COLUMBIA — Sunday night could have been about progress.
With a small group of supporters, players and reporters in attendance at the Clinton Club at Mizzou Arena, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and executive associate athletics director Bryan Maggard announced that the team had accepted an invitation to play in the 2014 AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic against Oklahoma State.
"It's good to be here doing this again," Pinkel said. "Took a year off."
A year ago, Missouri was not eligible for a bowl after going 5-7 in its first season in the Southeastern Conference. A berth in the Cotton Bowl should have been progress. But it didn't feel that way.
Not when moments earlier, on multiple televisions throughout the Clinton Club, the "BCS Selection Show" revealed the BCS Championship Game. Florida State vs. Auburn. Twenty-four hours hadn't even passed since Missouri had lost to Auburn 59-42 in the SEC Championship Game. While Auburn was celebrating a shot at a national championship, Missouri's celebration was limited to a small round of applause from the crowd at the announcement of the Cotton Bowl.
The 2013 Missouri football team wanted to be different. Getting to a bowl game is only one of the blocks listed in the team's locker room. The other was the national championship. With a chance to be the first Missouri team to head to the BCS, Missouri lost.
Now, it's 2007 all over again.
The 2007 Missouri team is regarded as the best team Pinkel has coached. The Tigers won 11 games in the 2007 regular season but faltered in the conference championship game against Oklahoma. Missouri would then get left out of the BCS and beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
2013 isn't much different. Eleven regular season wins had the Tigers thinking about the national championship. A conference championship loss has them playing in the same bowl the program found itself in six years ago.
"I don't think we ever measured ourselves to them," senior wide receiver L'Damian Washington said. "We wanted to stand out and be distinct. That's something we were aiming for. But it seems to always come down to we're following in the same footsteps as the 2007 team. That's not a good thing, because they were the originals. They were the first to do it. They're going to be like, 'Oh the 2013 team is just like the '07 team.' We want to be our own team."
Missouri had its chance to be its own team on Saturday night, but even with the loss, Pinkel has grown sick of the comparisons between the 2007 and 2013 teams.
"I should draw a line in the sand a little bit, too," Pinkel said. "The 2007 team was a great football team that did the things it did, but this team, the 2013 team is very unique in its way. To sit there and throw them all in the same basket and say 'Oh, they're the same,' well they're not. This team has had its things that it has had to overcome to do things it had to do."
Maybe the announcement took place too soon after the SEC Championship loss. The disappointment was still fresh in Pinkel's face. The players didn't pretend to hide it, either.
But Missouri is back on track. A program that made bowl games in seven straight seasons before falling short in 2012 will once again play in the postseason. This time, it's against an old Big 12 foe, Oklahoma State.
The progress might not have been evident on Sunday night, but when the Tigers take the field at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 3, Missouri hopes the two years in a new league will be evident against Oklahoma State.
"We represent the SEC," Pinkel said. "We have great pride in that."
Tickets for the game will go on sale to the public at noon on Monday at MUTigers.com or at 1-800-CAT-PAWS. Tickets are priced at $140 apiece.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.