July 21, 2009

Five reasons the Tigers can win the North

The Missouri Tigers are not a popular pick to win the Big 12 North. More experts have picked them to finish fourth or fifth than first or second. There are certainly legitimate reasons for those picks. However, there are also some reasons why the Tigers could rise up and surprise. As we continue our series of previews for the 2009 football season, today we take a look at five reasons the Tigers could win their third straight division title.

1. They've done it before

Nearly every player who will contribute significantly to this team has been a part of at least one North championship. Even a guy like Blaine Gabbert may not have played a lot during the 2008 season, but he was there every day and saw what it takes to win a division. No Kansas player has ever played in a Big 12 championship game. There are some Nebraska players who have, but far fewer than Missouri has. Is it a major factor? Maybe not, but it can't hurt.

2. They have a game-changing defender

Games are won by stars. Missouri absolutely has one in Sean Weatherspoon. It is debateable if the linebacker is the best defensive player in the Big 12. It's not in question whether he is one of the top three. For another example in the North, Ndamukong Suh won the Kansas and Clemson games nearly by himself last season for the Cornhuskers. Weatherspoon can do the same for Missouri. If the division comes down to one game, Spoon is as likely to win that game as any individual player in the North.

5. The schedule sets up for them

Most view the North as a race between Nebraska and Kansas. Some have thrown Missouri in there as a potential darkhorse third team. The fact is, Missouri has a better Big 12 schedule than either of those two. The Huskers have to play both the Tigers and Jayhawks on the road. Kansas has to play both Oklahoma and Texas, in addition to Texas Tech. Bottom line is this: The team that can go 2-0 in games between Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska has a huge leg up on the field. The Tigers get the Huskers at home in the first Big 12 game of the year in front of a revved up Thursday night crowd on national television. By no means is it impossible for the Huskers to come and win in Columbia, but almost all the intangible factors in that game (crowd, location, game time) should favor Missouri. Mizzou also gets to put 11 games of experience under the belts of all of its youngsters before they have to play Kansas. And they get to do so on a neutral field, rather than on the Jayhawks' campus. Again, it's not the only factor, but it is something that could contribute to the Tigers surprising.

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