NCAA Football: Full Missouri 2012 Season Preview and Predictions

Dan Irwin@irwinsportsCorrespondent IIAugust 13, 2012

NCAA Football: Full Missouri 2012 Season Preview and Predictions

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    Missouri Tiger football is just days away from entering a new endeavor that has its fans ready to prove that their team can compete among the nation's best in the 2012 NCAA season.

    College football across the country is almost back. Fans from every state, conference and college have dreams of at least tasting success better than they did the year before.

    But in Missouri, football isn't just back. It's been born again.

    Entering into a new athletic conference for the first time since 1907 has everyone from the players and coaches, to downtown business owners thrilled at the prospect of new teams and fans gracing the grounds of Ol' Mizzou.

    But enough of the talk about bar-be-que and traditions. It's time to talk about the raw matchup data. The football stuff.

    We have previewed every single game on the Missouri schedule as well as given our two cents on where the Tigers should stand in their freshman season in the Southeastern Conference.

    With no further ado, I give you the full 2012 Missouri Tiger football preview.

Early Notes

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    Missouri held its first scrimmage on Saturday, August 11, and the feeling at Faurot Field was more like a gameday Saturday.

    Junior quarterback James Franklin was on point, going 18-for-22 in passing completions, with 228 yards in the air.

    “I thought he did a good job," said Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel of Franklin.

    "He’s an experienced player. I thought he did pretty good at making decisions. Overall, the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense had a pretty good day so I think you’re always encouraged by that.”

    But perhaps the biggest hype of the Missouri 2012 season is the freakishly talented Dorial Green-Beckham, the player voted likely to have the biggest impact on the SEC as a freshman.

    DGB lived up to all the expectations in his first day on the job, but did earn a little criticism from his coach on trying to be too fancy in putting on a show for his new team.

    "Two hands! Use two hands!" coach Pinkel shouted at his young star. Pinkel does not want his five-star recruit to forget the fundamentals.

    “I think the younger players think a lot. A lot of young players today, this is their first scrimmage, and I think the reality of what it takes, the intensity level to play, comes out a bit today," Pinkel said of the scrimmage.

    Pinkel also emphasized the importance on the defensive side of the ball, particularly on the line.

    "With the league we’re going in to, we know they run the football a lot and being good up front, it’s always important, but it’s hugely important with where we’re going.”

Sept. 1, Southeastern Louisiana

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    After the Appalachian State incident in Ann Arbor, everyone knows that the little guy has a chance.

    But in this situation, the odds are slim to none for the Southeastern Louisiana Lions.

    Ole' Miss transfer Nathan Stanley will likely be leading the Lions at quarterback, so Missouri will get its first experience of at least a former SEC quarterback right away.

    The Lions are deep at running back, and expect to be led by the senior Sam Fairley, who averaged 11 yard-per-rush in their first fall scrimmage.

    Southeastern Louisiana fans are excited to be playing their biggest game of the year to start out, and the feeling isn't that they are going up to be thrown at Missouri's feet as a sacrificial lamb.

    "Mizzou will over look SLU because they are more concerned with making a big splash in the SEC when they play Georgia the next week," said Lions fan Richard Woodward.

    Missouri wins if...

    They are themselves. There's no need to try and do anything drastic because you're starting in a new conference, and Pinkel should have all heads screwed on tight for this one.

    Missouri loses if...

    They completely overlook the game. The Lions are going to come out swinging and give everything they have early. If Missouri allows them to stay in the game with defensive lapses and breakdowns, it would be a total embarrassment that SEC fans would never let Missouri forget.


    Southeastern Louisiana will be lucky to score 10 points. They will not play a defense this talented all season, and the quality of players in comparison will show on the scoreboard. FINAL SCORE: SE Louisiana 3, Missouri 55.

Sept. 8, Georgia

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    Here it is. Strap on your seat belt because Columbia, Mo. has been preparing for this collision for some time now, and when September 8 rolls around, all hope of the new season will be sitting on the table to either take or lose, in one epic battle.

    Georgia fans laugh at the idea of coming and playing Missouri, and I almost hate to say it, but rightfully so. Their overall success and tradition far outweighs anything Missouri has done at this point.

    But this is a new year, and this ain't your momma's Missouri team.

    Georgia, however, will not be intimidated by the environment Missouri will offer.

    The Bulldogs will be led by their junior quarterback Aaron Murray, who had a whopping 3,149 passing yards last season, as well as 35 touchdown passes.

    Georgia hasn't focused much on Missouri publicly as it will be their second game of the season, but according to Tampa Bay Times reporter Antoya English, Georgia head coach Mark Richt said of the Missouri game, "It's going to be a battle."

    Missouri wins if...

    They play one of the toughest and grittiest games in their history. Georgia are the reigning winners of the SEC East division, and the only thing they've done is improve on last year. But Georgia's weakness is their strength; after getting a 10-0 lead over LSU in the 2011 SEC Championship game, Murray tried to do too much, costing the Dawgs. That and of course some guy named Honey Badger.

    Missouri loses if...

    Georgia plays their best. There's just no way Missouri will be able to match up with the highly physical defense Georgia has if they are kicking on all cylinders. Missouri has traditionally been great in the turnover ratio department, and if they can't get any, their chance of winning isn't good.


    Although the Tigers will come out with great enthusiasm, with a great crowd who will be fired up for a nationally televised contest, Georgia will be in national championship form. Expect a close game in the first half, but the skill of Georgia will be what the recap will be talking about at the end of this one. FINAL SCORE: Georgia 31, Missouri 13

Sept. 15, Arizona State

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    The Arizona State game of 2011 was one of the toughest losses for Missouri football in some time.

    Going on the road in a hostile environment, the Tigers, who are the NCAA's leader in overtime wins, failed to secure the game in Tempe a year ago.

    Quarterback James Franklin led a gutsy fourth-quarter comeback on the road, finding two touchdown passes in the final quarter, but didn't have an answer in overtime as the Tigers lost 30-37.

    To say that this is a game of revenge, some may scoff at, but this author finds that assumption to be accurate.

    Missouri felt like they should have won that game, and will no doubt be looking to prove themselves to a top Pac-12 school.

    Missouri wins if...

    They remember what they did right in last years' game. Arizona State will be working with a new quarterback, and the Tigers need to capitalize. They may be licking their wounds from the previous week's loss to Georgia, so getting on the right track will be weighing heavy on their minds.

    Missouri loses if...

    They repeat the mistakes of last years' game. The offense can not fall asleep and treat this game casually. Arizona State will have a week to review the game tape from the Georgia game, and if they can duplicate any success the Dawgs had, they could be going for the sweep of Mizzou.


    Missouri gets the passing game going, and freshman talent Dorial Green-Beckham shines brighter than any player on the field. The Missouri defense will step up and make big plays and show that last year was last year as far as the memories in Tempe. Missouri scores early and often and takes care of business on ESPN2. FINAL SCORE: Arizona State 17, Missouri 42

Sept. 22, @ South Carolina

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    Just like last week's game was a revenge game for Missouri, this game will also be a revenge game for South Carolina.

    But on a much...much bigger scale.

    The Gamecocks' loss to Missouri after leading by 21 points on two separate occasions in the 2005 Independence Bowl has not been forgotten.

    The first thing that South Carolina fans will tell you is that this isn't the 2005 team; they're much better now.

    But the exact same could be said for Mizzou, who will bring everything they have to the other Columbia of the SEC.

    There may not be any players from either teams' 2005 game on the field, but this one may pick right up where it left off in Shreveport.

    Missouri wins if...

    They can somehow overcome a great defense. This will be South Carolina's fourth game of the season, and likely the toughest opponent they've faced so far. Missouri will have to score early in their first taste of an SEC road environment. But quarterback James Franklin's confidence can get rolling with some early scores, and the Tigers could pull out a massive upset if they play their best.

    Missouri loses if...

    South Carolina's defense is allowed to dictate the tempo of the game. The crowd is going to be a huge factor against the Tigers and if Missouri can't get things rolling on offense, it will be a walk in the park for the Gamecocks.


    Although every coach and player will say the 2005 game will have nothing to do with this game, unavoidably it will have everything to do with this game. From the fans, alumni, former players and anyone from South Carolina who wants to erase the fact Missouri fans have talked smack to them for almost seven years now, South Carolina comes out with their hair on fire and Missouri is unable to put a winning performance together against a very talented football team. FINAL SCORE: Missouri 17, South Carolina 35

Sept. 29, @ Central Florida

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    At this point in the season, Missouri has likely tasted two solid defeats, and now knows what it's like to play in the SEC.

    Time for a little recess.

    Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando is going to be sold out, and you can bet your bottom button there will be plenty of Florida personnel at this game scouting the Tigers, despite the fact they will play five weeks from now.

    Although the Knights did not put together a solid record in 2011 (5-7), they did score a shocking upset of Boston College 30-3 in the stadium pictured above.

    If Missouri walks into Orlando thinking they will be handed a win, they could be in for a surprise, but it's going to take more than a surprise for UCF to score a win against Mizzou.

    Missouri wins if...

    They just play their game. Central Florida loves to play in a shootout, but sadly so does Missouri and the Tigers have a bigger gun.

    Missouri loses if...

    Injuries have hit Missouri hard at this early stage of the season, and UCF cashes in big. Speaking of big, one of the big surprises will be the size of the UCF offensive line, which is massive. If their big guys can win the battle in the trenches, the Knights fans could be tearing down the goalposts.


    Playing the superior competition will have Missouri so ready for this game that it might as well be a home game for the Tigers, who should have a nice contingency of fans in Orlando from the solid alumni base in Florida. Now I'm not saying that the Missouri fans will dominate the crowd, but they will be noticed. UCF has played Ohio State two weeks ago, so they've played with a big dog, but Missouri's skill players, plus the possible return of the Big 12's leading rusher Henry Josey for this game, gives Missouri a huge win. FINAL SCORE: Missouri 52, Central Florida 31

Oct. 6, Vanderbilt

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    Without question, this is a trap game for Missouri.

    Too many Tiger fans have already chalked this one up in the win column, and I'm telling everyone right now that Missouri will not dominate and walk away with this game like they're a traditional Iowa State.

    Vanderbilt is riding on the shoulders of the senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who despite not being the starter at the beginning of last season, compiled a staggering 1,949 yards in the air.

    Vanderbilt's losses in 2011 were of incredibly small margin. They lost to SEC East champions Georgia by only five points. They lost to Arkansas by three.

    Vanderbilt is a tough team with great leadership who would love nothing more than to come to Columbia and score a technical upset, but trust me, this is one they will easily believe they can win, regardless of Missouri's record at this point.

    Missouri wins if...

    Their defensive specialists have great individual performances. Sheldon Richardson will be under the microscope big time in this game. Missouri has traditionally been very successful in the turnover margin department, and they will need to be on the plus side of that stat to earn the gutsy win against the Commodores.

    Missouri loses if...

    Vanderbilt gets that big performance they've been working so hard for, and this could be their game. If the Tiger players begin to look ahead on the schedule and lose sight of a solid conference foe, they'll have a pretty sorry SEC record at this point, fueling the critics who have claimed Missouri is just not up to SEC standards.


    This game is going to be great, and any neutral college football fan may find themselves tuning into this one on the grounds that it should be close. And sadly for Vandy, a close loss will again be the theme. Missouri plays well at home in front of a great crowd, who cheer them on to their first SEC win. FINAL SCORE: Vanderbilt 24, Missouri 28

Oct. 13, Alabama

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    So, you want to play in the SEC, do you?

    Well here you go. And no, we don't want to hear any complaining since you are getting just what you've wanted.

    The hype will be through the roof. The Missouri fans will turn out like they haven't before. It's time to show the SEC what Columbia's best effort from fans and players looks like.

    But what's that? Alabama just scored and it sounds like there's 10,000 more Alabama fans than there is in the stadium...because there is.

    Alabama will not only bring one of the nation's best teams to Missouri, but thousands of fans who couldn't get tickets that will be in force around the stadium and in parking lots tailgating.

    No matter what happens, the real winner in this one is the local Columbia restaurants, bars and hotels who will be overwhelmed by the color crimson everywhere.

    Sadly, though, that's about the only victory for anyone in black & "Mizzou Gold."

    Missouri wins if...

    An absolute miracle occurs. Even if Alabama is plagued with injury, their second stringers are beyond what Missouri can throw at them. It will take a complete loss of focus and Alabama beating themselves with turnovers for Missouri to even have a prayer.

    Missouri loses if...

    Alabama walks onto the field. If 'Bama just plays their game the way they're capable, there is absolutely nothing Missouri will be able to do to stop them.


    Welcome to the SEC. This game will be a gauge of what Missouri will need to do to get to the top, as well as a wonderful reference tape for the rest of the league to exploit Missouri's weaknesses. Missouri will be the only team in the SEC with a winning record against Alabama all-time, but that won't last past October 13, 2012. FINAL SCORE: (no joke) Alabama 45, Missouri 6

Oct. 20, BYE Week

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    And thank goodness for a rest. The Missouri record is not very flashy at this point, (4-3 overall, 1-3 SEC) but the Tigers have some solid answers about their capabilities by now.

    If on the off chance the Tigers have stunned the SEC with either a win against Georgia or South Carolina, Mizzou football will be riding higher than ever.

    If Missouri has lost any of the games they're supposed to win, it will be a head-hanging scenario where Tiger fans will be talking early about how great the basketball team could be... Midnight Madness is only about two weeks away.

    But this rest is at a great point in the season. Gone are the toughest of the games they will have, and the experience gained will help them immensely for their games to come.

    Those with injuries will be the happiest during the bye, many eyeing a possible return next week.

    The best part is that the games both before and after the bye are at home, so Missouri will not see a plane or bus for quite a while in October, unlike their November.

Oct. 27, Kentucky (Homecoming)

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    Bust out the Homecoming decorations for Missouri's newest rival in blue from a state that begins with the letter "K."

    I don't even know if I remember who the last one was anyway.

    Kentucky gets to be the first team outside of the former Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association turned Big 12 Conference to experience the tradition of the original Homecoming, and Missouri fans will not let them down.

    The parade begins in downtown Columbia at 9:00 a.m. and the whole day will be a wall-to-wall madhouse throughout "The Quality City."

    But the Kentucky players will care nothing of traditions, decorations or any of the smoke and mirrors. To them it will be about establishing themselves as the dominate ones in this new semi-natural rivalry.

    Kentucky struggled in 2011, but pulled off a huge win against Tennessee, showing they can bear down in a rivalry game.

    Missouri wins if...

    They establish the run. By establishing the run they'll keep possession and that's what most of this game will be about. Kentucky will not have a very good offense and putting up points against the Tigers will be difficult. Missouri just needs to play their game.

    Missouri loses if...

    Kentucky can feed off their past success against Missouri and play a very focused game. The Wildcats are one of three SEC teams (Georgia and Texas A&M) who have a winning record against Missouri all-time (2-1).


    This should be the easiest SEC game Missouri plays all year. Kentucky will play with some emotion and will make some big plays, but Missouri will dominate them in every aspect. FINAL SCORE: Kentucky 7, Missouri 28

Nov. 3, @ Florida

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    This game may not be as much about the actual team Missouri will be playing against, as much as it's about the stadium they'll be playing the game in.

    Mizzou, welcome to The Swamp.

    It's seen some of the nation's greatest football teams and players do battle in its confines over the years, many of its alums in the NFL.

    Florida has been down in their standards over recent years, and proving they can beat the SEC's newest glamor child is a high priority on their list.

    The Gators had a rough 2011, getting smoked by both Alabama and LSU, and losing several close games.

    They were also embarrassed at home to in-state rival Florida State 21-7.

    But Florida will show no fear, and have a huge crowd in a game they'll expect to win.

    Missouri wins if...

    The massive crowd does not affect them. Missouri is capable of winning in Gainesville, they have the talent. It's just a matter of putting them together to play on the same page in a tough environment.

    Missouri loses if...

    The massive crowd does affect them. Florida will be feeding off the energy of their home fans, and if Missouri is showing even a hint of frustration, the Gators will be all over them like sharks smelling blood in the water... err Gators smelling blood in the water.


    Missouri goes down to Gainesville feeling like they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Gators will overlook Missouri and end up getting stunned that the Tiger defense is as fast as they are. Many may disagree with me, but this is where Missouri scores their first big win, and shocks many analysts by winning in The Swamp. FINAL SCORE: Missouri 38, Florida 31

Nov. 10, @ Tennessee

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    It is absolutely stunning to me that in the 122 previous seasons of Missouri football, not one game has ever been played between them, and the Tennessee Volunteers.

    Enter 2012.

    For Missouri fans who know nothing about Tennessee, get ready. The Vols are a tradition-rich school with a rabid fan base.

    And did we mention their stadium? Regardless of their record, it will be sold out, and that means 104,079 who will be pulling for their team in a technical "border war."

    Last years' Tennessee team did win the battle of the state, beating Middle Tennessee State and Vanderbilt for perhaps their most impressive win.

    But outside of Tennessee and in the SEC, the Vols struggled to put up more than 10 points on the board.

    The big plus for the Vols? They lead the SEC in returning starters with 19, including 10 on offense.

    Missouri wins if...

    Their defense focuses on Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray. He may not be Peyton Manning, but he is not afraid to lead. Getting him thrown off-course and rattled early is what Missouri will be gunning for, and they're plenty capable of this.

    Missouri loses if...

    The massive crowd, one of the largest that Missouri has ever played in front of, can discombobulate the Tigers. If Missouri is missing a lot of key defenders due to injury and Bray is allowed to pick the secondary apart, Tennessee could take the opening game of the series.


    The huge crowd of Tennessee fans who will turn out in mass that want to show Missouri what they're all about will have a ton of enthusiasm, but for the most part that will be all Tennessee will bring to the table. James Franklin will be able to used his dual-threat capability to keep Tennessee's defense honest, and in a constant state of guessing. FINAL SCORE: Missouri 42, Tennessee 17

Nov. 17, Syracuse

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    It's an awfully odd time of year for Missouri to be playing a non-conference game, but this will be the new norm for Missouri in the SEC.

    And did you say Senior Day?

    Regardless, the two schools haven't met in over a quarter-century, and getting a home game for Missouri in November was essential to balance out the road-heavy end to the SEC slate.

    Although wins were hard to come by for the end of the Orange's Big East 2011 campaign, another scenario of a team with a tough experienced quarterback will be awaiting Missouri.

    Their 2011 rushing attack was anchored by Antwon Bailey, who is now a member of the Washington Redskins. Missouri will be thankful that he won't be on the field.

    Missouri wins if...

    They can get to Nassib. And at this point it may sound repetitive and cliche, but this will be another scenario where the success of the team really does revolve around the immediate success of the quarterback. All Missouri will have to do is make sure Nassib doesn't have time. It should be a blitz festival.

    Missouri loses if...

    Nassib is on fire and can deal with the blitz. It will take the game of his life, and the Orange defense really stepping up after watching and retaining a lot of film. If the Tigers are overconfident or are looking ahead, Syracuse could catch them slipping and sneak in a win for the ages.


    The Orange will likely bring a weak running game to Columbia. Unable to establish the run, they will rely too heavily on Ryan Nassib for their success, and ultimately it will be easy for Missouri to hone in on their game plan. This game should be done by the second quarter. FINAL SCORE: Syracuse 12, Missouri 42

Nov. 24, @ Texas A&M

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    Ah, familiarity.

    This is a game that will get a lot of attention, not only from the SEC fans, but many Big 12 fans who will tune in to see a game that feels like it's still a conference game.

    Although I'm sure that the Big 12's top brass in Kansas City will not even acknowledge that this game is being played.

    What is more interesting about this game, is that Missouri has a once in a lifetime chance that no other team in NCAA history has been given.

    Through reworked scheduling in the Big 12 after Nebraska and Colorado left before the 2011 season, Missouri played in College Station against Texas A&M two seasons in a row.

    Now, to make things even more insane, both teams have left the league for the SEC, and their new conference has scheduled the same game in College Station for a third straight season.

    If Missouri were to win this game, it would be the first time in NCAA history that a visiting team has won a conference game in the same stadium for three consecutive seasons.

    To say that Texas A&M wants to win this one bad, is an understatement.

    Missouri wins if...

    They play like they did last season in College Station. James Franklin stole the show in a nationally televised game. A&M played great, but Missouri really shined, with both Franklin's ability, and the drive of the Tiger defense to stop Ryan Tannehill.

    Missouri loses if...

    The veterans on Texas A&M get the younger players to buy into the idea of Missouri being this years' rivalry game, and get them as motivated as they are now to beat the Tigers. The 12th Man will be out in force, but it hasn't bothered James Franklin yet. If Missouri has an unfamiliar name under center at this point in the season for whatever reason, A&M has a much greater chance.


    Gone is Ryan Tannehill but A&M is returning 16 of 22 starters from a year ago, which is nothing to sneeze at.  Missouri will only be returning five starters on offense, but unfortunately for A&M, one of them is named James Franklin. Another key man for Missouri will be NFL-bound offensive lineman Elvis Fisher, who will have his way with the strong side of the A&M defensive line. It will be another great game, but Mizzou will make history and pull of the baseball-style sweep of Texas A&M in College Station, a feat that no team will ever accomplish again in college football. FINAL SCORE: Missouri 24, Texas A&M 17

Bowl Prediction

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    Chick-fil-A Bowl; ACC #2 Vs. SEC #5
    Georgia Dome, Atlanta Georgia, Monday December 31, 6:30pm CT

    Attempting to pick a bowl game before the first snap of the season is a reach, but it doesn't mean it's not something to think about.

    If Missouri finishes with three conference losses, they will likely be in the 5th spot for SEC bowl selection behind Alabama, LSU, Georgia and South Carolina.

    Although Missouri and South Carolina could both sit with the same record, the Gamecocks would get preference as the 4th selection, based on strength-of-schedule and their longer conference affiliation, not to mention a head-to-head win.

    And for those of you wondering about Arkansas, it just won't happen. They won't have the season they had last year.

    Putting Missouri in the 5th spot would match them against the ACC's No. 2 team in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which I predict will be the Florida State Seminoles.

    It would be the first ever meeting between Missouri and Florida State.

    Missouri wins if...

    They don't get caught up in the glamour of a major bowl game in the Georgia Dome, and the tradition of FSU. Missouri honestly would not match up well against the Seminoles, and yes it's not the team that won national championships, but Florida State is back on the map.  The Missouri defense would have to force turnovers to give the Tigers a chance.

    Missouri loses if...

    EJ Manuel gets in rhythm. The fifth year senior quarterback is one of the most talented in the nation, and he has NFL written all over him. FSU's recruiting classes have been scoring very high, and this is the year it really starts to show.


    Florida State is furious that they lost two games in the ACC, when they were picked preseason for the BCS and to absolutely run away with the ACC. They take out their aggression on poor Mizzou, who is just dazzled by the all-around ability of the Seminoles. FINAL SCORE: Florida State 38, Missouri 10

Overall Conclusion

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    So most SEC fans and probably even some Missouri fans might say that this prediction is a little favorable, but it is certainly rational in my view.

    Irrational would be to think Missouri is going to beat either Georgia or South Carolina. And I don't care who you are, Missouri has zero chance against Alabama.

    Finishing with a regular season record of 9-3 (5-3 SEC) is something that would be great for Mizzou, and I believe that Gary Pinkel can do that.

    His lack of returning starters will be aided by the fact that the ones he does have coming back are many of his key guys.

    And I know many SEC fans laugh at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, but season tickets are now sold out and the Mizzou faithful will make their presence known in 2012.

    Will everything that I've predicted happen? Of course not; and if it does, I'm in the wrong business. But to those of you SEC fans who will be up in arms about this, to you I say that Missouri has loved proving the critics wrong in the Big 12, and just the idea of doing it in the SEC gives the Tigers all the motivation in the world.