Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Don’t mess with Texas, the saying goes, but the Missouri football team is giving it one last try.
The Tigers head to Texas A&M on Saturday, making this the 30th straight season the Tigers have played a school from the Lone Star State. That streak ends next year. The Tigers’ 2015-16 schedule, as it stands, will be Missouri’s first without a Texas team on it since 1984.
The Aggies have helped extend that streak, joining the Southeastern Conference alongside Missouri in 2012. Previously, the two schools were members of the Big 12, which consisted of four Texas schools at the time.
The Tigers have had their fair share of Texas A&M in recent years: Missouri has played the Aggies in five straight seasons, and four of those games were held at College Station. After Saturday, the two teams won’t face each other in regular-season play until 2021.
That’s also the next time Missouri will play any Texas school, unless the Tigers add one as a non-conference opponent or face one in a bowl game.
“I’m tired of playing them,” Missouri cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford said of the Aggies. “I’m tired of playing them at their place. The number, it just doesn’t seem fair. The majority of the time we’re going there. I’d like to see them come to our place a little bit more. No, it’s an excellent team. They’ve got a great tradition, and it’s kind of that Big 12 rivalry that we have going, and it’s fun. It’s fun for our kids.”
The Tigers have had varying success against Texas teams in the past 30 years, going a combined 25-22-1 against Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, SMU, TCU, Houston, North Texas and Southwest Texas.
But the team’s biggest success in Texas — besides, perhaps, two recent Cotton Bowl wins — has been recruiting. Twenty-four players on Missouri’s 2014 roster are from Texas, including three of its four captains, and past standouts like Chase Daniel, Sean Weatherspoon, Danario Alexander and Michael Sam came to Missouri via Texas.
Now that Missouri has moved to the Southeastern Conference, the program has fewer coaches recruiting in Texas, but it’s still an area of emphasis for the program.
“It’s real important to us,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “Obviously, we’re stretched down to Nashville and Florida, Georgia, some of those areas. Louisiana a little bit, too, so we’re just branching out because that’s the market there.
“We did the same thing, actually, when (my staff came to Missouri). We did a lot of different things. We blew up Texas at the time.”
And Missouri playing a game in the area sure doesn’t hurt recruiting.
“I think if you do play a game there, I think it’s a plus,” Pinkel said. “I don’t think there’s any question about it, versus not. But now, because of TV, you can see every game now. Absolutely every game. So I think it’s easier to recruit out-of-state probably than it’s ever been, because mom and dad and all your relatives, all your friends, everybody can see you play.”
Many of the products of those out-of-state recruiting efforts will relish the chance to play close to home Saturday — and they’d like to bring back a win.
“I want to,” said junior Ian Simon, a graduate of Legacy High School in Mansfield, Texas. “Especially because this will be my last time playing in Texas in my college career. That’s — mmmm, I want it bad. I’m going to have a lot of family there, so I’m going to want that one real bad.”
As a senior, this would have been Marcus Murphy’s last college game in Texas, regardless of Missouri’s future schedules. He graduated from DeSoto High School, which has produced Texas A&M recruits like Von Miller, Cyrus Gray and Tony Jerod-Eddie, who all went on to play in the NFL. Murphy, No. 2 on Missouri’s career all-purpose yardage list, wants to show the Aggies they let one slip through.
“With them not recruiting me, it just adds another chip on my shoulder just to come out and play a little bit harder,” he said.
It was a plus for Murphy to know that playing at Missouri meant traveling to road games in his home state. Murphy said he will be facing players he played against in high school, and he expects to a large turnout of family and high school coaches.
“This is always fun,” he said.
Darius White, a senior out of Fort Worth, Texas, is also revelling the rare chance to play in front of family.
“Some people are in Houston. Some people are in Dallas. Ten, 14 hours away,” he said. “Most of our parents, they don’t have the funds to be up here every game, so it’s going to mean a lot. We’re right in their area. They’re two and three hours away, so it’s going to mean a lot to our families.”
White is hoping to make his return from two groin injuries, which have sidelined him in four games this year. He had the Texas A&M game marked on his calendar.
“I had it circled, man,” he said. “Because I could have played the Kentucky game, but I told myself, ‘Hey, I need to just sit out. I need to get fully healthy, make sure I can get out there running, playing and cutting and stuff.’ Everything is not all fine and dandy. I’m still working on getting everything back, but this is a game I definitely wanted to be in.”
White, who played at Texas before transferring to Missouri, said he has never stopped viewing Texas A&M as a rival.
“Luckily I got to play in the Big 12 and got to play in the SEC. Moving up here to Missouri (in 2012), I was thinking I wasn’t going to get to play them, but then seeing them on the schedule, they came with the SEC too. So it’s just another rivalry.”
And as White knows well, everything is bigger in Texas — especially the stadiums. Kyle Field, “Home of the 12th Man,” now seats more than 106,000, an increase of more than 20,000 from the last time the Tigers played in College Station.
“That’s a big stadium,” White said.
Simon called it one of the loudest in college football. Missouri’s secondary will be missing two starters Saturday, and the replacements will have to adjust to the environment.
“That’s one of the hardest places I’ve ever had to play in my life,” Simon said. “So to say that it’s not going to be a factor, that would be naive to say that.”
Ford still remembers his first game in the Kyle Field press box.
“The very first time I was in it, they started swaying from side to side (and) the booth’s swaying from side to side,” he said. “If it’s the first time for you, you never forget it. I’m looking for the exit. I’m trying to get the heck out of there.
“But it’s a great stadium. It’s a great atmosphere. They pack the place, and at night, it’s a really neat atmosphere. We’re excited about the challenge.”