This has happened before.
Missouri fans have had more than their fair share of frustration and disappointment in the past 20 years. But like the jilted lover that keeps coming back for more pain, Missouri supporters pinned their hopes on coach Gary Pinkel's talented squad again this season.
On Thursday, everything changed. The Tigers suffered a meltdown in southeast Alabama, falling to Troy 24-14. The loss spun the Tigers out of the Top 25 and threw a metaphorical bucket of cold water on media and fan expectations. Bouncing back will be difficult, to say the least.
The loss left Pinkel "remarkably disappointed and very, very frustrated," he said Monday. He ran through a list of items that he thinks the Tigers need to correct before facing Ball State on Saturday in the nonconference finale, including eliminating big plays of defense, executing more consistently on offense and ironing out difficulties on special teams.
Still, Pinkel said he was confident the Tigers could turn things around.
"My goals for our football team and the program, where I think we can go, haven't changed a bit," he said.
While Pinkel expects his team to rebound and become more competitive when conference play opens after next week's bye, he admitted that the Tigers missed a huge opportunity at Troy. With a primetime audience tuning in on ESPN2, college football fans across the country saw the Tigers fall short, perhaps reducing the program's national respect in the progress.
"I think you earn respect for what you achieve," Pinkel said. "As you're building a program, if you lose a game like that, you lose respect fast…
"You know what? You should lose it. You just gotta get it back now."
It will take more than a win against the Cardinals to do that. Missouri, still a contender in the struggling Big 12 North, has a handful of big games to come. Unfortunately for the Tigers, two of the biggest--against No. 6 Texas and Nebraska-- come on the road, where Missouri has struggled the past few seasons.
The Tigers did not show the kind of focus that wins road games in Troy. Pinkel suggested a combination of factors contributed to that.
"If you're mature enough and good enough, you do it," he said. "Obviously, we're not yet."
For the players, who felt the frustration of being shut down and pushed aside by a rising Troy team, forgetting about the loss will take time. But dwelling on it is not a possibility.
"It's hard," junior QB Brad Smith said. "It's on all of our minds, but as a team, we've focused on getting past it."
Smith contended that the Tigers did not look past Troy, saying that the team, which has played the underdog role in the past, knows all about upsets. And now, with expectations lowered and a Heisman bandwagon emptying rapidly, Smith said he does not feel the pressure has been taken off him.
"That's not the way I think," he said. "We have a whole season ahead, all our goals and everything. Life has this type of thing, tests and stuff that you don't want to have. But it's here now and we have to deal with it."
On the other side of the ball, no defensive player would pass the blame to the offensive players. Junior S Jason Simpson remembers how well the offense has played in the past and the impact plays the Tigers have turned in on that side of the ball.
"I've got faith in them," Simpson said. "They've dug us out of some holes a lot of times. Sometimes we gotta help them out and get them as many chances as they can get."
With one more nonconference game to come, the Tigers have time to turn things around and dominate Big 12 play. But junior DT C.J. Mosley said Thursday's loss made him realize the kind of team effort Missouri needs to be a consistent winner, especially on the road.
"It's real hard," he said. "It just shows that no matter if you (as an individual) play good or not, if one side does not do their job, you won't come out with that W."