Pinkel not only needs a signature win over a high-profile program to rubber stamp his revamped offense, he's coaching for his life. Enter the No. 2 Texas Longhorns, a team with fans so disinterested in this game that UT officials returned 900 tickets this week. (Hey, there's no confusing Columbia with Columbus.) Meanwhile, Missouri will be gunning for its first-ever win over a Mack Brown Longhorn team.
This game was arguably Texas' ugliest win last season and compounded the post-OU hangover that still throbbed one week later. (Take away DE Brian Robison's two-yard INT return for TD and, offensively, the 28-20 ballgame was a dead heat.) It was as bad as it gets for QB Vince Young, who was all of 3-of-9 passing against Mizzou for 19 yards. Publicly, VY has said all the right things about not looking back but rather focusing only on Saturday. Privately, he has said that Missouri has never seen him play well (at least not in person) and it's apparent that he wants to show them something.
QB Brad Smith gives the Tigers a chance in any game, but the Longhorn defense practices every day against Superman. Smith will make his share of off-schedule plays Saturday. The Texas D, however, is at its best following a sudden-change and when its back is against the wall. The Tigers have posted some fat stats -- their 553.7 ypg is ranked No. 6 nationally -- but those numbers have come against Arkansas State, Troy and New Mexico.
MU will not face a tougher defense all year than Texas'. Gene Chizik's bunch is rated No. 8 nationally (234 ypg) and No. 9 in pass defense (136.3 ypg). So far, the team is holding fast to Chizik's goals of surrendering less than 100 rushing ypg (97.7) and less than 13 ppg (11.7 ppg, NCAA No. 9). The Tiger D is on the other end of the spectrum, surrendering 362.7 ypg (NCAA No. 60) and 27.7 ppg (NCAA No. 73) against less-than-stellar competition.
Missouri's schedule is favorable enough (playing Kansas and Baylor while getting Iowa State and Nebraska at home) that it should at least be bowl eligible come November. Texas' schedule is such that the one team that has the best shot at beating Texas... is Texas. UT has fumbled 10 times this season (losing two) while VY has thrown four picks. It translates into a -0.67 Turnover Margin that ranks 85th nationally. The only way Texas loses this game is if it gives the ball away like its government cheese.
Brown's teams are road warriors, having won 22 of the past 23 on an opponent's home turf. Recent history suggests there is only one team all year for which Texas has been ill prepared, and the Horns don't face them until next week. Texas should pull way in the second half and then gets to watch what happens when USC travels to Arizona State. Texas 38, Missouri 16.
Ross -- For our Football Preview magazine, Frisbie, Pearle and I picked the order of finish in the Big 12 South and North, as well as the overall league champ. In the South and for the overall title, it was a unanimous vote for Texas at the top. In the North, we split a bit, with one No. 1 vote for Colorado and two No. 1 votes for the Horns' Saturday opponent Missouri.
I'll confess, I picked the Tigers, but it was almost by default in a dreadfully mediocre North Division. I considered Colorado, Iowa State and Nebraska for the top spot as well, although I think a case could have been made for any of the six teams. Regardless, I went with Gary Pinkel's bunch. Of course, I would have slotted the Tigers, or any other North squad, at no better than No. 4, and perhaps No. 5, if they competed in the South. So, in other words, the pick of Mizzou in the North didn't de facto mean that I considered the Tigers a competitive match for projected South champ Texas. Far from it.
And nothing that happened in the non-conference part of either team's schedule has changed my mind.
The same day that Texas knocked off top five Ohio State in its house, Missouri lost at home to New Mexico. Enough said.
Yes, the Tiger offense, in the early going at least, has been a dangerous bunch. Of course, the gaudy numbers that Brad Smith and Co. accumulated came against a weak non-conference slate. But give 'em credit, they've gotten the job done. It's the other side of the ball, though, that'll force Missouri to win the games that it wins in shootout fashion. Barring a Longhorn turnover-fest in Columbia, that just isn't a recipe for victory against Gene Chizik's defense. (And even with turnovers and special teams breakdowns, leading to a short field, Chizik's guys held the Buckeyes to just one TD and five field goals, so turnovers alone might not be enough for the Tigers.)
Having said all that, this is one of those games that tests championship mettle, simply because the opponent is not of championship caliber. Texas will be ready next week in Dallas -- even though the Sooners aren't championship caliber either, there's that five-game losing streak added to the Cotton Bowl mix -- but the Horns also must show that they're mentally and emotionally ready to dispatch of teams like Missouri that they regularly handle. This weekend, they do just that. Texas 42, Missouri 17.
Note: Pearle's pick will return next week.