"I don't know what happened," came from Tiger mouths again and again after Kansas beat them 35-14 on Saturday.
I have an idea.
Don't get me wrong, I understand why coach Gary Pinkel schedules the games like he does. If he gets four nonconference wins, he has to win only two games in the Big 12 to get in a bowl game. And with Brad Smith on the team, a six-win Missouri team will make a bowl game.
But while soft scheduling helps records, it hurts teams. It makes players think they are better than they really are, and it doesn't prepare teams for conference challenges.
Before dissecting Missouri's schedule, look at some of some upsets in the Pac-10 this weekend. Cal beat USC, and Washington State beat Oregon.
Before hosting the Trojans, Cal played nonconference games against Kansas State, Southern Miss, Colorado State, Utah and Illinois. See Ball State or a Division I-AA team on that schedule? No. So even though Cal had gone into Saturday's game 2-3, they had played five competitive teams. And no surprise, the Bears hung with USC and won in overtime.
Although it played an easy one against Idaho, Washington State then played Notre Dame, Colorado and New Mexico. I was at the Cougars' loss at Notre Dame, and it must have been a great learning experience about playing with a big lead. Against Oregon, the Cougars took a lead and kept it in a game that really means something.
Washington State had an outside chance coming into the season of going to the national championship. But let's be honest, California and Missouri didn't. But they did have a chance to make some noise in their conferences. And California has already done that.
The only noise Missouri made was the huge thud on Saturday when the Tigers crashed back to earth. The Tigers had too much hype for such a young team that hadn't proved anything. And anyone that doesn't think rankings can affect a team, talk to Quin Snyder and get back.
The Tigers seemed to have a decent opponent in their first game against Illinois. And after Missouri squeaked out a 22-15 win, the talk was more about how good Illinois played than how bad Missouri played in the win. If Illinois is that good, it must be the best 1-4 team ever, because the Illini have done nothing but crumble since.
After that, the Tigers went to Ball State and hosted Eastern Illinois. The Tigers put up great numbers, especially on defense. These wins meant nothing. Stopping Andy Roesch and Andy Vincent doesn't prepare anyone for stopping Bill Whittemore or Jason White. Suddenly, the defense began to think it was better than it could have ever expected.
And then came the Middle Tennessee game. The Brad Smith Classic. Anyone that wants to play off the Blue Raiders as a competitive team can, but they should probably look at Middle Tennessee's loss to Florida Atlantic first. As Smith scrambled and threw Missouri to victory, Missouri got complacent with using Smith as the comeback offense. And it seemed Saturday that Missouri was complacent with using Smith as the whole offense, period, even when Kansas had him bottled up on every play. Instead of handing it off to Abron, who was having a great day, Missouri went back to Smith again and again.
What was interesting about the Middle Tennessee game was that it seemed like none of the Blue Raiders were too heartbroken about the loss. They viewed the game as a preseason game, a game against a major-conference team to get them prepared for the Sun Belt season. After facing Georgia, Clemson and Missouri, the Blue Raiders won't see a better team for the rest of the season.
Before going into Kansas, Missouri hadn't seen a better team than the Jayhawks. And Kansas showed what a good team can do. It can neutralize one player and make the rest of the team come through. It can make coaches make tough decisions. And if the players and coaches aren't prepared for the challenge from learning in game situations, then what happened Saturday can happen.
Kansas State got its reality check from its soft schedule two weeks ago. Missouri received its on Saturday. Now it's time to learn from those mistakes.