Rather than begin our previews with Western Michigan, we thought we’d start by highlighting the all-important Big 12 North. Missouri is the favorite in the North, and with good reason.
The Tigers may have found their own Johnny Rodgers in Jeremy Maclin. If that sounds like an exaggeration, remember that Maclin was a consensus All-American as a redshirt freshman. They also return Chase Daniel – a Heisman finalist – along with most of their defense.
In fact, Mizzou could be the favorite in every game on their regular season schedule. Only a trip to Austin might find the Tigers as underdogs, and that’s not a lock. Texas will have faced Arkansas, traveled to Boulder, and faced OU before their home date with the Tigers, and could be beaten up physically, psychologically, and by the AP voters.
The weakness for Missouri might be the linebacking. The standout unit from a year ago is banged up. Sean Weatherspoon, an all-conference pick, had surgery to repair a torn labrum. It’s hard to say if that’s a big deal or not. It certainly would be if he were a pitcher.
More seriously, Van Alexander tore his ACL in 2007, and we know the true recovery time for those injuries tend to be 18 months to two years. But it doesn’t appear that anyone has stepped up to take over for him on the depth chart.
The Tigers also haven’t won in Lincoln in 30 years. But even if they slipped against NU, they might go 7-0 in the Big 12 otherwise, meaning the Huskers would have to win in Norman or Lubbock to maintain a conference lead over Mizzou.
Not only does last season’s lopsided loss make to Missouri make a Husker upset seem unlikely, but Pelini’s defense didn’t have a banner day against Pinkel’s team back in 2003 either. Could Pinkel have Pelini’s number?
There seems little question that Missouri is the team to beat in the Big 12 North. Hopefully, their one year tradition of winning the North will be trumped by nearly 30 years of history. But the program has taken a major step forward from being lucky to win eight games, to being a lock to win at least that many.
Only trips to Lincoln and Austin, and neutral site games in Illinois and Kansas City seem remotely likely to trip up the Tigers in the regular season. Maybe it’s too early for Mizzou fans to be booking their tickets to the Big 12 title game, but they’ll definitely want to save the money and keep the calendar clear for a while.