It was easy to push aside the after-effects of the Missouri football team’s loss to Kansas State on Saturday. The day belonged to Wildcats coach Bill Snyder, marking the final time one of college football’s greatest coaches would man the sideline.
The tiny contingent of Missouri fans that made the three-plus hour trip to Manhattan hung around in the chilly November air as Snyder addressed the crowd after the game, secure in the knowledge that, even after Missouri had given away a 14-point second-half lead, the team was still headed to its second bowl in three seasons.
But today, the reality is that the Tigers, bowl-eligible as they may be, are limping into postseason play on the heels of an ugly loss to an underachieving Kansas State team.
Saturday’s game was vintage Tigers. Players pushed aside the emotion that formed in anticipation of Snyder’s last game and jumped out to a 28-14 third quarter lead. But after recording a safety and then scoring on the consequent drive, Kansas State battled back and eventually took a 29-28 fourth-quarter lead. In the end, Missouri’s own comeback fell short, losing 36-28 in front of a nearly sold out Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
There were bright spots to Saturday’s loss. Jason Simpson, who was all over the field and wrapped up Wildcats 11 different times, did everything he could to ensure Missouri exited Manhattan with its first victory against Kansas State in 11 tries. Tight end Chase Coffman caught six passes for 88 yards and a touchdown against the team his father starred on so many years ago.
But it wasn’t enough. Too many turnovers. Too many penalties. Too many mistakes.
“This isn’t rocket science,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said after the game. “You can’t make mistakes like that against good football teams.”
Because Missouri managed to reach bowl eligibility, criticism of the team have been less severe than they were a year ago, when the Tigers finished 5-6. But it’s hard to ignore the way Missouri has played throughout the past month. The Tigers closed out in the same fashion they did in 2004, playing their worst football of the year, and letting a number of teams battle back from large deficits to win.
Missouri went 1-3 in its final four games this season, getting outscored in that span by a combined 106-74, and winning only against lowly Baylor at home. Compare that to the 2004 finale, when the team also dropped three of its last four, and was outscored 104-58.
It’s still unclear which postseason bowl Missouri will attend. That won’t be announced, according to director of media relations Chad Moller, until Dec. 4. Technically, a winning season doesn’t guarantee the Tigers a spot in a bowl, but Pinkel, after Saturday’s game, said he was told earlier in the week that his team is indeed bowl-bound.
“(We’re) going to go to a bowl, there’s not question about that, I’m just not sure which one,” Pinkel said. “But honestly, I haven’t even thought about it.”
After Saturday’s game, many of Missouri’s players expressed relief, saying the university’s Thanksgiving Break will be a chance for the team to relax and regroup before turning its attention to a bowl opponent.
“It’s a blessing,” said quarterback Brad Smith, who threw a fourth-quarter interception to end any hope of a Missouri comeback. “Because we have another opportunity to play a bowl game, another opportunity to get prepared. So I’m excited about that.”
Some players, though, didn’t share Smith’s sentiment.
“Right now, the bowl doesn’t even matter,” said safety David Overstreet, who finished with seven tackles against Kansas State. “After this loss, you can say, ‘Yeah, we still got a bowl game.’ But this was the one that we wanted. Coming into this game, we weren’t even worried about the bowl game. The bowl game really doesn’t matter right now, I’m not even going to be thinking about it, probably until we come back.”