The best part of being part of a downtrodden fan base is when the downtroddenness, if that’s such a word, appears to be in the past. For Texas Rangers fans, now is the good time. I’ll send them good fan karma if there’s any left from the 2005 White Sox. Actually San Francisco Giants fans are equal if not higher on the beleaguered scale.
But frankly, when the Yankees lost 95% of the country tuned out on baseball. It’s football time. The Missouri Tigers did something odd last night. They exceeded expectations.
We prefer fast turnarounds. We like the worst to first success stories like the 1991 Braves. We don’t like the teams that consistently go to the playoffs but rarely pull through, like the Braves of the 90s. Building slowly, especially in a high-profile job like head coach of a major college football program, is not the best recipe.
Gary Pinkel is in his tenth year as Missouri head coach. He had losing records in three of his first four seasons. That was fine because Missouri was a place of low expectations. Record setting QB Brad Smith was on only one bowl winning team when the Tigers ‘upset’ South Carolina in the 2005 Independence Bowl. He had a 29-30 coaching record after five years.
Expectations changed in 2007 with a number one ranking, a first Big 12 North championship, and a New Year’s Day bowl victory. The team backslid the last couple of years, finishing last year with his fourth 4-4 conference record in a decade.
Last year’s team was quite young and inexperienced. Still, that painful Texas Bowl loss to Navy made fans wonder. In a decade, no one had made a serious run at Pinkel to take over a higher profile job. The University of Washington job, where Pinkel was offensive coordinator from 1984 to 1990, opened up without much of a hint of interest. Was Pinkel that good of a coach? Was it that hard to beat up on four out of conference creampuffs (Illinois is decent at best) and go 4-4, mainly beating up on inferior Big 12 North programs? We didn’t know. The team of mystery shut out Colorado, beat down what seemed to be a good Texas A&M team on the road, and faced number one Oklahoma.
What had been missing from the 2007 and 2008 teams was the ability to make a stop on defense. Despite having three first-round NFL draft picks on those defensive teams, they were shredded in conference play. This year’s team was different. But would they be different against Oklahoma?
They were. Yeah, Oklahoma scored 27 points, which is the most the defense has given up all year. The point was, like the Titans of late, Missouri got the turnovers when they needed them. When the offense stalled, the defense put them in positions to succeed. The touchdown drive after Oklahoma took their one lead was clutch. The defense making sure that a 26-21 lead moved to 36-21 was a game clincher.
Missouri stepped up to the big boys and won. What’s key about the last two weeks is that Missouri went 0-3 against Big 12 South teams next year. They’ll be playing more of those teams starting in 2012, so getting a few wins is important. It doesn’t get any easier with Nebraska, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State coming up. I’m not worried about Missouri staying in the national championship race. What I like is knowing that my team has the ability to beat anyone in the nation. For a fan base, that’s a big emotional leap.