KANSAS CITY, Missouri – Missouri's win over BYU on Saturday might have been the most significant of Gary Pinkel's coaching career.
Sure, there have been bigger wins in terms of on-field rewards. Like his teams' two Cotton Bowl wins or one against Kansas at the same Arrowhead Stadium in 2007 that vaulted to Missouri to No. 1 in the polls.
But in terms of emotional meaning, it's hard to top Saturday night. Pinkel was mobbed by his players as soon as he went to shake Bronco Mendenhall's hand in the final seconds of the Tigers' 20-16 victory.
It had been a tumultuous week for Missouri. Last Sunday, Missouri players walked out on football activities until an activist's hunger strike ended. The hunger strike would only end, the activist said, until Missouri president Tim Wolfe resigned.
Pinkel said he supported his players' choice to boycott and Wolfe resigned on Monday as protests about racial inequality grew. Players went back to football practice on Tuesday, though the campus grew increasingly fraught with tension.
And Friday, Pinkel resigned after he said he was diagnosed with lymphoma in May.
"What they went through last week, just to be able to pull together as a team says so much about those kids," Pinkel said. "It's been a battle and they're a very good football team we beat, so I feel very, very fortunate. Those guys mean so much to me."
The meaning was obvious. Pinkel had tears in his eyes during a postgame interview. The interview was interrupted by his players who mobbed him once again. Pinkel broke down. And then he broke into a dance.
Dance Gary Pinkel. Dance. pic.twitter.com/7LouzovljA
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) November 15, 2015
The dance was an apt symbol of Pinkel's evolution in his 15 years at Missouri. After Missouri several years of losses and the death of linebacker Aaron O'Neal 10 years ago, Pinkel changed. He became more open and accessible to his players. Loose. A new offensive system revitalized the program.
Pinkel mentioned his week-long emphasis on focus to his team after the game. And perhaps the game in Kansas City was perfectly timed. If you were in a cocoon until Saturday, you wouldn't have had any idea the school was in the midst of a tumultuous time. A drive around the parking lot before the game revealed no protesters.
As Missouri held onto the lead in the fourth quarter, the end of the game turned into a tribute to Pinkel. A thank you was posted on the video boards at Arrowhead Stadium. Fans chanted Pinkel's name. He heard those chants.
"I tried to ignore it so I could focus on what I'm doing," Pinkel said. "I love Mizzou … we built our program here and it's going, I think we're leaving it in great shape and we've got a chance to go to bowl games. I'm thinking about next week already."
And as crazy as it sounds, Missouri, now 5-5, may not need to win again to make a bowl game. With 40 bowl games, 80 teams are needed to fill those spots. There's a decent chance there won't be 80 teams with records of 6-6 or better.
If 5-7 teams are needed to fill spots, Academic Progress Rate scores are used to fill out the remaining slots. Missouri has a good enough APR rating to be one of the first teams selected if APR comes in to play. The high academic rate is just another testament to the culture change Pinkel has brought to the Tigers.
But we'll save more discussion of the bowl epidemic for another day. Sub-.500 teams and bowl games aren't a joyous topic. The emotion shown by Pinkel's players certainly was joyous. And it helped end perhaps the most eventful week in Missouri football history with some positivity.
— Mizzou Network (@MizzouNetwork) November 15, 2015
Here are this week's winners and losers.
Dalvin Cook, Florida State: At some point, the gameplan became very clear for the Seminoles against N.C. State — just give the ball to Cook. It worked. Florida State rolled to a 34-17 victory, and Cook racked up 138 yards and two touchdowns. Just as notably, though, Cook passed Warrick Dunn for the single-season rushing mark at Florida State, eclipsing 1,259 yards.
Kansas: The Jayhawks opened the year by losing 41-38 to South Dakota State, an FCS team that is currently 7-2 overall. For a while, they were hands down the worst team in FBS before North Texas got thumped by Portland State. Yet, Kansas has now lost two heartbreakers to Texas Tech (30-20) and TCU (23-17), two of the most unlikely upset candidates on the schedule. The Jayhawks entered Saturday’s contest in Ft. Worth as 45 point underdogs, and nearly stole the thing away. Home games against West Virginia and Kansas State are the last two chances for Kansas to avoid going winless.
Jalen Robinette, Air Force: Air Force, much like the other service academies, is known for using an option-based offense without throwing the ball a whole lot. That was the case again on Saturday as the Falcons threw only 17 times (compared to 64 runs) in a 35-28 win over Utah State, but wideout Jalen Robinette made those passes count. Robinette, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior, hauled in seven passes for 210 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown in the third quarter. According to USA Today's Steve Berkowitz, Robinette's 210 receiving yards was the most by an Air Force player since 1978. The best part? Robinette only had 11 catches for 273 yards in nine games entering Saturday's game.
The Jake Rudock to Jehu Chesson connection: Michigan needed two overtimes to hold off pesky Indiana in Bloomington, and the chemistry between senior quarterback Jake Rudock and senior wideout Jehu Chesson was a big part of that. Rudock threw for 440 yards and six touchdowns in the win, four of which went to Chesson. Chesson finished with 10 catches for 207 yards on the afternoon. Meanwhile, according to ESPN, Rudock became the first Big Ten QB to throw for 400 yards and six touchdowns in a game since Kyle Orton did it for Purdue in 2004. The six TDs for Rudock also set a Michigan record.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders broke a streak that dated back to Oct. 19, 2013 with a 59-44 win over Kansas State on Saturday. It had been 17 games since Texas Tech won a Big 12 cvontest over an opponent not named Kansas or Iowa State. TTU put up 658 yards of total offense in the win, led by 384 yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Patrick Mahomes and 248 yards and three touchdowns from senior running back DeAndre Washington. On top of that, it was win No. 6 for the Red Raiders, so they are bowl eligible.
BONUS WINNER - Alex Kinal, Wake Forest: Alex Kinal set an NCAA record that he probably hoped he wouldn't reach when his career began. Kinal's third punt of the game Saturday against Notre Dame was the 323rd of his collegiate career — an NCAA record for career punts. The senior hasn't won a lot of games with the Demon Deacons, but he sure has punted a lot.
Miami: Oh, thank goodness for garbage time touchdowns. For awhile, the Hurricanes looked like they were attempting to try to one-up themselves for worst loss in program history on Saturday against North Carolina. The Tar Heels jumped out to a 45-0 lead before Miami got on the board. And with the touchdown, the threat of beating the 58-0 Clemson drubbing was over. Miami eventually lost 59-21 and fell to 3-3 in the ACC. At 6-4 overall, the Hurricanes are guaranteed a bowl berth, but for a team looking for a new coach at the end of the season, the lack of defense is detracting some from the attractiveness of the job.
Rice: Did the Owls play defense at all against Southern Miss? The Golden Eagles racked up 682 yards of total offense and averaged a whopping 13.5 yards per pass play. Yeah, Southern Miss threw for 501 yards on just 37 pass attempts. Meanwhile, Rice had just 214 total yards. Southern Miss QB Nick Mullens threw for 386 yards and had five first-half touchdown passes. The TD passes tied a school record for most in a game.
Kentucky: The Wildcats' offense is going to be kicking itself for a while after this one. Kentucky lost 21-17 to Vanderbilt Saturday and can point to two possessions as the turning point. The Wildcats got inside the Commodores' 5-yard-line twice and came away with no points. The Wildcats were first stuffed four times at the 1-yard line in the first quarter, and then in the second quarter, Patrick Towles threw an interception while Kentucky was at the Vandy 3. It led Kentucky DT C.J. Johnson to say this after the game.
C.J. Johnson says defense fought its heart out. On UK not scoring on 2 trips inside 5: "It's just like, f***. I don't know what else to do."
— Alex Forkner (@AlexForknerTCP) November 15, 2015
Temple: The Owls had a chance to lock up the AAC's East division, but instead they were blown out on the road by South Florida for their first conference loss of the season. Not only did Temple blow a chance to clinch a spot in the AAC title game, but it likely cost itself a chance to represent the Group of Five in a New Year's Bowl with the loss. The Temple defense gave up a whopping 556 yards in the loss. If Temple wins out (vs. Memphis, vs. UConn), the Owls will still win the division, but another slip-up could allow the Bulls to win the East.