Monday, October 11, 2010

Tigers enter defining four-game stretch

The Missouri Tigers’ 26-0 win over Colorado last Saturday to open conference play was at times not a thing of beauty, but Missouri thoroughly outplayed the Buffaloes to earn the big win.

The defense was especially impressive. The Tigers (5-0, 1-0 in Big 12 play) came up with stop after stop when Colorado got into Missouri territory, handing Colorado another shutout to go with Missouri’s 58-0 demolition of the Buffaloes in Columbia in 2008.

The defense has impressed so far this year. Last year, Missouri intercepted eight passes all season. This year, Missouri has already picked off nine passes.

It’s an encouraging sign as Missouri begins a crucial four-game stretch that will largely define the season. Starting Saturday, Missouri plays at Texas A&M, home vs. Oklahoma, at Nebraska and at Texas Tech. It’s a strong test: three road games, two games against top-six teams, a variety of offensive styles.

Winning one is a must, winning two is an ambitious goal, and winning three means this will be a transcendent season. It won’t be easy. Missouri is 1-7 in its last eight games against Big 12 south teams. Missouri hasn’t started conference play at 2-0 since 2006 and hasn’t started conference play at 3-0 since 1998.

But it’s fine to be optimistic. This is an undefeated, ranked (No. 19 Coaches, No. 21 AP) Missouri team. Let’s take a look at these four upcoming tests.

At Texas A&M, Oct. 16 (11 a.m. on Fox Sports Net): Missouri was 6-0 in 2006 and lost a tough 25-19 game in College Station. The “Home of the 12th Man,” Kyle Field, can be a daunting place to play, although the Aggies haven’t defended it well lately, going 9-11 in Big 12 home games since 2005. Texas A&M is 3-2 with both losses to top-20 teams away from home. Missouri opened as a slight underdog, but this is nearly a toss-up game.

Home vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 23: This game could be to get Missouri to 3-0 in Big 12 play, which last happened in 1998, also the last year Mizzou beat Oklahoma. Missouri has lost 20 of 21 to the mighty Sooners, despite being ranked coming into the last five meetings. Beating the No. 6 Sooners will be a tall order, but this is Missouri’s Homecoming, and this is college football.

At Nebraska, Oct. 30: Likely the North Division Championship. Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, the Sea of Red, is another rugged environment. The No. 4 Huskers have an ongoing streak of 307 straight sellouts and the kind of lockdown defense that makes crowds get loud. I think Missouri can win in Lincoln, but Missouri will probably need to have an edge in turnovers.

At Texas Tech, Nov. 6: Tech is still a mystery, but they appear to still be able to score plenty, hanging 45 points on Baylor last Saturday. Still, this is likely the easiest of these four games (Mizzou may even be favored in this one). Hopefully Missouri will have energy left for this one after the heavyweight bouts with Oklahoma and Nebraska.

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