The State of The Program
And so one of the most-anticipated seasons of Missouri football ends in one of the most ugly manners possible:
-by falling behind 42-0
-by giving up 600 yards of offense
-by missing a bowl
-by finishing in national irrelevance five years to the night the program sat at #1 in the country after beating Kansas on ABC
This is a rather critical moment in Missouri football history.
For those who are fans of the team and/or college football, it’s worthy of a serious discussion.Now I know speculation/details on Gary Pinkel’s personal life are titillating and a hell of a lot more interesting than discussing offensive line injuries, but for the purpose of this discussion---despite all of the rumors that are out there---I will be focusing on what’s going on on the field.
And what’s going on on the field is more than enough to discuss.
This year was a disaster…and not just because of the 5-7 record.
With the exception of 2008---with Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Danario Alexander, Chase Coffman, William Moore, and Sean Weatherspoon all returning from that incredible 2007 team---the 2012 season was expected to own the St. Louis sports scene as September approached.
The Cardinals were flopping around. The Rams weren’t expected to do anything. And hockey was and still is dealing with its labor issues.
Missouri had the spotlight.
And on September 8th, it wasn’t just shining locally…but nationally.
It was tough to ask for much more. The Tigers were a new member of the best college football conference in the country. They had their initiation on a perfect Saturday night ESPN game against Georgia. Faurot Field was packed and the center of the college football universe. And, the two-point underdog Tigers actually had an eight-point lead in the second half.
But, courtesy of some horrible quarterbacking, snapping, and fake-punt-in-own-territory-decision-making, that eight-point lead became a 21-point loss.
Oddly enough---considering how miraculous Missouri leading #3 Georgia by eight in the 3rd quarter would be right now---I recall thinking (and did write in my column following the game) that I wasn’t impressed by what I was seeing from Missouri even when they were leading.
Unfortunately, the bad vibes were accurate, and the Tigers were fortunate Arizona State and Central Florida mismanaged some plays deep in Missouri territory…or else that 3-2 start could’ve very well been 1-4. And, if Tennessee remembered to cover that 6’6” top recruit in the country, 5-7 could’ve been 4-8.
On the other hand…
In fairness, without James Franklin’s injury, the loss to Vanderbilt could’ve been a victory. And in fairness, without James Franklin’s dreadful performance, the loss at Florida could’ve been a victory. And, in fairness, without, well, a wide variety of unique occurrences (Sheldon Richardson going to class, Sheldon Richardson accepting his punishment, James Franklin’s injury again, and the defense knowing whether or not to be in man or zone), the loss to Syracuse could’ve been a victory.
So, we’ve got our could’ves and should’ves out of the way on both sides.
I do think it’s quite relevant, however, when assessing this team to discuss the injuries on the offensive line. I’m well aware few fans enjoy discussing injuries and their impact on a team’s season…especially when passion is high and the future of a coach and program are being discussed. However, in all of my years as a Missouri football fan, I don’t recall the offensive line being as banged up---starting back in August---as the 2012 Tigers.
Everyone deals with injuries. I’m well aware of that. I’m not using them to excuse the performance or any losses. I’m using it for the purpose of the “self-evaluation” of the state of the program. The point is that without damn near every starter on the offensive line going down, many of the issues that made the team look so horrid at times are not as big of factors.
Discussion of injuries gets eye rolls from many, and I understand that, but I’m attempting to put everything on the table when analyzing the state of the program, and whereas the 2007 team had some---for the most part---good fortune when it came to health, the 2012 team---both on the offensive line and at quarterback---had some bad fortune.
The 1999 Rams had their starting offensive line together for every game of the year. The 2012 Missouri Tigers didn’t have their projected starters together for one game. It matters.
However, the injuries to the 2012 Tigers don’t explain their performance in the second half of the 2010 season and the 2011 season.
And, that’s what I want to make sure I address.
Following a 2007 season with a team that was one half away from playing for the BCS Championship…and following a Big 12 North Championship in 2008…the Tigers were primed for some big steps in bringing in talent to keep this run alive. But, similar to the failure of Larry Smith to utilize the momentum from the 1997 and 1998 teams, Gary Pinkel and his staff have a record of 14-15 against FBS teams since beating #1 Oklahoma in October of 2010. Here’s a breakdown of those 14 wins---against FBS teams…so not including Western Illinois and Southeastern Louisiana---with the team names and their records in that season:
-Kansas (2010, 2011) (3-9 in 2010) (2-10 in 2011)
-Iowa State (2010, 2011) (5-7 in 2010) (6-7 in 2011)
-Kansas State (2010) (7-6 record)
-Miami-Ohio (2011) (4-8 record)
-Texas A & M (2011) (7-6 record)
-Texas (2011) (8-5 record)
-Texas Tech (2011) (5-7 record)
-North Carolina (2011) (7-6 record)
-Arizona State (2012) (7-5 record)
-Central Florida (2012) (9-3 record)
-Kentucky (2012) (2-10 record)
-Tennessee (2012) (5-7 record)
Those 14 wins over FBS schools since October 24th, 2010, Missouri defeated 12 schools (KU and Iowa State twice) with a combined record of 77-96. Of those 12 teams, two won eight games…and one of those two was Central Florida.
Missouri has played 10-win teams nine times since October 24th, 2010. They’re 0-9…with a margin of defeat averaging 18 points.
Bottom line: for the last 25 months, Missouri’s gotten healthy against bad teams and gotten embarrassed by good ones.
For that to be the result of a team that was one win away from playing for the BCS Championship…and a team the following year that produced 10 wins and numerous NFL players…well, that’s indefensible.
And, that brings me back to that 2007 Big 12 Championship Game…the “one win away from playing for the BCS Championship.”
Oklahoma won the game 38-17…even though it was 14-14 at the half. I specifically recall being confused by Missouri’s more conservative approach in the game, which was the exact opposite style of what brought them to the #1 spot in the country.
Missouri scored 30 points in every game they played that season…including a loss at Norman, Oklahoma…and in the biggest game in the history of the program, they went conservative and scored 17 points.
Daniel. Maclin. Alexander. Temple. Coffman. Rucker. Franklin.
All are either on NFL rosters or spent time on NFL rosters. All were part of the 2007 Tigers.
And with a chance to play for a National Championship, they combined to score three points in the second half.
Gary Pinkel’s quote following the 21-point loss costing his program a chance at a National Championship?
"I would like to think that if you're 11-2 it's somewhat a success," Pinkel said.
And here’s Pinkel’s exchange with a reporter following a 62-21 loss in the 2008 Big 12 Championship dropping Missouri to 9-4 and out of the polls in a year in which they were ranked #6 preseason:
Q. Just considering where you were last year, number one going into the Big 12 championship game and knowing where you were the start the year, how do you feel right now in terms of -- do you feel like you let yourselves down from where you were a year ago?
COACH PINKEL: "Well, I don't think that. They can answer those guys. But our goal is to win the Big 12 North championship in a three-point loss and a five-point loss. I've said that before. Anybody, we all evaluate it the way we want to. But our goal is to win the North championship, we did.
Do I wish the regular season would have ended up that we were 11-1 instead of 9-3, yeah, we should have done that. But I think we had a good year, and you always look back. There are a few teams every year, Texas Tech is one that did it this year. First time in ten years they went up to that highest level.
In order to do that, you've got to win every close game you have as we did a year ago. And I think it certainly gives some credit to some other people, but my players battle, and I'm not going to in any way say that we didn't have a good year. We had a great year."
In that “great year,” Missouri lost at home to Oklahoma State, lost by 25 at Texas after falling behind 35-3 at the half, lost to archrival Kansas, and got embarrassed by Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game.
Many fans gave Pinkel a break following the blowout loss in 2007 by saying, “If you would’ve told me at the beginning of the year that they’d be playing for a right to play in the National Championship Game, I would’ve taken that in a heartbeat.”
While I disagreed with that perspective then and still do now, for the purpose of this discussion, I’ll apply it consistently to 2008.
Ranked #6 in the country preseason, would you have accepted 10-4 with an overtime win against Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl?
It has to work both ways.
There has to be consistency in the discussion.
The same thing goes for 2010. After beating #1 Oklahoma, the Tigers were undefeated at 7-0 and ranked #6 in the country. They finished the season losing three of their next six…including losses to unranked Texas Tech and Iowa.
Bottom line: Missouri had great opportunities in 2007, 2008, and 2010…and the results were a Cotton Bowl win over a team with an interim coach, an overtime win in the Alamo Bowl, and a loss in the Insight Bowl.
And over the last two seasons---seasons that should have featured star recruits from the fruit of the 2007, 2008, and 2010 teams’ labor---Missouri went 15-12.
When discussing the current state of the Missouri football program, I see some fans get personal…whether it be with other Tiger fans or with taking shots at Pinkel. I’m not the discussion police, and I welcome all words into the open marketplace of ideas, but I would submit that name-calling and/or personal attacks on those with a dissenting opinion does a disservice to one’s case if one intends for his or her case to be taken seriously.
I, personally, try to put my emotion for the program to the side and ask what is best based on what I know to be the case. Based on empirical data. Not on rumors. If the rumors prove to be true, then I’ll factor those in when I know. If you don’t want to handle it that way in your analysis of what should be done in Columbia, that’s completely cool, but that’s how I’m going to handle it here in my little corner of self-indulgence.
So, with that disclaimer out of the way…
I think it’s in the best interests of the program for Gary Pinkel to go.
Has he “earned” the right to have a year like this year?
Did he take Missouri football to a level that no one could’ve possibly foreseen when he took the job over?
Should next year’s schedule be more favorable than this year?
Should the offensive line and quarterback situations be much better next year?
But, what is the goal?
Just getting into a bowl game?
Just surviving in the SEC?
Not getting embarrassed?
If anything, Pinkel’s tenure showed what is possible in Columbia…and not just for one fleeting week in 2007…but to start 2008…and deep into 2010.
Pinkel himself scolded fans for a perceived “moral victory” when the Tigers didn’t get blown off the field by Texas.
So why should fans accept the run of Alamo Bowl, Texas Bowl, Insight Bowl, Independence Bowl, and No Bowl that the program is on this deep into Pinkel’s tenure?
2012 is one season.
But those past five years are a trend.
And they’re trending down.
I want to make it clear that I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as, say, the Rams’ decision regarding Steve Spagnuolo earlier this year. I also don’t expect the University to fire him. However, my fear is that with the direction Missouri is going, Pinkel could leave the program in a similar downtrodden way to which he found it.
I realize that sounds far-fetched considering how bad things were after the final season of Larry Smith’s tenure in 2000, but relatively speaking, another losing season---and with Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Texas A & M all on the schedule, it’s not hard to imagine---and the Oregon-esque uniforms and new conference affiliation will mean little to top-tier recruits.
I firmly believe Missouri is not invited to the SEC without Gary Pinkel getting them to the levels they got to for periods of 2007, 2008, and 2010.
But, I fear that Pinkel is not the person to get them to the level they need to get to now that they’re there.
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