06

 Missouri Football: The New Fourth Season In St. Louis Sports

Disclaimer: Until a bowl game leads to progressing toward a championship, I’ll roll my eyes at bowl games.

Disclaimer Part 2: I realize I’m in the minority on that view, so I’ll focus on the the games and any potential impact.


Here’s what I loved about Friday night and the Cotton Bowl: people around St. Louis, who otherwise wouldn’t consider themselves Missouri fans, were not only paying attention…but they were excited.

So while my emotions wouldn’t have been ravaged by a loss---in comparison to the South Carolina loss or the Auburn loss…because you’re still playing toward a championship at that point---many in the public got on board, and big picture, that’s the name of the game.

Maybe I’m off the mark here, but I don’t feel like the greatness of the 2007 season had a lasting effect on the public’s interest like one may have hoped or thought. This time around, I think/hope that there will indeed be a lasting impact, because of one main difference: the SEC.

St. Louis Area football fans got a chance to experience the drastic difference that is SEC football this year, and how it’s not just a game…but a culture. And it’s the pageantry and the experiences around the game that bring the casual fans on board. While I---and maybe you---like to tilt on Twitter about the odd defensive strategies against Auburn, the reality is---much like my views on the bowl system---we’re in the minority. What builds a program’s fan base and weaves a team’s successes and failures into part of the lifeblood of the community is not the hardcore fans. It’s the casual fans.

And this year, Missouri brought a bunch of them on board.

Look at Busch Stadium during a playoff game…or any game for that matter. While a higher percentage of fans may have an appreciation for a ground ball to the right side of the infield with a runner on second and less than two outs than at other ballparks, it’s still packed with people who just want to be around Cardinal baseball. Naturally, a large part of that interest is the incredible amount of success the organization has had historically and more recently dating back to 2000. But, another part of it is the experience of a Cardinal baseball game and the fact that Cardinal baseball is a part of the area’s culture.

I think Missouri football took a step in that direction this year, and the win---and the drama of the win---in the Cotton Bowl only made it better. Now, let me make it crystal clear that I’m not saying Missouri football is surging toward the same stratosphere that Cardinal baseball exists in. Only a handful of teams in the world can claim the passion and support the Cardinals have. But, my premise is that Missouri football has gone from an outlier in the St. Louis Area sports scene to a potential for being the fourth season…joining the Cardinals, Rams, and Blues.

Now, naturally, it’s absurdly important for the 2014 Tigers to continue on the path of the 2013 Tigers…and not revert back to 2012. This swell of interest and support will not exist if 2014 and 2015 look like 2011 and 2012. But with the guaranteed returns of Maty Mauk and DGB…and with the potential to see Henry Josey again…the offense has some major components in place for 2014. If Josey comes back, the Tigers will have nine starters returning.

And another aspect of 2014 that looks to be in Missouri’s favor is the schedule. That’s such a huge part of the SEC experience. If you’re trip through the SEC West includes Alabama, Auburn, or LSU, your expectations change. It’s human nature. But, Missouri’s trip through the West goes through a likely Johnny Football-less Texas A & M (again) and a home game against Arkansas.

Here’s how it looks:

August 30th: South Dakota St.

September 6th: at Toledo

September 13th: Central Florida

September 20th: Indiana

September 27th: at South Carolina

October 4th: Bye

October 11th: Georgia

October 18th: at Florida

October 25th: Vanderbilt

November 1st: Kentucky

November 8th: Bye

November 15th: at Texas A & M

November 22nd: at Tennessee

November 29th: Arkansas

Now, who would’ve ever thought that the one BCS Bowl-winning team on Missouri’s 2014 schedule would be Central Florida, but that’s what they’ve got. Once again, a four-week stretch beginning on September 27th will be the defining period for the Tigers with a trip to South Carolina, a home game against Georgia, and a trip to Florida. And, for the third year in a row, no original member of the SEC is in Columbia after November 2nd. That’s just not a coincidence. The good ol’ boys don’t want their teams risking cold weather in November. But, we’ll get a chance to see if the Missouri-Arkansas rivalry can take with the first SEC installment November 29th in Columbia.

Bottom line: there’ll be a whole lot of people looking forward to the 2014 season that had little to no interest in the 2013 season when it kicked off on August 31st against Murray State. And, there’ll be a whole lot of people scheduling trips to Columbia for games in September that would’ve never thought about it a couple of years ago.

Yes, I’m thrilled about a 12-win season. I couldn’t be more shocked by it. The SEC Championship Game experience is one of the best overall sporting event experiences I’ve attended. I’m still in somewhat of a bit of shock that Missouri was actually playing in that game. The year was incredible, and a monster tip of the cap to Gary Pinkel, his staff, and his players for what they were able to do.

However, I want more, and I believe more is realistic. When you’re up with five minutes left in the third quarter on a game that would send you to play for the National Championship, you realize what is possible. And the mountaintop is possible.

Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen great seasons get followed up by duds. The 1998 Tigers were a hell of a football team. They led every opponent they played at the half (and that included trips to Ohio State, Nebraska, and Texas A & M…and hosting top-ranked Kansas State), but the 1999 team was a mess. The 2007 team will always be held in the highest of esteem, but the 2008 team didn’t come close to living up to expectations, and they wound up with a disappointing finish to the season getting beaten by Kansas, blown off the field by Oklahoma, and having to edge out a win against Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl.

Carry this momentum. Build upon this foundation. The trend is so positive, and the ceiling is so limitless.

My hope is that in 10 years we’ll look back on the stunning success of the 2013 Tigers as the moment St. Louis became a college football town.

Log-in to post your comments, or you can email me at tmckernan@insidestl.com.

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