There were no dramatic twists, no last-minute changes or surprises. Just the announcement everyone was expecting: Missouri will play in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., for the second time in three years.
Ed Stewart, an MU associate athletic director, announced Sunday afternoon what pundits and projections have been saying for the past week. The Tigers will play against South Carolina at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 30 at Independence Stadium and will be televised nationally on ESPN.
“At about 4:15 p.m., we received an invitation to participate in the 2005 Independence Bowl, and we graciously accepted that opportunity,” said Stewart, who made the announcement because athletic director Mike Alden was away on business.
The Tigers lost 27-14 to Arkansas in the 2003 Independence Bowl in their first bowl game since 1998. Missouri’s won the 1998 Insight.com Bowl with a 34-31 decision against West Virginia.
Coach Gary Pinkel said he was pleased with the Tigers’ chance to return to Shreveport, where Stewart said about 8,000 Missouri fans traveled to the bowl in 2003.
“We had a great experience in the Independence Bowl a couple years ago, obviously came up short against Arkansas,” Pinkel said. “To go down again and have another opportunity against a very good South Carolina team is something I’m sure our players are going to look forward to.
“This is one of our goals that we have every year in our program: on a consistent basis, we want to go to bowls.”
Perhaps the only drama surrounding the announcement was which Southeastern Conference team Missouri (6-5) would meet in Shreveport, South Carolina or Florida. In the end, Georgia’s victory in the SEC Championship on Saturday sent it to the Sugar Bowl, Florida grabbed an Outback Bowl bid, LSU went to the Peach Bowl, and the Gamecocks (7-4) fell to the Independence Bowl.
“I thought we were going to play Florida,” senior linebacker Derrick Ming said. “But, South Carolina, that’s even better because I think it’s a greater opportunity for us to prove that we are good and to go up against great competition also.”
For the Tigers, Saturday’s results didn’t seem to change their destination at all. If anything, Colorado’s poor showing in its 70-3 loss to Texas in the Big 12 Championship probably confirmed that the Independence Bowl would choose the Tigers over the Buffaloes.
“We kind of expected it, just from the reports of the last couple days,” senior quarterback Brad Smith said. “They wanted us to come down there and they were excited about inviting us.”
Players, though, said it didn’t matter that the announcement wasn’t a surprise.
“It’s still exciting, because we’re still playing,” senior guard Tony Palmer said. “It’s a new season, and we’re definitely looking forward to it.”
BACK TO WORK: The Tigers practiced Saturday for the first time since losing to Kansas State on Nov. 19.
“We hadn’t practiced in a while,” Pinkel said. “They had worked out a little bit during the week, so that helped us. It went very, very well. Our players had a lot of enthusiasm.”
Pinkel said the team will release a specific pre-bowl practice schedule early this week.
He also said that running back Marcus Woods is recovering from “a severe groin strain” but that he should return to practice in about a week. He said wide receiver Sean Coffey would also possibly return from a shoulder injury.
“We hope to get him back,” Pinkel said. “He’s working hard to get back, and hopefully that’ll take place. Other than that, we’re pretty healthy. I think we’ll have almost everybody we started the season with.”