Although Missouri enters the game ranked No. 1 in the country and can earn a spot in the Bowl Championship Series title game with a win, the Tigers are underdogs.
Why? For one, the Tigers are new to this scene. While Oklahoma is playing in a record fifth conference championship game – winning four – the Tigers are making the trip for the first time. There's something to be said for having "been there, done that."
Another reason was Oklahoma's 41-31 win over the Tigers Oct. 13 in Norman. The specifics – turnovers, etc. – of that game have been hashed and rehashed, so we'll spare you.
But who will come out on top this time? Can Missouri complete its Cinderella run through the conference and on to the penultimate Division I game? Can the Sooners, in a rare turn of events, play the role of spoiler?
Sooners Illustrated takes a look at five pressing questions that should help contribute to the outcome of the game:
1. Can Oklahoma slow down Missouri?
That's the million-dollar question. Hardly anyone has done it this year as Missouri is the lone Division I team to score at least 30 points every game this season. Everyone knows about QB Chase Daniel, but the Tigers have as many weapons with their spread attack as anyone in the conference. Included are a pair of tight ends – Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman – that are big-time playmakers. Freshman WR Jeremy Maclin is as good as any in the conference. And RB Tony Temple, who didn't play the first time these two met, is versatile and dangerous. The key will be to get pressure on Daniel, who's prone to the pick (and to throw interceptions). However, the Sooners likely won't be able to get pressure by blitzing often because of all the Tigers' weapons. That puts the onus on the defensive line. Auston English sightings anyone?
2. Can the Sooners establish the run game like they did last week against OSU?
One way to slow down Missouri's offense is to keep Daniel and Company on the sideline. A way to do that is to pound the ball at the Tigers from the start. The Oklahoma offensive front looked better than it has all season and Allen Patrick looked like the 2006 version of himself last week. But that was Oklahoma State, which is very weak in the trenches. Missouri is much better. Still, look for the Sooners to try to get the run game going early. At the same time, you can expect Missouri to try to take it away. If so, the game goes to Sam Bradford and we know how well he's performed this season.
3. Who will win the turnover battle?
Well, if we knew that, we'd make a trip to Vegas with a pocket full of cash and trip back with an even bigger one. Oklahoma forced four turnovers in their first meeting and converted those into 24 points. Easily the difference in the game. Missouri contends that had it not turned the ball over in such crucial situations, the win would have gone home with the Tigers. Well, last time we checked, turnovers are an official part of the game. Although he's been spectacular, Daniel has been known to cough it up under pressure (no nose-picking jabs this time). Again, it's all about pressure, which eventually flows to the defensive line. If they can get Daniel out of his comfort zone, there could be another repeat of Oct. 13.
4. Will there be another Curtis Lofton-like performance this time around?
Lofton had officially arrived after their first meeting. The junior linebacker had a career-high 18 tackles and returned a late fumble for a touchdown to help the Sooners pull away. If Oklahoma can get a performance anywhere near that from anyone on the defensive side, you've got to like their chances. Of course, there's no better candidate than Lofton, the Big XII Defensive Player of the Year.
5. Who wins the fourth quarter?
As you've been reminded every hour on the hour, Missouri led the game going into the fourth quarter the first time around. Then the Tigers were outscored 18-7 in the fourth. That's not an aberration from either side. Missouri has outscored opponents 107-94 in the fourth quarter this season. However, the 107 is its lowest point total of any quarter and the 94 is the highest allowed. On the other side, Oklahoma has outscored foes 136-52 in the final 15 minutes. The 136 are second to the 149 the Sooners have scored in the second quarter. The 52 points rank behind the 51 points Oklahoma has given up in the first and third periods. In other words, the Sooners finish strong; Missouri hasn't proven as much. That speaks well for the Sooners.
Prediction: Bob Stoops can tell you he's not using the perceived lack of respect from Missouri as motivation all he wants, but we're not buying it. Oklahoma's hopes of a national title are dashed, but there's still a title to be won and that's what Stoops preaches at OU. Also, the Sooners are in the rare position of playing spoiler. They've had their dreams spoiled before. Time to turn the tables.
Oklahoma 35, Missouri 31