After an Elite Eight tournament run and another bowl winning season in football, is Missouri really one of the nation’s top athletic schools?
In the wake of Mike Anderson’s signing of his 7-year contract extension, it is time to give credit where credit is due. The Columns would like to thank MU Athletic Director Mike Alden for doing a fantastic job as AD. He has made a commitment to fielding competitive teams and keeping good coaches. By resigning Gary Pinkel and Anderson, Missouri has given itself stability in its two most important positions within the athletic department. While Alden screwed up by not resigning Anderson following the Big 12 tournament, when he probably could have resigned Anderson at a lower price, he did what was necessary to keep one of basketball’s most coveted coaches. The outstanding job by Pinkel and Anderson in recent year(s) leads me to the point of this article. Missouri has climbed its way into the discussion for one of the top 10 athletic schools in the country. Now, I know other sports are important to the University, but The Columns is going to judge schools athletically, based only upon football and men’s basketball.
In order to even gain consideration for a great athletic program, a school must first have two things:
– A football team that goes to a bowl game AND
– A men’s basketball team that makes the NCAA tournament
Under our ranking system, The Columns is sad to admit that last year’s best athletic program was kU. By winning a BCS bowl and the National Championship in basketball, Kansas had an athletic year for the ages – Almost as good as when Florida won titles in both sports.
Qualifying schools and how they faired: (bowl and tourney outcomes listed)
– Ohio State: Lost Fiesta Bowl to Texas, lost in first round to Siena
– Utah: Won Sugar Bowl, lost in first round to Arizona
– Arizona: Won Las Vegas Bowl, went to Sweet Sixteen
– Wake Forest: Won Eagle Bank Bowl, lost in first round to Cleveland State
– West Virginia: Won Meineke Car Care Bowl, lost in first round to Dayton
– Kansas: Won Insight Bowl, reached Elite Eight
– Boston College: Lost Music City Bowl to Vanderbilt, lost in first round to USC
– USC: Won Rose Bowl, reached second round
– Michigan State: Lost Capital One Bowl to Georgia, reached Final Four (and beyond possibly)
– Connecticut: Won International Bowl, reached Final Four (and beyond possibly)
– BYU: Lost Las Vegas Bowl to Arizona, lost in first round to Texas A&M
– Missouri: Won Alamo Bowl, reached Elite Eight
– California: Won Emerald Bowl, lost in first round to Maryland
– Maryland: Won Humanitarian Bowl, reached second round
– Memphis: Lost Magicjack.com Bowl, reached Sweet Sixteen
– Pittsburgh: Lost Sun Bowl to Oregon State, reached Elite Eight
– Oklahoma State: Lost Holiday Bowl to Oregon, reached second round
– Florida State: Won Champs Sports Bowl, lost in first round to Wisconsin
– Wisconsin: Lost Champs Sports Bowl to Florida State, reached second round
– Texas: Won Fiesta Bowl, reached second round
– Minnesota: Lost Insight Bowl to Kansas, lost in first round to Texas
– North Carolina: Lost Meineke Car Care Bowl to West Virginia, reached Final Four (possibly more)
– LSU: Won Chick-fil-A Bowl, reached second round
– Clemson: Lost Gator Bowl to Nebraska, lost in first round
– Oklahoma: Lost National Title to Florida, reached Elite Eight
That leaves 25 schools in the running. Perfect for ranking a top 25…
The Rankings (25-20)
25. Brigham Young Universtiy – While BYU had a nice football season in which they saw their national ranking shoot into the top 20, they did not finish the season well. A loss to rival Utah combined with an 0-2 record vs. ranked opponents was disappointing. Finishing off the football season with a loss to Arizona in the less than prestigious Las Vegas Bowl added sting to the disappointment. In basketball the Cougars faired similarly. A nice 25-7 season, but 0-2 vs. ranked opponents and a first round loss doomed the Cougars. BYU checks in on the list at #25.
24. Minnesota – The Minnesota athletic program has things pointed in the right direction in 2009 after a dismal 2008. Head football coach Tim Brewster took the team from one win in 2007 to 7 in the 2008-2009 campaign. The team also earned a ranking as high as 19th in the country. While the Gophers did lose the Insight Bowl to Kansas it is still an improvement and ranks ahead of BYU’s Las Vegas Bowl loss. In basketball, the Gophers improved under Tubby Smith and made the tournament for the first time since 2005. Tubby had the Gophers ranked for a period of time and led them to wins over other tournament bound teams such as Illinois, Wisconsin, Cornell, Ohio State, and Louisville. Minnesota’s seasons were very equivalent to BYU’s, but the Gophs play in a better conference.
23. Boston College – The end results for the Eagles were not good this year. The football team lost the Music City Bowl to Vanderbilt of all teams, while the basketball team suffered a first round upset loss at the hands of USC. In football, BC had wins over a similar program Wake Forest but lost to Clemson. The Eagles also went a total of 0-3 against those programs in basketball. In basketball they beat Duke and North Carolina (high points) but lost to Saint Louis University and Harvard (low points). Making this list is an accomplishment by itself so the Eagles shouldn’t be ashamed to check in at #23.
22. Clemson – We’ll stay in the ACC with Clemson at 22. If we were to rank pre-season expectations and hype, Clemson might find its way into the top 10. Maybe even the top 5. But since this ranking is performance based and not hype based, the Tigers typical mid to late season collapses put them near the bottom. In football and basketball each team received a tremendous amount of hype and expectations yet still managed to underachieve in both sports. The football teamed opened up the year ranked 9th in the nation before promptly getting blasted 34-10 by Alabama on national TV in week one. They fired their head coach midseason and stumbled their way to a Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska – a bowl they weren’t deserving of anyway. In hoops, the story reads similarly. Clemson stormed to a 16-0 record and tons of media attention before finding their rightful place as team that gets upset in the first round of the tourney. Clemson should be happy the football and basketball seasons aren’t any longer to where their late season skids would sink them off of this list altogether.
21. Wake Forest – Eventually a non-ACC team will find its way back onto this list but for now we’re stuck in Atlantic Coast territory with number 21 Wake. The Deacons football team has seemed to work its way into national respectability the past few years. While 2008-2009 did not bring another BCS appearance, winning the first ever Eagle Bank Bowl is somewhat respectable. Producing a stud like Aaron Curry doesn’t hurt the program’s rep either. In hoops, the Demon Deacons found their way into the top 5 rankings while beating quality opponents such as BC, Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, and Florida State. The basketball team ,which is not accustomed to first round exits, were the surprise casualty of the first round, getting upset by the Cleveland State Vikings. Ouch.
20. Wisconsin – While the University of Wisconsin generally fields competitive teams in both football and basketball, 2008-2009 was a down year for the Badgers. The football team began the year ranked in the top 10 before they went on a stretch where they lost 4 in a row and 5 out of 6. Perhaps the ugliest part of they year for Wisconsin football was the fact that they needed overtime to beat Cal Poly. The Badgers ended the year with a 42-13 spanking at the hands of the Florida State Seminoles in the Champs Sports Bowl. The basketball team finished the year 20-13 and squeaked into the tournament where they avenged their bowl loss by beating FSU in the first round. A Champs Sports Bowl loss and a second round exit in the tourney isn’t the usual results for a program like Wisconsin, but this year it puts them at 20 on the list.
19. California – Good but not great seasons for both teams out of Berkeley. The football team went 9-4 and 1-2 against ranked opponents. A thrilling win in the Emerald Bowl over Miami capped off a season where the Bears finished fourth in the PAC 10. The basketball team was also unable to separate itself from the pack. They finished 4th in the PAC 10 in basketball as well. Cal had a nice 15-2 start but losses to Florida State and a 27 point thrashing at the hands of Mizzou stuck out like sore thumbs. The Bears finished the season going 2-5 in their final seven games and being upset in the first round by Maryland (who they also lost to in football).
18. West Virginia – This was a really hard spot to fill. It came down to West Virginia and Florida State for this spot and their seasons in each sport were almost identical. Each football team went 9-4. Each football team won a lower tier bowl game that is played on December 27th. Each basketball team finished in the middle of their league and lost in the first round of the tournament. The edge goes to FSU over WVU for two reasons: The Seminoles smashed Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl whereas West Virginia barely won a very entertaining Care Care Bowl over North Carolina. Secondly, Florida State went 25-10 in basketball and had a remarkable run in the ACC tourney to the title game, whereas West Virginia went 23-11 and did not make a run in their conference tourney. For those reasons the edge goes to Florida State and the Mountaineers check in at the 18 spot.
17. Florida State – see number 18.
16. Memphis – Memphis is not usually a school one thinks about when they think of dual threat athletic schools, but somehow they have managed their way to the 16 spot on the list. Their football team, and its 2008 season were such a joke that The Columns had trouble even placing the Tigers on this list in the first place. The Tigers football team, which is hidden from national view under the blanket of Conference USA anonymity finished the season 6-7. You read that right. 6-7, not 7-6. For those of you keeping score at home, that is a losing record. They started the year 0-3, barely recovered enough to back their way into the worst bowl in bowl history, the Magicjack.com bowl, and then were promptly destroyed by an actual football team, Southern Florida, 41-14. Needless to say, football takes a back seat to basketball in Memphis. The Tigers find themselves this high on the list thanks to a 33-4 basketball season. Their basketball season included a 27 game win streak, plenty of national attention, and a 2 seed in the tourney. Memphis is the only team in the nation to earn a 1 or 2 seed in the tourney for 4 straight seasons. Memphis had a great season in basketball and many were surprised when Missouri beat them so soundly in the Sweet Sixteen. Overall though, the basketball program carries Memphis to national respect and the 16 spot on the list… Without coach Cal, the outcome might be different next year. Memphis should enjoy this spot while it lasts.
15. Oklahoma State – Oklahoma State has very respectable teams in each prominent sport. As a Missouri fan, as much as it hurts to say this, if OSU played in the Big 12’s North division they would probably have a few more wins each year in football. On paper, Oklahoma State’s 9-4 football season that ended in a loss in the Holiday Bowl to Oregon looks rather mediocre. When you throw in the fact that they went 1-4 against ranked teams it looks even more mediocre. But when you have to play 3 of the nation’s top teams in your own division, it becomes pretty difficult to win 9 games. Their was no shame in losing to Texas, OU, and Tech last year. While Okie State finished 4th in the South division, they were definitely the Big 12’s 4th best team overall too. The Holiday Bowl is well respected and although they lost, Oklahoma State’s football season is probably the best on the list thus far. In basketball the talented Cowboys struggled in stretches of the regular season but got hot toward the end and managed to beat a similar team in Tennessee in the first round. They played Pitt tough and finished 23-12. Nothing to be ashamed of.
14. Maryland – Maryland comes in at 14 thanks in part to a solid football season and a first round win in the tournament by the basketball team. In football Maryland was 8-5 but had an impressive 4-1 record against ranked teams. Maryland beat ranked opponents Cal, Clemson, Wake Forest, and North Carolina and then capped off the season with a Humanitarian Bowl win over Nevada. Had the football team not slipped up with bad losses against teams like Middle Tennessee State and Virginia (31-0), their season could have gone even better. In basketball, much like football, the Terrapins mixed great wins with terrible losses. Wins over Michigan State, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wake Forest were neutralized by horrible losses like Morgan State, Georgetown (by 27), Clemson (by 29), Duke (by 41), and Virginia. However, once Maryland snuck into the tournament they proved they belonged there by upsetting California. A first round win combined with a bowl win earns Maryland the 14 spot on the list.
13. Arizona – Arizona may be a surprise here, but when looking at season outcomes, Arizona is quite impressive. The football season began with a 70-0 thumping of Idaho and ended with the Wildcats first bowl victory in 10 years. In between, Arizona managed a winning record in the PAC 10 (5-4) and went 2-2 against ranked opponents. While a Las Vegas Bowl victory doesn’t look all that good on paper, the 31-21 win over 16th ranked BYU that it was, is quite impressive. It finally seems that the other Stoops in college football has things headed in the right direction in Tuscon. In basketball, a lot of discussion went into whether Arizona should make the tournament, but once they did, the Wildcats made the most of it by making a run to the Sweet Sixteen. They upset Utah in the first round, and then avoided being upset by Cleveland State in the second. While they did get destroyed by Louisville, a Sweet Sixteen run and a decent bowl victory earns Arizona the 12 spot on this year’s list.
12. Louisiana State – A year that once seemed it was heading south, as the football team fell out of the top 25, was rescued nicely by an impressive bowl win and a successful basketball season for LSU. Usually in the national title hunt in football, the Tigers were hurt by a 1-3 regular season record against ranked opponents. LSU lost its three biggest games of the year to Florida, Georgia, and Alabama by a combined 50 points. However, in football, the SEC is on a whole different level than any other conference and LSU proved that with their 38-3 beating of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A bowl. Winning a New Year’s Eve bowl game against a ranked opponent is impressive. When you do it by 5 touchdowns it is even more impressive. While SEC football may be the best, it is a different story in basketball. In 2008-2009, SEC basketball was the worst of the BCS conferences. The Tigers took advantage of that by winning the regular season SEC title and amassing a 27-8 overall record. They won their first round match-up against Butler and hung around against North Carolina in the second round. A Chick-fil-A bowl win and a trip to the second round in hoops, earns LSU the 12 spot.
11. Ohio State – Ohio State is program accustomed to being near the top of these types of lists and 2008-2009 is no exception. In football the Buckeyes went 10-3 and finished second in a weak Big Ten. Once again Ohio State lost a BCS bowl, this time to Texas, who in some people’s minds could have played for the national title. Although they lost, Ohio State had a strong showing losing 24-21. Had it not been for some Colt McCoy heroics late in the game, the Bucks would have walked away winners. A 7th BCS bowl appearance (most all-time) and finishing 9th in the final AP poll is still something to be proud of in Columbus. In basketball, the Buckeyes went 22-11 and 6-7 against ranked opponents. Although they lost in the first round of the tournament, Ohio State’s football season carries them to 11 on The Columns list.
10. Pittsburgh – In recent years, the Pittsburgh Panthers football team had fallen to mediocrity after winning the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. In 2008 however, the Pitt football team rebounded, winning 9 games and finishing second in the Big East. Wins over fellow bowl teams Iowa, Notre Dame, Navy, Connecticut and West Virginia boosted their regular season resume. However, it is the way Dave Wanstedt’s team finished the year that prevented Pittsburgh from moving any higher on the list. Pittsburgh lost the most boring game of the bowl season, 3-0 in the Sun Bowl. Oregon State was a respectable opponent, but when Pitt failed to score a single point in their bowl game, it was a reminder that they still have a long way to go if they want to get back to the BCS. In basketball, Pitt got as much love all year as anybody. While an Elite Eight exit may have been disappointing to the team, their 28-3 regular season was anything but. Throw in 2 wins over UConn, a 15-3 record in the Big East, and a #1 ranking during the season and Pitt had a season to be proud of.
9. Kansas – The defending champs backed up 2007-2008 with an impressive showing in 2008-2009. The football team did not get the benefit of a ridiculously soft schedule this past year and slumped to 4-4 in Big 12 play. Kansas went only 1-4 against ranked teams. They did still manage to win 8 games and cruise to an Insight Bowl victory. At Kansas, football comes second to basketball and Kansas had a great year despite returning zero starters from a year ago. The Jayhawks went 27-8 overall and 14-2 in a stellar Big 12. A solid football team combined with a sweet sixteen basketball team earns Kansas the 9 spot.
8. Connecticut – This one may create some controversy. Pittsburgh, a team ranked below Connecticut beat the Huskies in football and twice in basketball. This list is about season outcomes though and when you compare Pitt and Connecticut’s season outcomes the advantage definitely lies with UConn. Connecticut went 8-5 in football, beat the Big East Champion Cincinnati, and won their bowl game. While the International Bowl is not exactly the most prestigious bowl out there, UConn took care of business and handled MAC champion Buffalo by 18 points. UConn obviously is carried by its basketball team. A 31-5 season and a run to a Final Four is extremely impressive. Throw in the fact that they did most of it without Jerome Dyson and it is even more impressive.
7. Utah – When the college football season once again came to an end this year without a playoff, no one could be more upset than the Utes. All they managed to do was go 13-0, 4-0 against ranked teams, win the Mountain West, and DESTROY Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. No one gave Utah a chance against the heavily favored Tide and the game was not even as close as the 31-17 score indicates. People argue against Utah because they play in the Mountain West. To alleviate that “problem” they played a tough non-conference schedule as they won at the Big House over Michigan in week one and beat Oregon State in week six. Then in a game against a team from the almighty SEC, they promptly ripped Bama to shreds. Utah finished second in the AP and coaches poll at the end of the year. Their basketball team also won the Mountain West, but their dismal exit as 5 seed in the first round of the tourney prevent the Utes from climbing even higher on this list.
6. Missouri – It is with great pride I can say that I put Mizzou here completely unbiasedly. Their list of accomplishments, their body of work, and season outcomes create a strong resume. Their football team won 10 games, earned a ranking as high as #3 during the course of the year, landed an SI cover, won the Big 12 North for the second straight year, and won a second straight bowl game. The Tigers saw Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman earn All American awards. While the football season was not the dream season that many thought it could be, a program that has struggled like Missouri’s historically has, is in no place to complain about an Alamo Bowl victory. In basketball, let’s be honest, no one saw this coming. You can look further down the page at a different post to read of the Tiger’s basketball team’s accomplishments so I will not bore you with that. What I will tell you is that a 31-7 Elite Eight basketball team combined with a 10-4 Alamo Bowl winning football team is the most impressive resume up to this point. Mizzou finished the season ranked 8th in hoops and 19th in football. That’s pretty damn good.
5. Michigan State – An improbable run to the basketball title game propels Sparty to the top 5. Although both their football season and basketball season had good outcomes, there was a disturbing trend that prevented Michigan State from going any higher on the list. In their two biggest games of the year in football (Ohio State and Penn State), Michigan State lost by a combined score of 96-25. In their biggest game of the year in basketball, they never even competed against North Carolina. However, a Capital One Bowl appearance combined with a National Championship appearance in hoops is a year that nearly any university would take. A great year for the Spartans earns them the 5 spot.
4. North Carolina – Not only did the Tar Heels victory over Michigan State win them a national title Monday, more importantly it moved them ahead of Michigan State in The Columns rankings. A national title in basketball and a decent football team is as much as any athletic program can ask for and North Carolina definitely had both. It was apparent all year in basketball that they had the most talented team in the nation, it was just a matter of putting it all together. Behind a legendary coach in Roy Williams, they obviously put it all together. In football, an 8-5 season with wins over Connecticut, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Boston College, and Georgia Tech is respectable. Plus they have a nasty receiver in Hakeem Nicks that I’m hoping the Vikes draft. Anyway, quite a year for North Carolina.
3. Texas – With the basketball season so fresh in everyone’s mind, some people might be a bit surprised to see Texas ranked so highly. But considering their Fiesta Bowl victory in football, combined with a solid basketball season, the Longhorns definitely are deserving. It’s not just that their football team won the Fiesta Bowl. Texas may have been the best team in the nation, they just never got a chance to prove it. The Longhorns were 4-1 against the AP top 25. They played arguably the toughest 4 game stretch in college football history beating #1 Oklahoma, #11 Missouri, and #6 Oklahoma State in consecutive weeks. They finally lost the fourth game of that stretch AT Texas Tech on the game’s final play. The Longhorns also produced a Heisman candidate in quarterback Colt McCoy. In basketball, Texas won 23 games. They reached the second round and their season included wins over fellow tournament teams UCLA, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, and Villanova. The Texas basketball team finished the year ranked 23rd in the country, while their football team finished the year ranked 3rd. Hard to argue against those seasons.
2. USC – Let’s skip over USC’s decent basketball team that made it to the second round (equal to Texas) and won 21 games. It is USC football that carries the Trojans over Texas and into the 2 spot. It was between USC and Texas for this spot and here’s why USC won: Their basketball teams were roughly even. The Trojans football team however, finished the year ranked higher than Texas in both polls. 2nd in the USA Today, 3rd in the AP. They beat Ohio State by 32. Texas beat Ohio State by 3. USC held opponents to 3 points or fewer an astounding 6 times. Had it not been for that slip up in Corvalis, I think we’re talking about another national championship for Southern Cal. A Rose Bowl victory and PAC 10 championship outweigh Texas’s Fiesta Bowl victory and no conference championship. The Trojans check in at #2.
1. Oklahoma – Oklahoma was the closest thing to dominant in each sport as any program was all year. In football, Oklahoma reached the #1 ranking at one point, won the ridiculously tough Big 12 South, produced a Heisman trophy winner, won the Big 12 title and had an appearance in the national championship. Aside from winning the national title, there is not much more a program can do in one season. In basketball, the Sooners produced the consensus national player of the year in Blake Griffin, reached the #2 ranking at one point in the season and went to the Elite Eight as a 2 seed. The Sooners football team finished the year ranked 5th in each poll, the basketball team 7th. That is an amazing combined total of 12, which is best in the nation. Congratulations to Oklahoma, The Columns best athletic university of 2008-2009.