West Virginia at Missouri is the type of matchup that should be a regular feature on college football’s non-conference menu.
Two respectable programs from power conferences will complete a home-and-home series. It certainly isn’t the biggest matchup between the Big 12 and SEC on Saturday – LSU at Texas takes that cake – but it is still the type of game fans will actually pay money to see. Games like this are too frequently played at neutral sites in this era if they are played at all.
Of course, the Tigers and Mountaineers would have put on a much more exciting show last season with NFL Draft prospects Drew Lock and Will Grier leading the way at quarterback. But not even that would have been the most anticipated imaginary meeting between these two programs.
For West Virginia fans and Missouri fans alike, the same year brings up the same question – what-if?
In 2007, the Mountaineers and Tigers were each one win away from meeting one another in the unlikeliest national championship game ever. Unlike college basketball fans, college football fans seem to have no stomach for the underdog, and purists were holding their noses at the mere possibility of Mizzou and WVU invading New Orleans for a Cinderella title bout.
Order was restored for those folks when Missouri lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game and West Virginia was tripped up by Pitt. But let us imagine, just for a few moments, that those results were reversed.
What would have happened if Mizzou and WVU squared off for the 2007 national title?
To solve that riddle, I consulted a website made precisely to answer these hypothetical scenarios – WhatIfSports, which uses the stats from every team from modern college football seasons to determine the outcome of head-to-head matchups.
And according to the site’s calculations… America only missed out on the greatest college football game ever played.
Projected Final: West Virginia 52, Missouri 50 (4 OT)
WVU: Steve Slaton 49-yard run (Pat McAfee kick), WVU 7-0
Mizzou: Jeff Wolfert FG 30, WVU 7-3
WVU: Darius Reynaud 16-yard pass from Pat White (McAfee kick), WVU 14-3
Mizzou: Chase Coffman 2-yard pass from Chase Daniel (Wolfert kick), WVU 14-10
WVU: Slaton 6-yard run (McAfee kick), WVU 21-10
WVU: McAfee FG 28, WVU 24-10
Mizzou: Jeremy Maclin 36-yard pass from Daniel (Wolfert kick), WVU 24-17
Mizzou: Martin Rucker 7-yard pass from Daniel (Wolfert kick), Tied 24-24
Mizzou: Tony Temple 11-yard pass from Daniel (Wolfert kick), Mizzou 31-24
WVU: Slaton 12-yard run (McAfee kick), Tied 31-31
WVU: McAfee FG 21, WVU 34-31
Mizzou: Wolfert FG 34, Tied 34-34
Mizzou: William Franklin 20-yard pass from Daniel (Wolfert kick), Mizzou 41-34
WVU: Noel Devine 3-yard run (McAfee kick), Tied 41-41
WVU: McAfee FG 37, WVU 44-41
Mizzou: Wolfert FG 34, Tied 44-44
Mizzou: Temple 7-yard run (run failed), Mizzou 50-44
WVU: White 3-yard run (Reynaud from White conversion), WVU 52-50
Both teams end up playing to their strengths. Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel passes for 394 yards. West Virginia gains 369 yards on the ground, led by Slaton’s 179 yards on 30 carries. Devine contributes another 94 on his 12 carries, while Reynaud has four receptions for 95 yards.
Surprisingly, defense ends up being key in this contest. Missouri can only manage 1.4 yards per carry on 42 rush attempts, though five West Virginia sacks are factored into that total. Ryan Mundy leads the way for the Mountaineers defense with three of the sacks.
The only thing the simulator is unable to project is the number of burned couches that litter Bourbon Street in the wake of West Virginia’s first national championship.
Per usual, real-life did not measure up to imagination. Traditional powers LSU and Ohio State ended up squaring off and the Tigers pounded the Buckeyes with relative ease. Neither West Virginia nor Missouri have come close to the mountaintop in the 12 years that have followed their near-misses.
WVU and Mizzou aren’t even in the same conferences as they were back then. Missouri moved from the Big 12 to the SEC to become that league’s third set of Tigers, while the Mountaineers jumped from the unraveling Big East to fill the vacancy left by Mizzou in the Big 12.
The competition level raised considerably for both programs with those jumps, making it harder to get back to the brink of another title shot. It’s impossible to know whether either will be in that position again. So when they square off Saturday, you can’t blame fans of either team for wondering what might have happened in the game that never was.