Six wins, bowl eligibility and a win against Nebraska. Each goal was possible at the beginning of the season, but after Missouri’s meltdown against Kansas, expectations changed.
Four weeks later, expectations have changed again, except this time the outlook is far more positive.
After a 62-31 win against Texas Tech on Saturday, the Tigers talked about winning 10 games, playing for the Big 12 Conference championship in Kansas City and going to a big-money bowl game, a far cry from the post-Kansas reactions.
Missouri improved to 6-2, (2-2 Big 12) and moved back into the Associated Press poll at No. 21. The Tigers are off this week before heading to Colorado for a Nov. 8 game with the Buffaloes. Coach Gary Pinkel said the players won’t practice until Thursday, and can enjoy the win against the Red Raiders for a few extra days.
“It’s real important to refresh them,” Pinkel said. “It will get them healed up and get them away a little bit then come back Thursday ready to go.”
When the Kansas game ended, MU seemed downtrodden, and it became a possibility that it would not recover.
After a bye week that could have made or broke their season, the Tigers chose the former, beating Nebraska 41-24 on Oct. 11. Suddenly, Missouri was back in the chase for a bowl game and the Big 12 North Division championship.
The Tigers didn’t embarrass themselves the next week against Oklahoma, playing the Sooners to a tie in the second half. Nobody was prepared for what came next, though.
Missouri’s win against Texas Tech boosted the Tigers to a level they have not been at since 1998. MU ensured that it would not be home for the holidays with its sixth win, making it bowl eligible.
It is crucial for Missouri to have another strong bye week before the Colorado game, Cornerback Calvin Washington said.
“It’s so important that we don’t get a big head,” Washington said. “Just like any other week, when Tuesday comes it is over with. We have to really let this one go. There is a lot of football left.”
Instead of discussing the joys of being bowl-eligible, most players took the same stance as Washington, making it abundantly clear that they aren’t satisfied with merely qualifying for postseason play.
Tailback Damien Nash said he is not surprised with the Tigers steady rise in the standings.
“I think we can go 10-2,” Nash said. “I think we can win the Big 12 North and Big 12 championship. Our feelings are sky-high right now.”
Nash’s proclamations might have seemed bold after the Kansas game, but they are not that unrealistic anymore. Of Missouri’s final four regular season games, none of the Tigers’ opponents is ranked.
In addition to the Colorado game, MU hosts a rebuilding Texas A&M and struggling Iowa State. The Tigers also must travel to Kansas State on Nov. 22. The Wildcats (6-3, 2-2) are the only opponent left on Missouri’s schedule with a winning record.
If MU wins the rest of its games, it would need a little help from some of its conference brethren. Nebraska sits atop the Big 12 North at 3-1 and would need to lose again in the conference for Missouri to force a tie. The Tigers would win that tiebreaker because of their win against the Cornhuskers and advance to the Big 12 Championship game.
Missouri would also need another Kansas loss to avoid losing a tiebreaker to the Jayhawks. Kansas has a tough road ahead, especially with quarterback Bill Whittemore’s right-shoulder injury.
“Nothing is out of the question,” Washington said. “I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t expect to win all of these games.”