Missouri didn’t quite have the final season in the Big 12 for which they were hoping, but the Tigers at least ended 2011 on a high note with a 41-24 victory over North Carolina in the Independence Bowl to send them off to the SEC next season.
Besides, it may be a while before Mizzou scores 41 on anybody in the SEC.
The win gives Missouri an 8-5 record to finish the season (North Carolina falls to 7-6), but a closer review Mizzou’s schedule shows this was a better team than their record indicated. The Tigers’ four conference losses this year were to Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma — the top four teams in the Big 12. Three of those four losses were on the road and two were by a touchdown or less; a 45-24 beating by Oklahoma State at home was Mizzou’s worst loss of the season.
And let’s not forget Mizzou lost to Arizona State in overtime early in the season back when the Sun Devils were playing much better football.
The point is that this is a team that easily could have had 8-10 regular season wins.
Believe it or not, the Tigers may not drop off too much next season. The SEC schedules haven’t been revealed yet, but there’s no reason to think today that Gary Pinkel’s group wouldn’t be the second or third-best team in the SEC East with the players they have coming back, including quarterback James Franklin, leading rusher Henry Josey and leading receiver T.J. Moe if he decides not to declare for the draft.
Of the two Big 12 teams leaving for the SEC, Mizzou might have an easier transition than Texas A&M. That’s not to say the SEC East is a cakewalk, but it hasn’t been as top heavy as the West.
We’ll see for sure next fall, but today’s Independence Bowl win, in which Mizzou put up 337 rushing yards on what was supposedly a Top 15 rush defense from North Carolina, provided plenty of reason for optimism that Mizzou could be surprisingly competitive in their first year in the SEC.