Led by running back Cody Schrader’s 217 rushing yards on 27 carries, Missouri, arguably the biggest surprise team of 2023, capped its first 10-win season since 2014 with a 48-14 beatdown of a crumbling Arkansas team Friday before a quick-exiting Battle Line Rivalry crowd in Fayetteville.

With the victory, the Tigers (10-2, 6-2) seem destined to play in their first-ever CFP New Year’s 6 bowl game while improving to 8-2 against the Razorbacks since joining the SEC. Picked to finish 6th in the SEC East, the Tigers gained momentum in September after beating defending Big 12 champion Kansas State on Harrison Mevis’ 61-yard walk-off field goal.

Ranked 9th by the CFP committee, the Tigers will wait until next weekend to learn whether they’ll play in the Fiesta, Cotton, Orange or Peach Bowl. Either Louisville or Florida State of the ACC would be the opponent in the Orange — the other 3 games have no ties with conferences. A NY6 game is a big deal for Mizzou, which was passed over for marquee bowl games after winning the East in 2013 and 2014 and winning the Big 12 North in 2007 and 2008.

The Tigers dominated from the start against Arkansas, with any realistic Hogs hopes dashed when quarterback KJ Jefferson left the game with a knee injury in the first quarter. With Schrader running effectively and the Hogs’ offense sputtering under backup QB Jacolby Criswell, Mizzou QB Brady Cook threw only 20 times, completing 12 for 112 yards.

Most improved: QB Brady Cook

Hard to believe now, but many Mizzou fans didn’t want to see Cook back on the field after 2 mediocre seasons. In fact, coach Eliah Drinkwitz said he would give 4-star recruit Sam Horn playing time in the season opener against South Dakota.

But Cook quickly grabbed control with strong support from Drinkwitz. The booing ended after the victory over Kansas State, and the winning continued. Even in defeats capped by interceptions against LSU and Georgia, Cook played well. He showed exceptional poise driving the Tigers to a game-winning field goal against Florida.

Cook finished the regular-season with 3,189 passing yards with 20 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He completed 66.8% of his passes and was 19th in the nation — one spot above Southern Cal’s Caleb Williams — in yards per reception at 13.7.

Biggest surprise: RB Cody Schrader

How many college football followers expected the former Division II rushing leader to be the nation’s No. 2 rusher in the Division I FBS with 1,489 yards? After rushing for 746 yards in 2022, the 5-9, 217-pound Schrader was a workhorse this season with 247 carries and 13 TDs. He finished strong with 841 yards and 6 TDs in the final 5 games with 200-plus games against Tennessee and Arkansas. He also rushed for more than 100 yards in the losses to LSU and Georgia.

WR Luther Burden III had an amazing season with 83 catches for 1,197 yards and 8 TDs, more than filling the gap left by Dominic Lovett’s transfer to Georgia. But the success of the sophomore, a 5-star recruit, was no surprise.

Best win: 30-27 over Kansas State

Tough call here. Let’s go with the victory that launched the season. After leading favored K-State much of the game, the Tigers seemed on the brink of losing a heart-breaker as the Wildcats drove to midfield. But the Tigers forced a punt and moved into Mevis’ range, overcoming a delay of game penalty that moved the kick back to 61 yards.

Other wins included a comeback against Kentucky, a recent nemesis, with a successful fake punt turned that game around. The last-minute drive to beat Florida included a 4th-and-17 conversion. The Tennessee rout caught the nation’s attention.

Worst Loss: 49-39 to LSU

While losing at Georgia cost the Tigers a spot in the SEC Championship Game, the outcome seemed inevitable in the second half as the Bulldogs took over.

The LSU loss was more painful. Mizzou jumped to a 22-7 lead, converting a 2-point conversion after the game’s first TD. But the Tigers’ defense couldn’t contain LSU QB Jayden Daniels, who threw for 259 yards and ran for 130 more, several times scrambling for first downs to keep drives alive. In the loss, Cook threw for 411 yards, Schrader rushed for 114 and Burden had 11 receptions for 149 yards.

Play of the Year: Fake punt against Kentucky

Mevis wasn’t the only kicking hero for the Tigers. Trailing 14-0 in the second quarter at then No. 23 Kentucky, the Tigers used a successful fake punt, a 39-yard TD pass, executed with precision by punter Luke Bauer and WR Marquis Johnson. Though Kentucky wasn’t fooled, Bauer was on target with a throw down the left side that Johnson skillfully high-pointed while fighting off a defender in good position. A loss to Kentucky might have derailed the season long before Cook’s 4th-and-17 pass to Burden saved the game against Florida.