Going into the 2006 season, the Missouri football team had high expectations for itself.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was telling everybody who would listen that he “really liked this group of guys,” but not many people thought that would translate to wins.
Picked to finish fifth in the north division of the Big 12 Conference in a preseason media poll, diehard fans were about the only people who expected Missouri to produce much after the loss of star quarterback Brad Smith to the NFL.
The team turned heads by starting the season 7-1, with the only loss coming on the road to a tough Texas A&M team. The Missouri football team, as well as fans, thought the Tigers should have won that game and that Missouri could be title contenders in the conference.
Missouri then dropped three straight games, losing at home against Oklahoma, at Nebraska and Iowa State, and the grumbling began.
It was the third loss, the one to Iowa State, which set people off. Referees apologized for a blown holding call at the end of the game, which would have given Missouri a touchdown and the win.
“Man, I’m upset cause the University of Missouri got screwed by the refs,” defensive end Xzavie Jackson said after the announcement was made. “We beat them. We beat them and got no credit for it.”
The Tigers throttled Kansas 42-17, breaking a three-game losing streak against the Jayhawks, to end the season. Players beat the bass drum awarded to the winner of the Border Showdown and ran through the crowd, hugging and high-fiving the people in the stands.
All of those good feelings vanished after a 39-38 loss in the Sun Bowl to Oregon State, but for Missouri, the loss didn’t diminish the season.
“I’m so proud of our seniors and what they’ve done for this program,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “… I feel good about the players, and how they left this program. (The loss to Oregon State) hurts, and that’s good it hurts.”
The loss, Pinkel said, gives the coaching staff different things to work on and players the extra drive to ensure a painful loss doesn’t happen again.
“I hope they watch the film over and over until it kills them,” said senior Dedrick Harrington, one of the team’s captains. “You’ve got to learn from mistakes and continue to improve.”
Senior defensive end Xzavie Jackson, in tears moments after the comeback win by the Beavers, had already put the game behind after coming out of the locker room.
“Man, it hurts after how bad we just got hammered,” he said, “but we’ve got to try to work and get the University of Missouri to the next level.”
Pinkel said, in the end, the loss will help his team.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t finish it the way we wanted to,” Pinkel said. “If you win, it feels great. If you lose, you learn from it. You always learn from experiences and move on. These guys are coming back and know we have a great football team.”
Missouri will have a good number of returning starters in key positions for the 2007 season. The Tigers will lose two players on the offensive and defensive lines, positions Missouri coaches say have great depth, as well as two linebackers, a safety and a receiver.
The schedule also is set up nicely for the Tigers in 2007. They play Nebraska, Texas A&M and Texas Tech all at home, and the only road game the Tigers probably won’t be favored in is a mid-October trip to Oklahoma.
Juniors on the team have already started making plans for next season.
“I don’t want to go out like this,” tight end Martin Rucker said. “In high school, I was never on a winning team and hated going out like that. A lot of people have invested a lot of time, a lot of blood, a lot of sweat and a lot of tears into this team. I think can do something special.”