Sunday, October 23, 2011

Big 12 schedule is proving tough for Tigers

With Missouri’s seemingly inevitable move to the Southeastern Conference, much is being made about how difficult it would be to compete in the SEC, generally regarded as the best football conference in the nation.

Turns out, the Big 12 is proving to be plenty tough in its own right, thank you very much. Five of the league’s 10 teams are ranked, with two more knocking on the door. There are few easy weeks in this Big 12, a point driven home with Texas Tech’s stunning win at Oklahoma, the Sooners’ first home conference loss in 10 years.

No longer shielded by the divisional format used when the Big 12 had, you know, 12 teams, Missouri (3-4, 1-3 in Big 12 play) is feeling the full force of the teams that formerly made up the Big 12 South Division.

The latest example was last Saturday’s 45-24 home loss to Oklahoma State (7-0, 4-0 Big 12). Oklahoma State, now ranked No. 3, has a breathtaking offense that roared to a 21-3 lead. Missouri rallied to close within seven at the half. But in the second half, with OSU super-receiver Justin Blackmon out with injury, running back Joseph Randle and the rest of the Cowboys’ offense kept humming along. Combine this with a rash of Missouri turnovers, and the Tigers were doomed.

Now Missouri is scrambling to make a bowl game (they have to get to 6-6 to be bowl eligible), but the meat-grinder schedule continues. If Missouri is to make something of this season, not to mention salvage some dignity for that likely walk out the door to the SEC, I think the next three games are critical. Missouri has a chance in all three, but may be underdogs for each game. These games are at Texas A&M, at Baylor and home against Texas. Games with Texas Tech and Kansas afterward present their own challenges, but if Missouri whiffs on these next three the season will already be lost by then.

At No. 16 Texas A&M (11 a.m. Saturday on FX): The Aggies blew large leads to Oklahoma State and Arkansas, but they’ve won all five of their other games, including three straight. A&M has a balanced offense, ranking in the top 20 nationally in passing and rushing yards. A&M’s defense has been merely average, but winning at Kyle Field is tough.

At Baylor (Nov. 5): After a 3-0 start, Baylor has lost its first three Big 12 games. It may be four by the time Mizzou travels to Waco, given Baylor’s game Saturday at Oklahoma State. Like many Big 12 teams, Baylor is all about offense, with sensational quarterback Robert Griffin III and freakishly athletic receiver Kendall Wright.

Texas (Nov. 12): Texas is tough to gauge. The Longhorns have beaten four lesser teams and lost to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. They have talent, but have lost seven of their last eight Big 12 games. Texas is the only Big 12 school Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has never beaten. This may be his best shot, and it may be a game his team sorely needs.

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