Sunday, October 28, 2007

Deja Vu All Over Again

Saturday's win over a struggling ISU Cyclones team wasn't sparkling, or noisy, like the W's over Nebraska and Texas Tech, but was a win nonetheless in a season of convention going the way of the T-Rex in college football. Regardless, the Tigers were 7-1 overall, 3-1 in the Big 12, and found out Sunday afternoon they had vaulted to #9 in the Coaches', AP, and BCS polls.

And we left the game feeling like we got kicked in the stomach.

We frantically sent text messages and made calls describing what had happened. We listened for Gervino to relay the news on the post-game show. We scoured the interwebs upon arrival at the house looking for an update. An update on our injured star defensive player.

Pig Brown writhed in pain on the turf of Faurot Saturday, with the game hovering in garbage time. His leg was de-mobilized, and he was carried and carted off the field, towel-over-dome, defeated and in obvious pain.

For those of you who haven't heard, Pig Brown, he of two Big XII Defensive Player of the Week awards, has been lost for the season with a ruptured achilles tendon. Brown would have been a top contender for conference defensive player of the year.

Sound familiar?

October 21, 2006. The Tigers had just knocked off Kansas State at home, rebounding from a loss in College Station the week before, to go 7-1 overall, 3-1 in the Big XII. The win, though, was horribly tempered by the loss of Missouri's all-time sacks king and the biggest playmaker on their defense, defensive end Brian Smith. A broken hip had ended his playing career.

The Tigers lost their next three games, and four of their last five.

The vibe was not of the jovial manner it could have been Saturday night in CoMo. It's because we've seen this all before - promise, build-up, even the unwarranted air of expectation surrounding the ballclub. And then the other shoe drops... or the broken hip, or ruptured achilles.

So where from here? Mizzou has lost, arguably, their most irreplacable piece besides Chase Daniel. Justin Garrett and Del Howard are part of a secondary that has been free-wheelingly rotated throughout 2007, so at least they aren't completely green. The litmus test won't come this weekend in Boulder against the Buffs' offense, which is a modest 10th in the Big XII, though any game in the thin air is tough goings. Mizzou has lost their last 4 contests in Boulder, and only won once (1997) there since anyone on their roster has been on earth (1983).

The defense will look to the Sean Weatherspoons, Darnell Terrells, Stryker Sulaks, Brock Christophers and Ziggy Hoods of the world to elevate their games. Garrett and Howard know the shoes they will try to collectively fill are colossal in nature. That D that looked stout against Nebraska, and downright impressive against T-Tech, knows they have a whole new challenge on their hands.

And we'll just try to shake that familiar sinking feeling.

-Note: this post also appears on the new ESPNU@MIZZOU blog... and I think you should give it a look.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Right Where They Should Be

Note - this post appears on our new ESPNU @ MIZZOU blog, as well.

This is a homer post. An unabashed, uncompromising piece of pro-Tiger propoganda from myself as a Tiger fan and MU student. Why a homer post to inaugurate this blog? Because that's how I feel right now; I'm about as pleased as I have ever been as a Tiger football backer, and it couldn't have come at a more welcome time.

You see, I didn't grow up following the Tigers. I'm one of those out-of-state J-school students who has his Apple laptop and out-of-state liscense plates and non-Cardinals baseball cap. I don't engage in those "Which St. Louis high school are you from" conversations that permeate the social culture of MU. Sometimes I'd like to - even if I was lying throughout the convo - I'd probably have made more friends here.

So my fandom spans ALL the way BACK to 2004. I know, such long suffering. I've been familiar with the fifth down, and the kicked ball touchdown against Nebraska, and the other painful letdowns of Mizzou lore, but not like the long-term Tiger fans. Still, my tenure here has been marred with negativity and bad news while I tried to immerse myself in my future alma mater's athletic program.

There was the Aaron O'Neal tragedy, the blown 2nd half leads at home in the '04 season, the unceremonious end to Quin's reign, that baseball player who assaulted someone with a bat a few years back, getting close and blowing big chances to advance to the College World Series, our basketball team's off-court issues this year, the blown lead in the Sun Bowl last year, and so on. All just my rite of passage as an MU fan.

This football season has been such a welcome break from that disappointment - so far. God knows they could very well break our hearts later on. That being said, I love where the Tigers are at this moment at 6-1: good enough to have a healthy buzz at home, not flashy enough to catch the ire of the national media. Beating OU would have put us directly into the national title conversation, which would have been fun, but completely unrealistic. Mizzou is not one of the top 5 teams in the country. Top 10? Possibly. The rest of MU's schedule will tell.

The Tigers have some difficult tests remaining on their schedule, but should be favored to win the remainder of their currently scheduled games. Games everyone have pointed to are the trip to Kansas State, and of course the big game at Arrowhead. The lone exception to this favorite theory could be if Kansas were to get to November 23rd undefeated - the line may favor kU if that happens, though I wouldn't make them the bet to win that game. An undefeated mark for the Jayhawks would be owed as much to their cupcake out-of-conference and fortunate Big XII skeds as their on-field acumen.

A trip to the Big XII title game would mean two bowl possibilities for Mizzou: a shocking win against (most likely) Oklahoma, and we would be BCS bound, playing in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. Lose? We're headed to Dallas to play in the Cotton Bowl. Would you have taken THAT going into 2007? Of course you would. Dallas is a much nicer city than El Paso (site of last year's Sun Bowl); I know this, I'm from Texas.

The Big XII Championship is in San Antonio. I'd love to watch my boys play just ONE game in my home state this season.