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Dave Matter | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | November 24, 2015

Missouri football: Win or lose, Mizzou could still be in bowl mix

Coach Gary Pinkel and Missouri could be bowling this season after all.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- There's a good chance there won't be enough bowl-eligible college football teams to fill the 80 spots required for this year's postseason calendar. Heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, there are 71 teams that have won six games to become eligible. The bowl lineup needs nine more teams to fill all pairings.

Missouri is part of the puzzle. The Tigers are 5-6 heading into Friday's regular-season finale at Arkansas. Beat the Razorbacks and Mizzou is bowling for sure. A loss, though, doesn't mean the season is over for Mizzou.

The NCAA football oversight committee was expected to meet this week to discuss how to fill all the bowl spots, reported Sunday. "I think we'll still get to 80. If we don't, I have confidence the NCAA will work out all of those details," Wright Waters, executive director of the Football Bowl Association, told The Associated Press.

Three years ago the NCAA came up with a plan in case this situation happened, deciding that 5-7 teams could qualify for a bowl game if they ranked among the NCAA's top five for Academic Progress Report for the most recent season. The top five teams for the most recent APR scores are already bowl eligible: Wisconsin, Northwestern, Duke, Michigan and Stanford. If the NCAA committee decides to use APR scores to decide bowl participants this year among 5-7 teams, Missouri would rank high compared to the rest of the field. Of the teams still alive for bowl eligibility, MU's most recent APR score of 976 is tied with Kansas State (4-6) and trails only four other programs that are sitting at 5-6: Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Indiana and Washington. Other 5-6 teams include Minnesota, Illinois and Kentucky.

Asked Monday, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he hadn't thought about accepting a bowl invitation if the Tigers finish 5-7.

"Obviously I want to win the (Arkansas) game," he said. "That's where my focus is."

Pinkel said it would be athletics director Mack Rhoades' decision on whether MU would play in a bowl at 5-7. Since announcing his resignation Nov. 13, Pinkel has said he plans to coach in a bowl game if the Tigers receive an invitation.

"I'd be way OK playing in a bowl game" at 5-7, freshman quarterback Drew Lock said after Monday's practice. "Obviously it's not what you want. You want to be a six-win team and (have) all the credentials. But to be a five-win team, I'd be perfectly fine with being a bowl team."

Missouri has played in a bowl in all but four of Pinkel's previous 14 seasons with a 6-4 record in those games, including three straight wins.

Pinkel said he felt bad when senior offensive linemen Evan Boehm and Connor McGovern carried him off Faurot Field following Saturday's 19-8 loss to Tennessee in what was Pinkel's final home game. He appreciated the gesture, but it was not the jubilant scene that unfolded earlier in the day at Virginia Tech, where players carried retiring coach Frank Beamer off the field after an overtime loss to nationally ranked North Carolina.

"I'm grumpy (after the loss)," Pinkel said. "I'm not a guy like the coach at Virginia Tech. They lost the game and he's smiling and waving to everybody. I'm very appreciative of that and very appreciative of our fans and everything else."

But he couldn't force a smile after watching his Tigers fall behind 16-0 at halftime and struggle to rally against a team they'd beaten three straight times. Though it could be his final game as a coach, Pinkel doesn't want his players focused on winning Saturday's game in his honor.

"I just want to win this week," he said later. "I felt bad after the game being Grumpy Man when everybody's being so nice to me and the fans. I just can't separate the two. You win or you lose, and I don't like to lose."

Craig Kuligowski might be the most valued position coach on Pinkel's staff, but like the rest of Pinkel's assistants, the longtime defensive line coach known as Coach Kool is unsure where he'll be coaching next season.

"I just try to do the best job that I can do," said Kuligowski, who's coached nine first-team all-conference players at Mizzou and produced 12 NFL draft picks, including four first-rounders. "People recognize that I do go a good job. Hopefully things will work out well."

In recent years, Mizzou began to use Kuligowski's player development track record as a recruiting sales pitch, a tactic that helped land East St. Louis' Terry Beckner Jr., the country's top-rated defensive lineman in the 2015 recruiting class. For now, the Tigers can't necessarily sell recruits on Kuligowski's prowess.

"We just have to see how the whole thing plays out," he said. "I don't have any answers for my players. I don't have any answers for my family right now. We'll just keep coaching them really hard and something good's going to happen."

This article was written by Dave Matter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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