cotton Bowl (Jan. 6, Dallas): Kansas State (10-2) v. Arkansas (10-2)
- Alamo Bowl (Dec. 29, San Antonio, Texas): Baylor (9-3) v. Washington (7-5)
- Insight Bowl (Dec. 30, Tempe, Ariz.): Oklahoma (9-3) v. Iowa (7-5)
- Holiday Bowl (Dec. 28, San Diego): Texas (7-5) v. California (7-5)
- Bowl of Texas (Dec. 30, Houston): Texas A&M (6-6) v. Northwestern (6-6)
- Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 30, Bronx, N.Y.): Iowa State (6-6) v. Rutgers (8-4)
Alnutt said Missouri had other options, but ultimately the Tigers thought the Independence Bowl was the best fit for the program.
“Today was a very interesting day, probably one of the more interesting days I’ve had in bowl selection, beginning probably this morning and up until about five minutes ago,” Alnutt said at the early evening announcement. “There were other (opportunities), but with the games yesterday, things sorted themselves out pretty quickly. Those other options were dwindling because those bowls were contracted to particular conferences and teams that had to go there. When it came down to it, this was the most viable option for us to choose.”
Other options could have included the TicketCity Bowl, played Jan. 2 in Dallas; the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, played Dec. 31 in San Francisco; and the BBVA Compass Bowl, played on Jan. 7 in Birmingham, Ala.
While the bowls themselves make the decisions about which schools to select, the conferences can influence their decisions. The easiest way for a league to do that would be to threaten not to renew its tie-in with the bowl.
There will be no changes to the financial impact of the bowl, despite the fact that Missouri takes a spot that was originally slotted for a team from the Mountain West. The Football Bowl Association said the payout for the Independence Bowl is $1.15 million per team.
That money will still go into the Big 12’s pot along with the rest of the conference’s bowl payouts, to be distributed after the season among the schools in the league.
Missouri has played in the Independence Bowl twice before. The Tigers fell to Arkansas 27-14 in 2003 and defeated South Carolina 38-31 in 2005 after completing a 21-point comeback, the largest for the program.
North Carolina comes into the game at 7-5 overall and 3-5 in the ACC under interim coach Everett Withers, who took over in late July when Butch Davis was fired. The Tar Heels lost four of their final six regular season games, with wins over Wake Forest and Duke keeping them from a complete late-season collapse.
Players and coaches were unavailable to comment on the opponent because the ACC asked that Missouri not reveal which school it was playing until after the BCS selection show at 7:15 p.m. CST. Missouri’s media availability was before that time.
Players were able to comment on the bowl itself, though, and were excited to have a place to play postseason football despite any perceived injustice.
“I’m excited, really when you think about it, we could have been left with no bowl,” wide receiver Jerrell Jackson said. “We’re blessed with what we’ve got.”
The players had different approaches going into Sunday about how to deal with the uncertainty of where they would be playing. Jackson tried to figure everything out but eventually saw so many different projections on the Internet that he gave up.
“I figured I’d find out around 6 o’clock tonight,” he said. “I just sat back and relaxed and didn’t stress myself.”
Wide receiver T.J. Moe, meanwhile, said that he had been doing research on how the BCS games would affect Missouri’s status.
“I just like to know how things work. It’s like taking apart a motor,” Moe said. “That’s what I was doing, taking apart the motor on this whole BCS deal, trying to figure out how everything fell.”
How it fell will likely leave disappointment in the minds of Missouri fans. Moe had a simple solution for that, though.
“Win by about 55 points,” he said.
Missouri is set to start practicing Friday. A final bowl preparation schedule is expected to be released Monday.