Missouri football coach Eliah Drinkwitz was told on a phone call early Sunday morning that the Tigers were being targeted for a spot in the Armed Forces Bowl. But no one was certain, he says, because, “you never know until the SEC confirms.”
Later that day, the possibility became a reality. Mizzou will face Army in the Armed Forces Bowl at 7 p.m. Central time Dec. 22 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Though the bowl game isn’t one of the primary SEC affiliates and conflicts with the men’s basketball team’s annual Braggin’ Rights Game against Illinois in St. Louis, Drinkwitz and athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois, in a media availability late Sunday afternoon, expressed a lot of excitement and pride in being chosen for the matchup.
“It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s an SEC affiliate or not,” Drinkwitz said. “I think for us, it’s an opportunity to play in a place where I said 17 student-athletes are from, we’ve got a large alumni base and it’s a great recruiting ground for us. So for me, it’s a real win-win in what we’re trying to accomplish with this program.”
Reed-Francois said that the Missouri administration made it clear to the SEC that the basketball game would tip off one hour after the bowl game kickoff, but it was still scheduled.
“We have a large fan base in Dallas and we’re excited to be able to go to the bowl game, regardless of the date and the time,” Reed-Francois said. “And we’re going to make the absolute best of this because it’s a special occasion.”
She added that Mizzou will host a pregame party for Braggin’ Rights at The Wheelhouse in St. Louis, where the bowl game will be shown.
The MU athletic department did research and provided a list of their top bowl games to the SEC earlier in the week, Reed-Francois explained. The bowl games provided the conference a similar list. The league then examined several different factors, including geography, past appearances and TV matchups, and had the final say.
Reed-Francois said being chosen for the Armed Forces Bowl wasn’t a surprise because the SEC had told them it was a possibility. She disputed the notion that Mizzou was not chosen for an SEC-affiliated bowl, despite the fact that it didn’t make the cut for one of the six SEC pool games (along with Auburn and Florida) and the Armed Forces Bowl has only had an SEC member play in it once before (Mississippi State in 2020).
“We weren’t left out,” Reed-Francois said. “It’s not a question of being left out, quite the contrary. It’s a question of having an opportunity to participate in a very, very special day.
“...The military is really important to not only our football program and our athletic department, but our university and our state. So this tie-in is very, very special to us.”
Mizzou running back coach Curtis Luper is one of those connections. He served in the U.S. Army as an air traffic controller from 1988-92 and is from Sherman, Texas, less than 100 miles from where the bowl game will be played in Fort Worth at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Though it wasn’t for Reed-Francois, the selection for the Armed Forces Bowl was a shock for players. Linebacker Blaze Alldredge says that everyone on the team was trying to guess where they would end up playing a bowl game, but “nobody predicted this, so obviously we didn’t have any idea what was going on.”
Once they did find out, the 17 players from Texas were especially excited.
“As soon as we got the announcement, you’ve already got guys, you know, you can see the changes in their face,” Alldredge said. “And just being back in the hometown, in your home state, I think really gives a lot of guys a sense of confidence and comfort that I think makes a big difference. So that’s going to be huge for them.”
The Tigers already had two practices aimed towards player development this weekend and will continue their bowl game preparation in the weeks leading up to the Dec. 22 matchup.