It’s all up to Missouri now.
A couple of Southeastern Conference football teams could have come to the aid of the Tigers on Saturday, and for a while it appeared fortune was smiling on Mizzou.
But outcomes that could have gone either way fell the wrong way, making it a distracting night for Mizzou fans in Kansas City.
As they had poured across Grand Boulevard from the Power & Light District to the Sprint Center for the Tigers’ basketball game against Hawaii, the mood was hopeful.
Not just for the team’s first game in the building where it won the Big 12 tournament championship some 20 months ago.
Football was foremost on the mind, even with the Tigers idle this weekend.
Missouri wanted an underdog parlay, roadies to rise up in emotion-packed games. The Tigers pulled for Georgia to win at Auburn in the South’s Oldest Rivalry, and Florida to stick it to South Carolina and Ol’ Ball Coach Steve Spurrier, who became famous in a Gators visor.
The math worked like this for Missouri, 5-1 in SEC play: Mizzou would emerge from a three-way division deadlock with the Gamecocks (5-2 before Saturday) and Georgia (4-2) because the tiebreaker is division record.
The Tigers have played only East opponents, falling to South Carolina. The Gamecocks and Bulldogs each have two East losses.
But if Georgia lost and South Carolina was left as the only team that can catch Missouri, the Gamecocks would hold the tiebreaker based on their improbable victory on Faurot Field, overcoming a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit and winning in double overtime on Oct. 26.
As MU fans settled into Sprint Center for a 6 p.m. tip, Georgia had started to rally from a 20-point deficit. When quarterback Aaron Murray scored from the 5 with 1:49 remaining, the Dawgs had claimed a 38-37 lead.
Georgia appeared to have it wrapped up when Jordan Jenkins sacked Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, setting up fourth and 18 from its 27 with 36 ticks left.
Auburn had to try to get to midfield, and find another 15 yards for field-goal range. Wide receiver Ricardo Louis would later say he lost Marshall’s heave in the air, so even if the ball wasn’t tipped, he might not have caught it.
But because the ball went off hand of one of the two Georgia defenders who could have caught it or knocked it down, the ball floated right to Louis, who completed the miraculous 73-yard touchdown.
At that moment in Kansas City, Missouri was getting good dribble penetration with Ryan Rosburg and Johnathan Williams III finishing strong. Developments in Alabama put a damper on the proceedings.
The math got a little tougher for Missouri with Georgia’s third conference loss. The Tigers wanted South Carolina tagged with a third.
And for a while, it looked good. Florida had punched in a first-quarter touchdown and was playing nothing like the team that had lost four straight and had the school president issuing a vote of confidence for head coach Will Muschamp.
If somehow the Gators could pull this one off, it would provide Missouri a margin for error. The Tigers could lose one of its final two, at Mississippi this Saturday and Texas A&M in Columbia on Nov. 30, and remain in front of the Gamecocks.
Florida led by eight at halftime and by one entering the fourth quarter before South Carolina rallied for a 19-14 victory. An interception snuffed out Florida’s last gasp, as Missouri fans at Sprint learned as they watched the final few moments.
When Saturday’s events are added to the crazy things that happened during Mizzou’s loss to the Gamecocks — a South Carolina do-or-die touchdown pass on fourth-and-15, a Tigers’ doinked 24-yard field-goal attempt to end the game — it’s understandable if Mizzou fans are left wondering if they’ll catch a break.
But I look at this way. This is SEC. Teams prove their worth by winning. In a year in which Missouri has surpassed all expectation and squashed any notion the program wasn’t prepared for SEC rigors, work remains to finish an amazing achievement. And now Mizzou knows precisely what is required. South Carolina finished league play 6-2. The Tigers need to finish 7-1. It’s theirs for the taking.