The rankings show it, and so do their records. After non-conference play, a Big 12 North division that many predicted would be a two horse race has become a three trick pony. Missouri has surprisingly performed up to similar standard that heavy favorite Kansas and blast-from-the-past Nebraska were held to before the football season began.
So how do the Tigers stack up against their rivals from the West? With Colorado and Kansas State looking downright pathetic in the early weeks of the 2009 season and Iowa State clearly still not ready to contend for a division crown, Mizzou clearly needs to worry most seriously about the Huskers and Jayhawks in defending their North crown.
The three teams are a combined 11-1, with the lone loss coming when Nebraska lost a tough road game against Virginia Tech that they led until the end. These three schools are a blown coverage away on a Tyrod Taylor bomb from being 12-0 on the year.
However, unlike years past, the Tigers might have the weakest non-conference schedule and resumé. Illinois has looked downright awful in their only two games that matter, Bowling Green and Nevada are decent but not intimidating schools that have given the Tigers a run for their money, and if anybody wants a cookie for rolling up points on Furman University in Columbia, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
In Lincoln, the non-conference record actually speaks volumes, even though the Huskers certainly can earn the “Biggest Choker Thus Far” award out of these three for that stinker they laid in Blacksburg. They should have won the game against the Hokies, and have blasted respectable teams in Florida Atlantic and Louisiana-Layfayette.
Want a comparison? The Huskers beat ULL 55-0. LSU only beat the Ragin’ Cajuns 31-3. The Huskers definitely have the most non-conference bragging rights.
Kansas has (not surprisingly) scheduled themselves a cupcake non-con schedule. However, they’ve also handled their business like legit contenders. They routed all the teams they were supposed to in Northern Colorado, Duke, and UTEP, and Southern Miss is a talented team that the Jayhawks led for almost their entire game.
Although the Southern Miss game was closer than most Rock Chalkers would have liked, the Golden Eagles are a much better team than Bowling Green, the team that gave Mizzou a run for their money on their home turf.
I have to pick the Cornhuskers if I’m going to bet on a team to win the North. I could easily see Missouri or Kansas sliding in and filling the role of champ, but Nebraska just looks too good. They win that game against the Hokies and they’re easily a Top 15 team.
Mizzou is looking like a much more attractive pick than they were when the season began. Their season really might come down to how their first league game goes next Thursday. If they beat the Huskers, they’re in the drivers seat against whom I deem their stiffest competition. Lose, and they’re playing catch-up to a team that has looked better to this point.
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