Thursday, June 7, 2007

What If...Mizzou Joined the Big Ten in 1996? (Part Two)

For years, there's been an ongoing debate about Mizzou joining the Big Ten...but nobody's ever really discussed how Mizzou would do in the Big Ten. So we're taking a look at how the Big Ten would have shaken down in football.

NOTE: My aim with these posts is not to say we should or shouldn't have joined the conference. Again, I grew up with Big 8 rivalries, and getting caught up in battles with Minnesota and Northwestern instead of Oklahoma State and Kansas State would have taken a lot of getting used to. Until I found out about the emerging Big Ten Network, I never even gave the conference switch idea a second thought. The fact that the Big Ten does indeed have its own cable network in the works got me starry-eyed a bit (that seems like quite the unfair advantage right there), but I'll get over it. Anyway...

In Part One, we discussed the background of the 1996 formation of the (alternate reality) 12-team Big Ten Conference. From feedback I got (on other sites...since nobody leaves any damn comments here!), it was established that the only way to form two six-team divisions would be the following:

West Division: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Northwestern, Wisconsin
East Division: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue

In the mid-‘90s, the East Division had the advantage in both football and men’s basketball, but there was just no other way. So we’re going with that.

So let’s get started!

Actually, one more note. I should probably explain the primitive method with which I’m determining results. It’s all about the flawed-but-easy Transitive Property. Taking into account the fact that home field is worth roughly 7 points, I combine common results (if two teams have more than one common result, the one I use is determined at random) and go from there. With the number of results I had to determine, this was really the only timely way to go about things. If you have a better, more scientific (and still relatively easy) method, I’d love to hear it.


In 1996, Larry Smith was entering his third year at the helm of the Mizzou football team. His first two seasons (in the Big 8) resulted in two 3-win campaigns. However, in late-1995, Smith had found himself a quarterback. And a running game. Corby Jones had his redshirt torn off halfway through the season, and while it took him and the Mizzou offense a while to get rolling, things started to click late in the year. In their now-final Big 8 game, Missouri beat Iowa State (admittedly a horrid defensive team), 45-31, behind 473 rushing yards—201 from then-sophomore RB Brock Olivo and 136 from Jones. It gave Missouri fans a reason for optimism. Not only did they have the components of a young, exciting team, but in the Big Ten, Missouri also wouldn’t have to face then-powers Nebraska and Colorado (or Kansas State, or Oklahoma) anymore. The West Division of the Big Ten was a division in transition—with a lot of decent teams (Iowa, Wisconsin, sometimes Northwestern) and no powers. The best teams were in the East, and Missouri would only have to face half of them on any given season. Despite 6 wins in two seasons under Larry Smith (and five straight 3-win seasons overall), hope was in the air.

The 1996 schedule looks something like this:

8/31 – at Penn State
9/14 – Memphis
9/21 – Clemson
9/28 – Ohio State
10/5 – at Wisconsin
10/12 – Minnesota
10/19 – Purdue
11/2 – at Iowa
11/9 – Northwestern
11/16 – at Illinois
11/23 – Kansas

To tamp down some of the inevitable unease among Mizzou faithful (fans fear change in general, and this is a huge one), the season would see seven home games and a season-ender against Kansas. So mixing some real results with the transitive property, let’s see how the season goes.

Penn State 42, Missouri 28 – in the real 1996 opener, Missouri played relatively well in a monsoon down in Austin. Take away the monsoon, and Vince Sebo doesn’t have like a -40 yard punt or whatever. You figure Mizzou plays pretty well here (in their nationally televised conference opener), but Penn State was really good in 1996.

Memphis 19, Missouri 16 – This one actually happened. Maybe you blocked it out.

Missouri 38, Clemson 24 This one happened too.

Ohio State 24, Missouri 20 – Missouri’s flying high after the Clemson win, and the fans at Faurot are boisterous, but it ain’t happening.

Wisconsin 40, Missouri 17 – Freshman Ron Dayne rushes for about 455 yards, and Missouri’s first trip to Camp Randall since 1983 does not end well. Missouri slips to 2-4.

Missouri 28, Minnesota 20 – In the Gophers’ last year before Glen Mason took the reins, Missouri played its first Big Ten game in which it had more talent than its opponent. They weren’t good enough to run away with the game, but they were good enough to secure their first ever Big Ten win and move to 3-4.

Missouri 31, Purdue 23 – The first conference win is quickly followed by the second. Drew Brees wouldn’t come to save the day till 1997.

Iowa 44, Missouri 17 – At 3-4, the Tigers needed to win 3 of 4 down the stretch, meaning they’d have to steal a road win against Iowa or Illinois while taking care of business versus Northwestern and Kansas. Well...Mizzou wasn’t ready for that level of prosperity just yet. Iowa was the class of the first Big Ten West Division, and they take care of business here pretty easily.

Missouri 30, Northwestern 23 – In the first meeting between Larry Smith and the coach who was passed over for the Mizzou job, Gary Barnett, Missouri scores a slight upset and keeps their slim bowl hopes alive, moving to 4-5.

Illinois 37, Missouri 31 – This young Mizzou team can’t quite put it together, and a bad Illinois team steals the first game between new division rivals. Mizzou’s bowl hopes die, but...

Missouri 42, Kansas 25 - ...the season still ends on a pretty good note.

Here are your 1996 Big Ten Standings:

West Division
Iowa – 6-2 (8-3)
Northwestern – 5-3 (7-4)
Wisconsin – 4-4 (7-4)
Missouri – 3-5 (5-6)
Minnesota – 1-7 (4-7)
Illinois – 1-7 (2-9)

Ohio State – 7-1 (10-1)
Penn State – 7-1 (10-1)
Michigan State – 5-3 (6-5)
Michigan – 4-4 (7-4)
Purdue – 3-5 (4-7)
Indiana – 2-6 (4-7)

West Conference Record: 20-28
East Conference Record: 28-20

Big Ten Championship: Ohio State 38, Iowa 23

Big Ten Bowls
Copper: Michigan State 24, Utah 20
Sun: Stanford 34, Wisconsin 6
Alamo: Michigan 20, Texas Tech 13
Outback: Alabama 17, Northwestern 16
Citrus: Tennessee 48, Iowa 17
Fiesta: Penn State 38, Texas 15
Rose: Ohio State 20, Arizona State 17


In the real 1997, Mizzou fans finally saw the Tigers take the leap. Not a huge leap, mind you, but after the futility of the previous 13 years, it was huge enough. Led by a sickening running attack of Corby Jones, Brock Olivo, Devin West, Ernest Blackwell (RIP), and Rhino Janes, Missouri would have been a strong team in any conference.

9/13: Missouri 44, Eastern Michigan 24 Yup.

9/20: Missouri 42, Tulsa 21 Uh huh.

9/27: Ohio State 35, Missouri 7 – Take what actually happened, and adjust it about 7 points for the change in home field (this one was in Columbus).

While we’re talking about this game, though, I have to talk about probably the most memorable hit I’ve ever seen in person. From one of Joe Walljasper’s postgame write-ups:

On the Tigers' next series, a scrambling Jones was leveled by OSU linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer 1 yard from a first down on a third-and-10 play. Jones suffered a severely bruised wrist on his throwing hand, and he said that injury bothered him for the rest of the game.

Jones wasn't very effective afterwards, and Missouri was never able to overcome terrible field position.

Yeah, “leveled” doesn’t quite describe it, but I’m not sure of a words that does. Every Missouri fan thought Corby was about to get a first down, and Missouri was about to get a late-first-half score and stay in the game. Katzenmoyer closed about 30 yards in two steps, and...yeah, Corby still probably has a face-mask print on his arm. Just an unbelievable hit.

10/4: Missouri 31, Wisconsin 24 – Missouri shows signs of life after getting brutalized in Columbus.

10/11: Minnesota 37, Missouri 30 – The Tigers just aren’t ready to win a conference road game yet, and Glen Mason continues to own Mizzou.

10/18: Purdue 38, Missouri 23 – The Tigers just aren’t ready to win a conference road game yet, and Missouri moves to just 3-3 on what was supposed to be a surprising season.

10/25: Missouri 31, Penn State 20 – It was around this time when Mizzou faced Nebraska at Faurot. We know what happened in that game, and I’m figuring that, against a slightly lesser team (Penn State was damn good, but not ’97 Nebraska good), the result would be different. This is by far Mizzou’s biggest win in two Big Ten seasons, and it gives them the kickstart they needed.

11/1: Missouri 31, Iowa 22 – This game ends up meaning much more than simply giving Missouri a 5-3 record.

11/8: Missouri 26, Northwestern 25 – Larry Smith moves to 2-0 versus Gary Barnett, and Missouri finally wins a Big Ten road game.

11/15: Missouri 41, Illinois 19 – For the first time under Larry Smith, Missouri wins its fourth game in a row. The win moves Missouri to 5-3 in the Big Ten and clinches a tie with Iowa for first place in the West Division. They will play undefeated Michigan in the second-ever Big Ten Championship, at Soldier Field. But first...

11/29: Kansas 15, Missouri 13 – I was very torn about this one. I’m firmly convinced that, if Missouri and Kansas had played in Lawrence at the end of the ’97 season instead of the beginning (when Mizzou blew about 38 chances and lost 15-7), Mizzou would have won. However...this is Missouri-Kansas, and stupid things happen. So we’ll say Corby doesn’t fumble in the red zone with less than a minute left, and Missouri scores. And misses the 2-point conversion. Sounds realistic.

West Division
Missouri – 5-3 (7-4)
Iowa – 5-3 (8-3)
Northwestern – 4-4 (6-6)
Wisconsin – 3-5 (6-6)
Minnesota – 2-6 (4-7)
Illinois – 0-8 (0-11)

East Division
Michigan – 8-0 (11-0)
Ohio State – 6-2 (9-2)
Penn State – 5-3 (8-3)
Michigan State – 5-3 (8-3)
Purdue – 4-4 (6-5)
Indiana – 1-7 (2-9)

West Conference Record: 19-29
East Conference Record: 29-19

Big Ten Championship: Michigan 21, Missouri 17 – Missouri bounces back from the crushing disappointment of the Kansas game and plays well against #2 Michigan in the conference championship, but like Michigan did most of the season, they make just enough plays to win the game. Missouri has to settle for the Outback Bowl, their first New Years Day bowl since the 1969 season.

Big Ten Bowls
Aloha: Washington 44, Purdue 33
Sun: Arizona State 24, Michigan State 10
Alamo: Penn State 45, Oklahoma State 20
Outback: Georgia 33, Missouri 14

Mizzou runs into a buzzsaw. Robert Edwards, Hines Ward, etc., overpower a slightly starstruck Tiger squad, and the season ends with both a) the most Mizzou wins in 14 years (final record: 7-6), and b) a 3-game losing streak.

Citrus: Florida 21, Iowa 6
Sugar: Florida State 31, Ohio State 14
Rose: Michigan 21, Washington 16


Coming off of a West Division Championship and a New Year’s Day bowl game, and returning a sickening amount of experienced, valuable players, Mizzou is primed to make a move in 1998. Of course, you remember how the real 1998 season went...Mizzou was about 3 plays from a 10-1 record but instead had to settle for being one of the better 8-4 teams in recent memory. Against a West Division schedule, would things have turned out any differently?

9/5: Missouri 37, Bowling Green 0 This game was only notable for how wide open Kent Layman was on his first quarter TD reception. A simple play-action fooled all 11 Falcon defenders, and there was literally nobody within 40 yards of Layman when the ball was thrown.

9/12: Missouri 41, Kansas 23 – Big 12 or no Big 12, Devin West still rushes for a bazillion yards in this game, and Mizzou avenges the ’97 late-season loss.

9/19: Missouri 17, Michigan 13 – Mizzou was coming off of a rousing win over their arch-rival; Michigan was coming off of season-opening losses to Notre Dame and Syracuse. The table was set for a Mizzou victory at Faurot, and that’s what would have happened.

9/26: Missouri 21, Indiana 13 – Well...if they beat Michigan...

10/3: Missouri 35, Northwestern State 14 – The game where Corby got turf toe.

10/10: Michigan State 24, Missouri 18 – First road game after five straight at home. That, combined with Corby’s injured foot, spells doom.

10/24: Missouri 21, Minnesota 8 – Corby gets a week to rest, and the friendly Faurot confines get Mizzou past a decent Gopher squad.

10/31: Missouri 27, Wisconsin 24 – I came up with this result, then immediately questioned it. Wisconsin was quite good in ’98, and this was exactly the kind of game definitely fell into the category of the Nebraska and ATM games from that season...and we lost both of those games in the last seconds. But hey, who am I to argue with the transitive property? This win would move Mizzou to an impressive 7-1 on the season and a ranking of probably around #9-12.

11/7: Missouri 33, Northwestern 13 – Barnett’s last NW’ern team was one of his worst, and Senior Night at Faurot goes off without a hitch.

11/14: Missouri 28, Iowa 17 – This was a bad Iowa team.

11/21: Missouri 31, Illinois 17 – This was a bad Illinois team. An easy two road wins to finish the season.

West Division
Missouri – 7-1 (10-1)
Wisconsin – 6-2 (9-2)
Minnesota – 3-5 (6-5)
Illinois – 2-6 (3-8)
Iowa – 2-6 (3-8)
Northwestern – 1-7 (3-8)

East Division
Ohio State – 7-1 (10-1)
Michigan – 6-2 (8-4)
Penn State – 5-3 (8-3)
Michigan State – 4-4 (6-6)
Purdue – 4-4 (6-6)
Indiana – 1-7 (3-8)

West Division Record: 21-27
East Division Record: 27-21

Big Ten Championship: Ohio State 31, Missouri 14. We know what happened when these two teams met in September in Columbus. Missouri held on as long as possible before caving down the stretch...passing for all of 20 yards in the process. Well, Mizzou’s passing game and defense improved as the season progressed, but Ohio State was really good in 1998. Only a stupid loss to Michigan State kept them from the national title game.

So here’s where I almost got carried away. (Here’s also where my dislike of K-State comes through despite my best efforts.) If you’ll recall, Kansas State got delightfully screwed by the BCS in 1998. They were in line for a bid in the national title game until they choked against ATM in the Big 12 Championship Game, but they were passed over for an at-large BCS berth by Ohio State and Florida. And since the Cotton and Holiday Bowls had already claimed their bids, with one loss KSU fell from the national title game to the Alamo Bowl. And then they laid a giant egg and lost to Purdue.

Well, what would happen in this alternate reality? The reason Ohio State had to claim an at-large BCS bid was because Wisconsin made the Rose Bowl after OSU’s loss to Michigan State. So if Ohio State now makes the Rose Bowl and a 9-2 Wisconsin team doesn’t go to a BCS bowl, there’s an extra slot available. The vindictive side in me wanted to give that extra bid to a 10-2 Mizzou team ranked probably somewhere around #8-10 in the country after a loss to Ohio State...and I almost did it...but I guess I have to face up to the fact that Mizzou’s presence in the Big Ten (and the presence of a Big Ten title game) would have prevented K-State from getting screwed. So...

BCS Bowl Bids
Fiesta: Tennessee vs Florida State (national title game)
Orange: Kansas State vs Florida
Sugar: Texas A&M vs Syracuse
Rose: Ohio State vs UCLA

Big Ten Bowls
Motor City: Minnesota 38, Marshall 34
Sun: Michigan 31, USC 19
Alamo: Penn State 45, Texas Tech 14
Outback: Wisconsin 40, Kentucky 14
Citrus: Missouri 38, Arkansas 24

Pretty sure West Virginia was actually better than Arkansas in ’98, so Missouri probably would have won this one. A January 1 win and an 11-2 record would have been a pretty nice way for Corby, Devin, etc., to go out, don’t you think?

Rose: Ohio State 31, UCLA 22


No matter how much success Mizzou had in 1998, nothing was going to make 1999 a good year. We’ll say that karma would have broken Kirk Farmer’s leg whether they played Iowa State or not.

8/28: Missouri 20, Arizona 14 – The Big Ten was always getting the kickoff classic-types of games, and being that Missouri was coming off an 11-win season, we’ll say they got one of them. In the real 1999, this game was Penn State vs Arizona. Penn State won 41-7.

9/4: Missouri 31, UAB 28Rest in peace, DeVaughn Black.

9/11: Missouri 48, Western Michigan 34Yup. Mizzou moves to 3-0.

9/18: Kansas 21, Missouri 14 – Have to figure Kirk Farmer would have been worth two touchdowns, but not much more than that.

10/9: Missouri 17, Iowa 16 – We’ll call this Farmer’s Last Stand. With a healthy Farmer, Missouri had the advantage here, and they moved to 4-1 on the season.

10/16: Wisconsin 28, Missouri 13 – And this is where Dougherty becomes full-time starter. We’ll say this is where Farmer gets pushed out of bounds, screams, vomits, and passes out, leaving the entire student section in shock.

And yes, I’m referring to what happened against Iowa State that season. Seriously, that was a scarring experience for anybody around. No way was Missouri recovering from that and winning that game. They almost did (and would have had Rob West not dropped a 4th down TD pass), but...yeah, scarring.

10/23: Minnesota 28, Missouri 7 – And the downturn begins. Mizzou falls to 4-3.

10/30: Northwestern 19, Missouri 14 – Mizzou falls to 4-4 as the offense can’t muster much against a really bad Northwestern team.

11/6: Missouri 43, Indiana 10 – The real ’99 Tigers bounced back with an unexpected home thumping of Texas Tech...this is basically the same thing...

11/13: Michigan 35, Missouri 7 – The 5-4 Tigers still had hope for a bowl game, but winning in the Big House with no offense whatsoever was a bit too much to ask.

11/20: Illinois 38, Missouri 7 – Illinois bounced back this season after a couple of down years, and by this point in the season, they would have laid the wood to Mizzou.

11/27: Michigan State 47, Missouri 0 – This late-season collapse doesn’t come with a 66-0 thrashing, but a damn good Michigan State team still would have put quite a hurting on this team.

West Division
Wisconsin – 8-0 (10-1)
Minnesota – 7-1 (10-1) (Only a 20-17 home loss to Wisconsin keeps them from a perfect record)
Illinois – 6-2 (8-3)
Northwestern – 2-6 (4-7)
Missouri – 2-6 (5-7)
Iowa – 0-8 (1-10)

East Division
Michigan State – 7-1 (10-1)
Michigan – 5-3 (8-3)
Penn State – 4-4 (7-4)
Purdue – 4-4 (7-4)
Ohio State – 2-6 (5-7)
Indiana – 1-7 (2-9)

West Division Record: 25-23
East Division Record: 23-25 (The West wins for once!)

Big Ten Championship: Wisconsin 37, Michigan State 10

Big Ten Bowls
Micron PC: Purdue 63, Virginia 20
Sun: Penn State 28, Oregon 6
Alamo: Illinois 28, Texas A&M 3
Outback: Georgia 28, Michigan 24
Citrus: Michigan State 37, Florida 34
Orange: Minnesota 38, Alabama 34
Rose: Wisconsin 17, Stanford 9

This is an interesting season for the Big Ten...three teams had double-digit win seasons, and they weren’t Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State—they were Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Minnesota. This power shift was obviously only temporary, but it made for a pretty strong conference, top-to-bottom. A year after going 6-0 in bowls, the Big Ten would go 6-1 in 1999.

Meanwhile, Mizzou’s collapse was sudden and strong, but it wasn’t as strong as was the case in the Big 12. Mizzou reached higher heights in ’97 and ’98 in the Big Ten, and their fall wasn’t quite as steep, so following the ’99 season, Larry Smith wouldn’t have been in as much trouble. I’m going to say that he would have changed offensive coordinators nonetheless, though. So Bill Cubit jumps on board for the 2000 season, not necessarily to save Larry’s job so much as just right the ship.


Need a quick 2000 refresher? 62-9 loss to Clemson. 13-10 loss to Michigan State, where Mizzou punts instead of going for it on 4th down late in the game. Kirk Farmer has an insanely good game against Nebraska...then breaks his collarbone. 38-17 home loss to Kansas on Homecoming. Darius Outlaw gets sacked 11 times in a 28-18 loss to Colorado. Mizzou puts up tremendous fight for Larry Smith’s job against K-State, gets jobbed and loses, 28-24.

Good times.

So what would have happened to this bad team in a different conference?

9/2: Missouri 50, Western Illinois 20Like this.

9/9: Clemson 55, Missouri 9 – I’m subtracting a TD from the real result because the “here we go again” vibe wouldn’t have been quite as strong.

And while we’re here, a comment about this game. I’ve never seen a game spiral out of control faster than this one. The Beef and I (and two others) were dumb enough to make the Columbia-to-Clemson drive for this game (we sat about 8 rows from god...good lord is that stadium tall), and late in the first half, we actually thought we had a chance. Think about that. We were down 14-9 with 2:30 left, and Clemson had a fourth down at the Missouri 40. Stop that play, and Missouri might take the lead into halftime. Instead, Clarence Jones and Julian Jones run into each other (actually, Clarence ran into Juian), and Ron Gardner scores untouched from 38 yards out, Missouri turns the ball over, Clemson scores again a minute later, and suddenly it’s 28-9 at halftime. Six minutes into the second half, it’s 48-9. Five TD’s in 8 minutes. We drove 15 hours for a football game, only to leave halfway through the fourth quarter.

Did I mention that my birthday was that weekend?

But we only ran into one member of the Georgia Militia on the trip, so I considered it a success.


9/16: Kansas 38, Missouri 17Same result, only a month earlier.

9/30: Missouri 28, Minnesota 24 – Missouri moves to 2-2 with a win over a decent Minnesota team. We’ll say Kirk Farmer went off or something.

10/7: Penn State 42, Missouri 33 – Since I substituted Penn State for Nebraska in 1997, I’ll do the same here. Farmer has a great game, then breaks his collarbone, and bad things happen after that...

10/14: Wisconsin 38, Missouri 17 – The Outlaw-led Tigers fall to 2-4.

10/21: Northwestern 43, Missouri 24 – Homecoming’s no more successful against Northwestern as it was in real-life against Kansas.

10/28: Purdue 31, Missouri 16 – Drew Brees’ Boilermakers don’t win the Big Ten like they did in real-life (they end up tying for the division lead with OSU, who wins the tie-breaker), but they’ve got more than enough to send Mizzou to 2-6.

11/4: Missouri 26, Iowa 21 – For a couple years here, Iowa was almost as bad as Baylor...and since Missouri managed to beat Baylor...

11/11: Ohio State 30, Missouri 28 – Larry’s last homestand? Outlaw and the Tigers pull out all the stops and almost beat the eventual Big Ten Champion. Almost, but not quite.

11/18: Illinois 27, Missouri 14 – The Tigers have nothing left in the tank, finish 3-8.

West Division
Northwestern – 7-1 (8-3)
Illinois – 5-3 (8-3)
Wisconsin – 5-3 (8-3)
Minnesota – 4-4 (6-5)
Missouri – 2-6 (3-8)
Iowa – 1-7 (1-11)

East Division
Ohio State – 6-2 (8-3)
Purdue – 6-2 (8-3)
Michigan – 5-3 (7-4)
Penn State – 4-4 (5-7)
Michigan State – 2-6 (5-6)
Indiana (2-9)

West Division Record: 24-24
East Division Record: 24-24

Big Ten Championship: Ohio State 38, Northwestern 23

Big Ten Bowls
Las Vegas: UNLV 24, Minnesota 21
Micron PC: Michigan 38, NC State 28
Alamo: Nebraska 59, Illinois 10
Sun: Wisconsin 21, UCLA 20
Outback: South Carolina 30, Purdue 17
Citrus: Auburn 40, Northwestern 28
Rose: Washington 28, Ohio State 14

The Big Ten is down this year, going 2-5 in bowls, but Missouri just about brings up the rear anyway.

In five seasons, already four different teams (Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Northwestern) have won the West Division and three (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State) have won the East. The the parity-addled Big Ten, that sounds about right.

So here’s the question. In the real 1999-00, Missouri went 7-15 with six losses of 30+ points. In the alternate 1999-00, Missouri went 8-15, but with only two losses of 30+ points. Without the blowouts, does Larry Smith still get fired? Mike Alden has a notoriously patient trigger finger, but is that only with the coaches he hired? Does the fact that Missouri went 3-8 in an absolutely putrid Big Ten in ’00 hurt him significantly?

So here’s where I need some feedback: I’m almost tempted to say that Larry would have gotten another season in this me out of it. Convince me otherwise.