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Missouri settles for Alamo Bowl

Monday, December 8, 2008

(Photo)
Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (9) slips past Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis for a 27-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter during the Big 12 Championship football game Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008, in Kansas City, Mo.
(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Minutes after the latest crushing disappointment, ever-resourceful Missouri coach Gary Pinkel had a new rallying cry for his players.

Accepting a bid Sunday for the Alamo Bowl -- far off the BCS path -- the 25th-ranked Tigers' goal in the wake of a 62-21 spanking by Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game is to reach double-digit victories in consecutive seasons. That would be a first in school history.

The consolation strategy for a team that just months ago appeared destined for greatness appears to be working. Players seemed enthusiastic rather than downcast at a news conference to announce the Tigers (9-4) will play No. 22 Northwestern (9-3) on Dec. 29 in San Antonio, Texas.

"It's going to sting for a while and why wouldn't it?" said quarterback Chase Daniel, responsible for three turnovers against Oklahoma. "But we can finish off in style.

"When was the last time a Missouri team won 10 games back-to-back in history? Never. We still have a chance to make history."

Missouri is going bowling for the fourth straight season, and fifth time in six seasons. The senior class has amassed 36 victories, the best four-year stretch in school history. Those are the positives.

"You have to be able to deal with victories and defeats and then say, 'What's our next opportunity?'" Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said. "We're extremely disappointed, but it's important that we learn from it and we move on."

The Tigers made the most of a tough situation last year when a Big 12 title game loss dropped them from No. 1 in the nation to out of the BCS. Missouri rebounded to beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.

That experience should help. Plus, Pinkel noted the Alamo Bowl is far from a snub, adding "You get what you deserve."

"If you start devaluing other bowls, I think that's really shortsighted and I don't think it's very good and I don't think it's very smart," Pinkel said. "There's a lot of great bowls out there.

"Everybody shoots for the stars, everybody wants to be national champs, but unfortunately this year we're not part of that."

The Tigers are likely to be an underdog against 22nd-ranked Northwestern on Dec. 29 in San Antonio, Texas. They'll be playing another team shooting for 10 victories, which is not the achievement it used to be if a school can get there with four losses.

Missouri has been unable to shake its profile as a team not ready for the big time, handling the teams they're supposed to beat but with only one signature victory among 21 wins the last two seasons. They've lost 19 of 20 against Oklahoma, also falling by 21 points in last year's conference title game, and got manhandled 56-31 at Texas earlier in the year.

"Until you win the Big 12 championship, you haven't arrived," Pinkel said Saturday night. "We've made a lot of progress. I'm very proud of these guys. We've done a lot of good things. But have we arrived? No."

Missouri came close last year, spending a week at No. 1 after capitalizing on a series of stumbles at the top of the rankings and finishing at No. 4 with a strong showing in the Cotton Bowl.

This season appeared to be Pinkel's best shot for a true breakthrough given a 23-member senior class featuring a Heisman Trophy finalist, record-setting tight end Chase Coffman and a defense that had to replace only one starter. Maclin is a likely first-round NFL draft pick after his sophomore year, creating more uncertainty for next season.

Northwestern is on the rise under 33-year-old Pat Fitzgerald, the second-youngest head coach in the nation. The Wildcats need one win to match the 1995 team as the only 10-game winners in school history.

Northwestern is making only its seventh bowl appearance and will be meeting Missouri for only the ninth time and first since 1987 in a series tied at 4-4.


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