Mike's misguided picks of the season

Are you tired of the long, winding, upset-filled college football season? Do you demand more than one game per weekend? Do you just want to get this whole thing over with already? Look no more. InsideMizzou tells you everything that happens to the Missouri football team this season. Need to know how many rushing yards Brad Smith will have against Ball State? Look no further.

There's a funny thing about making predictions. Everybody offers them, usually with the caveat that nearly every pick will be wrong.

But when that supreme time rolls around that you're right? You become the sports guru, the most informed and knowledgeable expert in the Lower 48. Life is never sweeter than when you nail a game…except for when you have a nickel or two riding on the outcome.

With that thought in mind, what follow are my predictions for the 2004 season. If I'm right, I'll gladly take all the credit.

If I'm not, well, that's what you expected, right?

Sept. 4, Arkansas State at Missouri: Tigers 48, Indians 10

This game has "ugly" written all over it. The inexperience of the Arkansas State defense is epic; returning just three starters is bad enough, but, when 64 percent of the players on your two-deep haven't seen action in a college game, you have some serious issues.

Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts is trying to put as happy a face on the game as possible, and that's commendable. But if the Tigers don't have a three-touchdown lead by halftime, the Indians will have overachieved.

Player of the game: Junior QB Brad Smith fires the opening salvo of his Heisman campaign, passing for 150 yards and rushing for another 150 before he is removed from the game early the fourth quarter.

Sept. 9, Missouri at Troy: Tigers 31, Trojans 18

The aptly named Trojans face the Tigers in their "Super Bowl." The game, broadcast nationwide on ESPN2, is scheduled against the NFL season opener, so not as many fans will be tuned in as the coaches predict in the pregame pep talk.

Still, the Trojans will put up a good showing, even holding a slim lead at halftime. The Missouri defense struggles with an experienced rushing game led by DeWhitt Betterson, but the Tigers wake up in the second half and cruise to a late victory.

Player of the game: Junior TB Damien Nash establishes himself as the Tigers' top runner, distancing himself from freshman Marcus Woods with 160 yards and two scores.

Sept. 18, Ball State at Missouri: Tigers 35, Cardinals 7

Unfortunately for Missouri, history repeats itself.

The Tigers pick up their third consecutive win, beating the Cardinals by the same score they did in Muncie in 2003. That's the good news. Smith also relives a bit of history, suffering an injury late in the second quarter after having already recorded 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Led by sophomore Brandon Coleman, the Tigers cruise to a victory but are more concerned with Smith's welfare. The injury turns out to be minor and Smith returns next week. The Tigers fell good about themselves after the win, as Coleman proves to be, at the least, an adequate backup in Smith's stead. Afterward, Tiger fans breathe a little easier about their scrambling signal caller from Youngstown.

Player of the game: Coleman proves himself a strong second option, but sophomore LB David Richard has the best game, recovering a fumble and intercepting a pass and returning it for a score.

Oct. 2, Colorado at Missouri: Tigers 30, Buffaloes 24 (OT)

Missouri cracks the top 10 of both polls during the bye week, then plays its first game with the ranking against the Buffs. As could be predicted, the Tiger struggle.

Racked by controversy and saddled with a kicker with a Y chromosome, Colorado stumbles out of the starting gate, losing two of its three nonconference contests. The Missouri game is a chance for the Buffaloes to reestablish themselves, and they jump on the opportunity. The Tigers lead by two scores early in the fourth quarter, but Colorado rallies to tie the game and force overtime.

In an unfortunate twist (for Colorado, at least), the Buffaloes receive just three downs on their first overtime possession, shanking a 38-yard field goal wide left. Smith leads the Tiger offense into the end zone quickly and Missouri claims the win.

Player of the game: The honor goes to the officiating crew, who unwittingly corrects an error 14 years in the making.

Oct. 9, Missouri at Baylor: Tigers 53, Bears 2

Gamblers nationwide are crushed when Baylor's Maurice Lane drops Coleman for a safety in the final minute of the game, cutting the deficit to 51 and making sure the Tigers don't cover the ridiculous 52-point spread.

Besides that, this game goes as planned. Smith tears up the lowly Bears defense, rolling up 450 yards of total offense. The passing game has its best game of the season, as Smith throws for 320 yards and three touchdowns, including the first score of freshman WR William Franklin's career.

Baylor coach Guy Morriss, already facing one of the most difficult tasks in college football, finds fate can be even crueler. His starting quarterback, Shawn Bell, injures his hip dancing at the Bears' traditional post-game box social and does not take another snap all season.

Player of the game: The offensive line gets some credit, as it does not allow the Baylor defense to touch Smith behind the line of scrimmage all game long. Smith moves to the top of the Heisman list after the win.

Oct. 16, Missouri at Texas: Longhorns 31, Tigers 21

In a matchup of top 10 teams, Missouri stumbles back to Earth.

The Tiger defense, which had slowed down opposing running games all season, struggles to stop Texas TB Cedric Benson, who rumbles for 190 yards and three touchdowns. The Horns outplay the Tigers all afternoon; Missouri adds a few late scores to make the final more respectable than it appeared.

The Tigers lose what was likely their most important game of the year, but regroup to fare well in their next three contests.

Player of the game: Bevo 14, the Longhorns new mascot, wins the biggest game of his young career. Benson also has a strong game, but Texas fans find more joy in the meat on the sideline than the beef on the field.

Oct. 23, Oklahoma State at Missouri: Tigers 41, Cowboys 31

Another high-scoring affair between the Tigers and Pokes, with Missouri coming out on top for the fifth consecutive time.

Missouri holds a slim 21-20 lead at halftime, but the offense charges out of the gate in the second half. The Tigers score on their first four possessions of the half, with two of the scores by Woods, who reopens the tailback question with a 95-yard effort on just 10 carries.

Player of the game: Sophomore DE Xzavie Jackson has a monster game, recording three sacks and a fumble recovery. Although the defense as a whole does not have its best afternoon, Jackson's performance stands out.

Oct. 30, Missouri at Nebraska: Tigers 24, Cornhuskers 21

Missouri notches the second of 25 consecutive wins against the Huskers with this win, the Tigers' first in Lincoln since 1978.

The revamped offense installed by new coach Bill Callahan shows signs of life early in the season, as the Huskers record big wins against Western Illinois and Southern Mississippi. But when Nebraska faces a strong team, the offense can barely get off the ground. QB Joe Dailey completes just two more passes (5) than he throws interceptions.

The Tigers improve to 7-1 with the victory, which is keyed by two touchdown grabs by senior WR Thomson Omboga.

Player of the game: Smith, operating as the holder for a field goal late in the second quarter, hooks up with freshman TE Martin Rucker for a 15-yard score on another trick play. Callahan throws his play sheet to the ground in disgust after the touchdown.

Nov. 6, Kansas State at Missouri: Wildcats 28, Tigers 24

In what becomes the biggest game in the Big 12 North all season, the Wildcats snag the win that ensures them a spot in the conference championship game, while Missouri is left wondering what could have been.

With 210 yards and two touchdowns, Kansas State TB Darren Sproles shoots ahead of Smith in the eyes of Heisman voters. Sproles scores the go-ahead touchdown with five minutes left in the game, giving the Wildcats their 12th straight win against Missouri.

Smith has a strong day as well, but his 300 yards of total offense go for naught.

Player of the game: Sproles all but guarantees himself the Heisman with this performance. Along with the 210 yards on the ground, Sproles returns a punt deep into Missouri territory to set up another Wildcat touchdown late in the second quarter.

Nov. 20, Kansas at Missouri: Tigers 41, Jayhawks 7

This contest was lost in the parking lot before the game.

Three unidentified Missouri fans, clad in black shirts sporting moose-shaped logos, jump Kansas mascot Big Jay as the team steps off the bus. MUPD officers are unable to reach the perpetrators in time, meaning the Jayhawks must play without their mythical bird beast roaming the sidelines.

Clearly, their thoughts are with Baby Jay. Missouri rolls up a 31-0 lead at halftime, with Smith running for two scores and throwing for another. Missouri's second-teamers more than hold their own against the first-string Kansas players, and the Tigers gain a little retribution after last year's travesty in Lawrence.

Player of the game: Any man with the onions to don the massive yellow beak of the Kansas mascot deserves some credit. He took the beating with class and will be honored at Kansas' 2005 season opener as the state's "Most Admired Kansan."

Nov. 27, Missouri at Iowa State: Tigers 41, Cyclones 3

The revamped Missouri defense keeps right on rolling, wrapping up one of its strongest seasons in years. The Cyclones only reach the red zone once, after Woods muffs a punt late in the second half. The Cyclones convert a 35-yard field goal for their only score.

Still in the Heisman picture but overshadowed by Sproles, Smith puts together another afternoon with more than 300 total yards. He throws for two touchdown scores in the first half and closes out the scoring with a 95-yard scramble after he was nearly dragged down in the end zone.

Missouri misses the Big 12 Championship game, but earns a plush postseason bid regardless.

Player of the game: Senior LB James Kinney, slowed by a leg injury earlier in the season, records the 416th tackle of his Missouri career, surpassing DeMontie Cross as the school's all-time leader.

Dec. 30, Holiday Bowl, Missouri vs. Cal: Tigers 31, Golden Bears 28

Missing the conference championship game keeps the Tigers out of the BCS, but the 9-2 Tigers earn a win in the San Diego to wrap up their second season with double-digit wins and the first since their "undefeated" season of 1960.

The Tigers and Bears battle back and forth all evening long, but Smith leads a 73-yard scoring drive late in the fourth quarter to put Missouri ahead for good. Smith spreads the ball all over the field on the drive, eventually pushing it over the goal line from five yards out on a designed draw with 57 seconds left.

Player of the game: Smith rallies the troops with 225 yards passing and 110 more on the ground, having a hand in all four of Missouri's touchdowns. He pleases Missouri fans even more after the game, when he announces he will return for his senior season.

Final record: 10-2

Final ranking: #8 (AP), #10 (Coaches)

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