So it comes to this. The Missouri Tigers head into Austin, a place that hasn't seen them win in over a century. 1896 was the last time Mizzou took on the Longhorns at home and came out positive.
This time, a lot hangs in the balance for the Tigers: The last shred of national title hopes, position in the Big 12 north, a quarterback's legacy, and the reputation of the school as either a contender or pretender.
They take their wounded pride and wounded players and march into the most foreboding arena in the Big 12, against the top team in the land. Leading the march, Missouri's recently fallen hero, Chase Daniel.
Exposed as mere mortal in his contest against Oklahoma State, his homecoming is the most talked about event for most sports figures in the country. Daniel leads this team, possibly the best Mizzou has ever seen, in the biggest of big games yet.
Anyone who has played organized sports has a moment they remember from a coach. Whether it was a speech, a tirade or simple encouragement, when a coach reaches his players, it lasts a lifetime.
I was lucky enough to play for a coach that combined all three in a mastery of motivational rhetoric that seemed infallible. That is what Missouri will need from head coach Gary Pinkel this Saturday.
Much has been said about "finding out what type of team" the Tigers are this weekend. This is true, after this game we will finally know what kind of people lie beneath the pads and helmets. But more importantly, we will find out what kind of leader Pinkel is.
Lou Holtz can give all the fake speeches he wants, but the players will never hear a word. Their inspiration -- if they need it -- will come from the clipboard-waving man in the gold polo. His job (the one he signed that enormous contract extension for) is to make his players believe, to challenge them, to make them respond to the enormous obstacle in front of them. You'll know by the opening snap how he did.
Comparing the numbers for a game like this is a waste of time. If you need stats to understand what you're about to see, then there's not much that can be done for you. Since things like total yards, passer rating, and turnover margin are out the window, predictions should be made on a different basis -- and I think I have it solved.
In 1896, when Missouri took a win in Austin, it was an election year, much like this year. Not just any election, either. The election of 1896, between Republican William McKinley and Democrat William Jennings Bryan, has been reflected on as "one of the most influential in American history," similar to the election of 2008.
Later called the Great Realignment, the result of the 1896 election was considered an event that righted America's listing ship. The election featured a Republican war veteran and a Democratic candidate renowned for his ability to give a moving speech.
But wait, it gets better.
The election followed a recent near-collapse of the economy dubbed the Great Panic triggered by a series of bank failures, and the fate of economic security seemed to ride on the election.
Due to his age, Bryan was attacked for being inexperienced. Bryan, like Obama, called for reform and attacked the previous administration for putting the country in danger. Oh, and McCain looks like McKinley.
Since this level of football with this level of teams is a crapshoot to predict, I feel like this is as good as way of any to draw a conclusion. Based on the findings, the climate seems similar enough for history to repeat itself, if you believe in that sort of thing.
Regardless of historical parallels, this game will certainly be one that you will remember. Something inexplicable hangs in the air when a team and its fans have to put every ounce of strength and heart into a single game, and Missouri is at that point.
As fans we get to see our team with its back against the wall against the world, and we'll live and die on every down. It's one of those rare times when players and fans will be bonded by emotion, regardless of distance.
And despite my bit of pragmatic punditry earlier in the week, I will cheer and cry with everyone in a Missouri jersey, whether they're on the field or in a bar.
The Tigers carry our hopes into Texas, and we will feel every injury, every touchdown, and every moment of pride and uncertainty they do.
So don't change that channel, for unless I missed my guess, we're in for one wild night in Austin.