SEC Football: Getting to Know Missouri

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Get ready SEC - Here come the Missouri Tigers.

<p> Introducing Missouri to the SEC</p>

Missouri will officially become a SEC school on July 1, 2012. The Tigers join college football's premier conference as a member of the SEC's Eastern Division.

From a Missouri point of view, here's an introduction for SEC fans on the Tigers' tradition, history and what to expect when fans come to Columbia in the future.

Something tells me fans of The Almighty SEC aren’t exactly panicking about the addition of Missouri to their fine conference.

The SEC, after all, has won the last six national championships. That would be … let me do the math … exactly six more national championships than Mizzou has bagged in 122 seasons of intercollegiate football. Shoot, we haven’t even won a conference championship since 1969 — it was the Big Eight back then — though we did win the Big 12 North (and the opportunity to get spanked by Oklahoma in the conference title game) a couple of times not long ago.

We’re no stranger to the postseason, but we’re usually done by New Year’s Day. Of our 10 January bowl games, nine came before the Beatles split. Except for a Cotton Bowl win over Arkansas (of the SEC!) four years ago, Mizzou has dwelt in the realm of the Independence and Insight bowls of late.

Heismans? Don’t look in our trophy case, though we did have a guy finish third (Paul Christman, 1939) and another guy finish fourth (Chase Daniel, 2007). Then again, Alabama hadn’t won a Heisman until three years ago, and six SEC schools never have. So there.

Fine, the Missouri Tigers’ football history might not measure up to that of the Tigers of Auburn and LSU. But we’ve had our moments over the years — some of which you Southern folk might even recall — and we join the SEC on a bit of a roll.

Under coach Gary Pinkel, who arrived in Columbia in 2001 to rescue a program that had stumbled aimlessly through the better part of two decades, Mizzou is enjoying a seven-year run of bowl berths. We’ve won 48 games over the last five seasons, tied for the 13th-most in the nation in that span. In 2010, we even knocked off a No. 1-ranked team for the first time ever when ESPN’s “College GameDay” came to Columbia (another first), and the nation watched the Tigers beat Oklahoma to improve to 7–0. OK, we lost our next two games, but that was a Homecoming to remember. (Mizzou, by the way, invented Homecoming in 1911. If anyone says otherwise, they’re lying.)

What’s different? Better coaches — Pinkel’s staff has hardly changed since he arrived — and better players. You’ve seen a bunch of them in the NFL — first-rounders Jeremy Maclin, Blaine Gabbert, Aldon Smith, Sean Weatherspoon and Ziggy Hood — and this year Pinkel snagged the consensus No. 1 recruit in the country, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Eat your little piggy hearts out, Razorbacks.

No, we’re not an elite team yet. But we’ve been knocking on the door — particularly in 2007, when we reached No. 1 in the nation for a week before losing to OU in the Big 12 title game. Win that game and we’d have played for the national championship. I kid you not.

As successful as the Pinkel era has been, Mizzou’s glory years were the 1960s, when the Tigers were coached by Dan Devine — yeah, the cold-hearted Notre Dame coach who wouldn’t let Rudy suit up. But we remember him for his 93–37–7 record, two Big Eight titles and near-national championship in 1960.

Between Devine and Pinkel? Ouch. We went to mediocre bowls in the late ’70s and early ’80s, then descended into a netherlands where we couldn’t catch a break. Consider:

The Fifth Down Game (1990). We lost to Colorado when the officials gave the Buffs a fifth down on the last play of the game — a play on which Mizzou actually made the goal line stop, but the refs blew that call, too. Colorado went on to share the 1990 national championship with Georgia Tech.

The Flea Kicker Game (1997). Another whiff by the zebras. On what would have been the last play of the game, a Huskers receiver illegally kicked a passed ball and another Husker caught it for a game-tying score. No flag, though, and Mizzou lost in overtime. The Huskers went on to share the national championship with Michigan.

But those years are behind us, and Mizzou joins the SEC a notch (maybe two) below the likes of Alabama, LSU and Florida, but on no less than even footing with the rest of the league. Led by junior quarterback James Franklin — not to be confused with the Vanderbilt coach of the same name — Mizzou is ready to mix it up with the big boys.

Oh, one last thing you should know about us. We hate Kansas. (It started as a Civil War thing. See: Wales, The Outlaw Josey.) The Hatfields and McCoys were like play pals compared to the Tigers and Chickenhawks, but KU is too scared to extend a rivalry that dates to 1891.

And so we enter the SEC without a natural rival, which probably is what we’ll miss most about the Big 12. Slapping Vanderbilt silly just won’t be the same.

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