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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Missouri Must Embrace the Opportunity

Missouri might be smack dab in the middle of the greatest stretch in program history, but it’s a string with an asterisk: 38 wins over the last four years, a 7-0 start to 2010, but not one Big 12 championship to show for it. There are a pair of North division titles, there’s the school-record 12 wins in 2007, the Heisman Trophy finalist, the one-sided wins over Nebraska. Those are all meaningful: they look good in the trophy case, help with recruiting and keep boosters happy, respectively. Yet…

Listen: the Big 12 — as we know it — has one year left. Come 2011, when Nebraska heads to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-10, the landscape in the region will undergo a substantial change. Missouri will find sledding much tougher in the new 10-team league — at least until the conference expands back to 12 teams, or disbands altogether.

I don’t want to place any undo pressure on the Tigers; they’ll find plenty of pressure come Saturday afternoon in Lincoln. Still, there’s no ignoring the idea that Missouri has a wonderful chance here, an opportunity to make noise in conference play before being forced to face the current denizens of the Big 12 South on a yearly basis beginning next fall.

If what we saw last Saturday is for real — if Missouri is this good — we’re in for a great one. Not just tomorrow, but in the big picture, through the rest of Big 12 play. If Missouri wins tomorrow, it has pretty much wrapped up the Big 12 North; it’s not over mathematically, but the Tigers would have to lose three times in November and Nebraska win out — not going to happen, at least in the former case.

Lincoln hasn’t been kind to Missouri, 2008′s blowout win not withstanding. That remains Missouri’s lone win at Memorial Stadium since 1979, though that means nothing to this year’s team. Missouri also enters the game with a tremendous amount of confidence, thanks to last Saturday’s win over Oklahoma.

Nebraska regained its swagger with a win at Oklahoma State, with quarterback Taylor Martinez returning to his earlier Heisman Trophy form in a five-touchdown performance. Those touchdowns? All through the air — that gives Missouri some pause, or it should.

Missouri’s not sleeping on Nebraska, to be sure; nor is Nebraska taking Missouri lightly, not after last week. The Tigers are as well-coached as any team in the land, on both sides of the ball. The offense, quick-hitting and aggressive, will test even the best secondaries. The defense is the best of the Gary Pinkel era, if not the best Missouri defense in a generation.

Nebraska’s not intimidated; the secondary can match up with Missouri’s passing game and the offense, after a week of soul-searching after the loss to Texas, has regained its momentum.

The big story tomorrow is whether Missouri can offset 30 years — minus 2008 — of ineptitude in Lincoln. And whether Blaine Gabbert and the rest of the Missouri offense can put its foot down when given the lead; this didn’t happen a year ago in Columbia, when Nebraska scored 27 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

Most importantly, the underlying story is whether Missouri can take advantage of the opportunity: the Tigers would be 8-0 with a win, with Texas Tech, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas left to go. With a win, Missouri can start thinking big, big picture: a national title, believe it or not.

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  1. Scott says:

    No need to focus on the rest of the season- Mizzou must win this game to accomplish its goal of being Big 12 Champs. I see Mizzou having no hangover effect from last week- this game has been circled for a while.

    The game will come down to a couple key things. First, can Taylor Martinez put back to back games together? He hasn’t done it yet (struggled after the Washington game and the Kansas St games- both high profile ESPN games and both road games, coming back to play a home game- just like this week). Remember, he is just a freshman. Plus Nebraska has had a horrible habit of fumbling this season though they recover most of them.

    Second, how well will Mizzou run the ball. Nebraska’s D-line isn’t that great- almost all of their sacks came against Idaho (don’t let the 12 sack figure fool you). Mizzou coaches have not hidden the fact that they focused on the Nebraska defense in the off-season, more so than any other team they will face. After last week, the Mizzou running game looks good (the offensive line looked great). If Mizzou can run for over 150 yards, it will be hard to see how they don’t win the game.

    Texas showed everyone how to slow down Nebraska- Mizzou has the defense to do the same and a better offense.

    Go MIZZOU!

  2. Steve says:

    I see where you have Mizzou at #33. Are you ready to say you were wrong? Mizzou is legit. What most pundits are ignoring is their awesome scoring D, highlighted by the red zone scoring D. This is why Mizzou walks all over the bugeaters.

    Paul: No doubt I was wrong. Tigers would have to lose out to finish at No. 33, give or take. That’s not going to happen. At worst, Missouri is ending the regular season at 10-2.

  3. Ed says:

    I’m glad to see everyone in Missouri is so confident that a win against Nebraska is a foregone conclusion. That’s the same type of over-confidence I saw all over Huskerland before the Texas game, with a win already counted!

    I don’t take anything for granted and neither should you. If Missouri’s defense is so much better than Nebraska’s, why is it ranked below (NU #18, MU #30)? Same can be said for your offense.(NU #17, MU #32).

    “Mizzou walks all over the bugeaters” huh? We’ll see about that. At least you didn’t call us the other names most Mizzou fans use. I guess I should have more understanding for fans of a school with ZERO national titles in any sports and a 36-64-3 all time record against Nebraska.

  4. Herbie says:

    Well, that series ended with a *thud*. Too bad too, was hoping for more from Mizzou.

    Perhaps we can play Mizzou again if they get a Big 10 invite. Until then, have fun in the cesspool known as the Big 12, and keep in touch.

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