Missouri tried the Cotton Bowl victory vs. Ohio State as a championship. Is it the next playoff bid?

ARLINGTON, Texas – Don’t tell Missouri that the six New Year’s games outside of the College Football Playoffs don’t matter. If you had watched the No. 9 Tigers celebrate their 14-3 Cotton Bowl victory against No. 7 Ohio State, it might as well have been a championship.

The players made snow angels with the confetti. Each staff member took a photo with someone. Nobody wanted to leave the field. Mizzou fans, who sold out their allotted 13,000 tickets in less than 18 hours, filled more than half of the 70,000 people at AT&T Stadium. It was the Tigers’ biggest win since the Cotton Bowl to cap a top-five season a decade ago. Year 11 victory. A reason to celebrate a season of breakthrough and an upward trajectory.

“The way (the Cotton Bowl) treated us, it felt like the Super Bowl,” head coach Eli Drinkwitz said.

However, Friday night once again highlighted the growing enigma of the last decade and why things are going to change next season.

The upcoming 12-team College Football Playoff was intended for teams like Mizzou, to provide access to programs that don’t win their conference but have a top-10 season and could spring an upset or two. So they can play an important postseason game, against a team that wants to be there.

This Cotton Bowl meant everything to Mizzou. It’s hard to say the same for Ohio State. Wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., a future top-10 pick, was here but didn’t play. This season’s starting quarterback, Kyle McCord, has already committed to transfer to Syracuse and was on the bench for the Orange’s bowl game last week. Ohio State played most of this game with its third-string quarterback.

GO DEEPER

Wasserman: How can Ohio State evaluate the QB position with incomplete data on Devin Brown?

That doesn’t take anything away from Mizzou, which didn’t have any notable opt-outs. They don’t put asterisks on victories. It simply points out a reality that we have seen for several years. The New Year’s Six was intended to be the best of both worlds, maintaining the traditional bowling celebrations along with the creation of the Playoffs. It didn’t take long for many star players in non-CFP games to see little point in playing and risking injury, and the transfer portal exacerbated that.

Ohio State always hopes to play for the national championship. Mizzou was picked to finish sixth in the SEC East. This sport has always been a game of expectations.

It’s the end of an era when great teams could end their season with a big win and celebrate. In the 12-team CFP era, 11 teams will go home with a loss. If the 12-team CFP existed this year, Mizzou would have played at Oregon in an 8-9 matchup for the right to play No. 1 Michigan. Instead, Tigers fans took over Arlington and enjoyed a victory. They loved him.

“I’ll be honest, I hope we don’t lose that in the 12-team playoff, because there’s something special about having these bowling experiences,” Drinkwitz said. “But if this is the last one, wow, Mizzou did good for them.”

Mizzou isn’t done here. The win was also a 2024 statement for the Tigers, who will return most of their team beyond All-American running back Cody Schrader and have their eyes on landing one of those CFP spots, perhaps on their home field .

“(This win) is special for our team next year,” quarterback Brady Cook said. “The boys come back for one more, the coaches, the brotherhood. “This will just give us more momentum.”


Quarterback Brady Cook threw a touchdown pass and had 66 rushing yards on Friday. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today)

The cook will return. Star receiver Luther Burden III will return. The Tigers will add a top-25 recruiting class that includes five-star running back Williams Nwaneri, the nation’s No. 2 recruit in the 247Sports Composite, along with a stellar transfer class. The Mizzou administration stepped up to keep defensive coordinator Blake Baker, who Drinkwitz said has turned down jobs elsewhere over the past month.

Mizzou and Drinkwitz are making an impact in the places that matter in a cutthroat SEC that is about to add one of this year’s CFP teams in Texas, along with blueblood Oklahoma. It’s a Tigers program that two years in a row gave Georgia its toughest regular-season game. This is not a Mizzou that will settle for bowl eligibility. He is making waves in the name, image and likeness space, signing five-star players and putting no limits on what he can do.

“The future is extremely bright because of the plans we have and the vision we are carrying out,” Drinkwitz said. “It’s not just me, it’s our administration and what they’ve done… It’s what our players have done. That’s what our recruiting does, getting the right players to play for us.

“With the 12-team Playoff system, this would be a game where we continue to advance and have the opportunity to play at a higher level. Everything is falling into place now. But we understand that the wind is twice as strong at the top of the mountain.”

In November 2024, college football could have more than 30 or 40 teams in the playoff hunt. Teams like Mizzou. That’s the excitement to come. Instead of waiting for a New Year’s Six opponent that may or may not care to be there, the Tigers could have a path to a national championship.

This may seem unlikely or unrealistic. On the other hand, he also did it this season.

“Going from unranked to top 10 was pretty special,” Drinkwitz said. “But why stop now?”

(Top photo by Luther Burden III: Sam Hodde/Getty Images)