“Of all the teenage, made-for-cable, serially sponsored college football games for teams that either belly flopped in November (longtime number one Penn State in 1999, defending national champ Texas in 2006) or got jilted by a bowl older than Miley Cyrus (11-1 Kansas State in 1998), San Antonio™s indoor contest is my absolute favorite,” I wrote in Texas Monthly last month, and I guess I wasn’t kidding – Monday was my third trip to the Alamo Bowl.
Neither team fit into those categories this year, even if Mizzou was once a BCS contender. Certainly if you’d told me in September that Northwestern would hold its own against the pre-season #5, or even get a chance to play them, I would have been delighted. In the end, both schools were right where they belonged. Northwestern may have even been a little overrated, having ducked Penn State and Wisconsin this year (not that the Badgers would have necessarily beat them); at the same time, if they’d played a better game against Michigan State, they might have made it where the Spartans did, the Citrus.
Meanwhile, the Outback’s preference for Iowa, a team the Wildcats beat, was vindicated by the Alamo’s attendance, which couldn’t have been more than 45-50,000 actual (announced was 55,000+). The economy aside, it’s nothing more than math: a private school with 8100 undergraduates will only ever bring one-third to one-half the fan base as a state school.
This was, as the headline of this post suggests, good news for the two-man CSTB contingent. In fact, had I been a bit more eBay-conscientious, we could have had four tickets for no more than a total of three bucks. Neither of us wore purple, though we admired folks who broke out TCU and Vikings gear (Prince t-shirts would have been another option).
Unlike Vegas or the pundits, I expected a good game (or I sure as hell wouldn’t have attended, having been there in 2000 for the 66-17 Nebraska beating). Missouri was an even bigger favorite against Kansas, and they lost (and gave up 40 points). Texas was an even bigger favorite in the 2006 Alamo Bowl, and almost lost. Rivalries and bowls are both extremely unpredictable.
But, alas, Missouri’s superior talent allowed them to overcome more mistakes. They also played the run much better in the second half. Pat Fitzgerald may not care about a moral victory, but it was pretty crazy that NU could outright dominate much of a game in which they spotted that offense 15-20 yards of field position every kickoff. Then of course, they let a punt get played by Jeremy Maclin, and the game began anew.
Great night for C.J. Bacher (above), who outplayed Daniel. Crazy to think that Missouri’s kicker, who couldn’t seal the deal in regulation, is the most accurate in NCAA history. Awful that the Cats lost Corey Wooton towards the end, not because he might have made the difference (though he might have further delayed the inevitable) but because it was the turf that got him, and the prognosis isn’t good. And oh yeah – the Wildcats missed an extra point.
As I said in Texas Monthly, a bowl like this is just an extra inter-conference game – the kind that schools don’t schedule for September nearly as often as they should. Everybody left the building entertained, the Wildcats fans included – sorry Pat, but I do think that there’s still an element of “just happy to be here” for the moment. Give us a few more nine-win seasons (and that long-awaited bowl triumph), and not only will our expectations rise, we’ll even start to second-guess you.
Most of all, I enjoyed watching the NU sideline. Fitzgerald coaches like he just might sub in for the middle linebacker at any time (he could easily be penalized for going too far on the field). He also outworks Willie the Wildcat pumping up the crowd. And the players couldn’t have been any more intense and overjoyed if they had been in Pasadena.
So I’ve now attended as many Northwestern Alamo Bowls as I have Northwestern games when I was a Northwestern student. What can I say – it wasn’t just that they were awful, it was that the team I grew up watching still came first. In fact, I am now off to a Penn State pep rally at Beverly Hills High. Just might fire up the Twitter feed for that (and maybe at the Rose Bowl too).