Falling short in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama and getting shut out at home against Georgia hurt.
But for Missouri, the most stinging loss of the season might be coming up short in the nonconference finale against Indiana on Sept. 20 at Memorial Stadium.
It certainly was the season’s most unfathomable defeat, but don’t expect the loss to the Hoosiers to serve as extra motivation as No. 16 Missouri prepares to face another Big Ten opponent, Minnesota, on Jan. 1 in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
“We don’t think about that,” said senior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent, an Olathe North graduate. “We didn’t play our best game that game. They did. That’s all there was to it.”
It’s not a universal feeling. Asked if Missouri owed the Big Ten one, sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk said, “Yeah, for sure.”
Still, conference affiliation isn’t the primary concern for the Tigers.
“We owe everybody one, shoot,” senior wide receiver Bud Sasser said. “But I just want to finish out with a win and cap off this good season.”
Missouri, 10-3, has collected 22 wins in the last two years, which matches the program record set in 2007-08.
The current Tigers covet a win against the Gophers and the record for themselves.
“That would be really great for us and our senior class,” Vincent said. “That’s what we wanted to do, come in here and keep Mizzou on the top. Our seniors last year got us there, and we wanted to stay there and solidify what we’ve done here.”
So, while conference pride matters and Missouri wants to carry the SEC flag flying high, it’s more about program pride.
“I’m all about Mizzou pride,” junior free safety Ian Simon said.
He said he wants the SEC to dominate the bowl season and prove it still deserves its perch as the nation’s best college football conference, but it’s more important to build MU’s program, which is seeking a third consecutive bowl victory.
That’s only happened twice before in Tigers history — four straight bowl wins between 1961-68 and three in a row from 1973-79.
“With tradition comes responsibility,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “When you’re at Mizzou, you have a tradition to uphold. When these seniors leave and the new group comes in, the whole football team needs to understand its responsibility here. The bar has been raised to a very high level.”
Making history won’t be easy against the Golden Gophers, 8-4.
“They’re a very disciplined, well-coached football team,” Pinkel said. “We’ll get their best shot and, hopefully, they’ll get ours.”
Coach Jerry Kill has led Minnesota to three consecutive bowl games, including its first New Year’s Day bowl since the 1962 Rose Bowl.
Kill, a Cheney, Kan., native, had been a Pittsburg State assistant and the head coach at Webb City (Mo.) High, Saginaw Valley State, Emporia State and Southern Illinois before taking over the Gophers in 2011.
“Jerry Kill’s a great coach, and they are a tough, physical team,” Pinkel said. “I know that they’ve had great success there and he has done a great job building that program.”
Minnesotasenior running back David Cobb rushed for 1,548 yards, which broke Laurence Maroney’s single-season record, and 13 touchdowns.
Gophers sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner added 10 rushing touchdowns, while sophomore tight end Maxx Williams, a second-team All-American, leads Minnesota with 29 catches for 471 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Gophers will be motivated, but the Tigers intend to end the season in style.
“I’m just thinking about going out and winning my last game as a Missouri Tiger,” Vincent said. “That’s all I’m thinking about.”