Everything the Missouri football team wanted this season is gone.
There will be no Big 12 Conference North division title. There will be no bowl game. There will be no winning season.
As a result, the Tigers’ motivation for Saturday’s final game at Iowa State is as pure as it gets. Some of the Tigers said at Monday’s somber media day they will be playing for the love of the game.
“Everybody’s aware of that, but it is tough,” wide receiver Sean Coffey said. “But at the same time, football, this is what we like to do. You’ve just got a love for the game. I’m still excited to play the game this weekend because I still have another opportunity to play football.
“After this, seven to nine months, I won’t play football, really. (There’s) spring ball, but I will have a long time until I play football, and I’m up for it. I’m just excited for the game just like anyone.”
Running back Damien Nash said Saturday’s game represents an obligation to play out the season with a strong effort.
“With the competitors we have, we got to do it,” Nash said. “It’s still a competition out there. We’re not really playing for nothing, but we (are) out there to build stats and just to compete. We got to go out there and be ready to compete.”
For proof this motivation can effectively propel a team, the Tigers (4-6, 2-5 Big 12 Conference) need to look no further than their previous opponent, Kansas. The Jayhawks were the first in the Big 12 North division eliminated from bowl contention. That, though, didn’t stop them from trying.
A 30-21 home loss to Colorado on Nov. 6 ended the Jayhawks’ chances of making a bowl. A week later, they played inspired football, nearly beating Texas. Vince Young saved the Longhorns with two touchdowns in the final five minutes to win 27-23.
Then last week, the Jayhawks finished their season with a dominant 31-14 win against Missouri at Memorial Stadium.
The loss gave the Tigers a fifth straight loss and guaranteed their first losing season since 2002.
“Obviously, we’d like to finish on a positive note, considering the difficulties we’ve had,” coach Gary Pinkel said.
Whereas the Jayhawks played spoiler to the Tigers’ hopes, Coffey said he would appreciate the opportunity to do the same to Iowa State. The Cyclones control their destiny to win the Big 12 North; however, if Nebraska defeats Colorado on Friday, the Cyclones would not need to beat Missouri to win the North.
“Last week, we had a lot of things to look forward to, and that one loss could change everything,” Coffey said. “Now they’ve got a lot of things they can look forward to. A lot of stuff has been thrown in a lot of things we’ve had. Why not try to go up there and throw something in there’s?”
Another form of motivation could be the Tigers have not won in Ames, Iowa, since 1998.
Regardless of the result of Saturday’s game, though, Nash won’t be pleased with the overall outcome of his junior season.
“It will make us feel good that we went out there and beat somebody,” Nash said, “but other than that, this year was just worthless.”