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October 17, 2008
There has been a national championship, seven consecutive seasons of at least 10 victories, two Big 12 championships and three Southwest Conference titles. But Texas hadn't been ranked No. 1 during the regular season in the past 24 seasons ? until this week.
The Longhorns are on top of the polls during the season for the first time since Oct. 8, 1984. But before Texas lets national championship dreams dance in its head, coach Mack Brown will remind his players that the 1984 squad went on to lose four of its last five games to finish 7-4-1.
"Since we've already had four teams lose that No. 1 spot, I really think our guys aren't impressed by it right now," Brown said. "A couple of them when I put it up said, 'Oh, that's pretty cool.' It was not a scream and a shout; five years ago, it might have been for us."
Had Missouri beaten Oklahoma State, it may have earned a No. 1 ranking. Now, the Tigers must beat Texas or their national championship dreams are finished. History works against Missouri. The Tigers are 0-10 all-time vs. No. 1 teams in the AP poll, and Missouri hasn't won in Austin since 1896. Yes, 1896.
Like many coaches, Missouri's Gary Pinkel is tormented by Texas. He's 0-3 vs. the Longhorns, getting outscored 114-56. The schools haven't met since 2005 ? with Texas taking a 51-20 decision ? and the Tigers haven't been to Austin since 2004. Pinkel's only game against a No. 1 team came in 2003, when Missouri fell 34-13 at Oklahoma.
Knowing all of that, is Pinkel still excited to play the nation's top team?
"If you're a competitor, you're excited to go play the No. 1 team in the nation," he said. "And I think we've got a lot of good competitors on our team."
One is senior quarterback Chase Daniel. He relishes the chance to play in his home state against a university that didn't offer him a scholarship until late in the recruiting process. It's a chance to get Missouri back on track and also for Daniel to re-establish himself in the Heisman race against Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy, a friend who some feel is the Heisman front-runner.
"I've had such a great experience here and have such a great experience left here," Daniel said. "I don't really think about it (not getting offered until late) too much anymore because he's having such a great season, Colt is, and we're good friends. So, it's just how it's supposed to be."
Zero. That's the number of rushing touchdowns Texas has allowed. And that's about how much running room Missouri TB Derrick Washington, the Big 12's No. 2 rusher (511 yards and a league-leading 11 rushing touchdowns) may find against Texas' front seven. Mizzou's offensive line had problems last week with Oklahoma State's athletic ability. Now, the Tigers will face a Texas front that's far more athletic. Texas ranks No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 3 nationally against the run (51.2 yards per game).
Mizzou QB Chase Daniel has to worry about Texas DE Brian Orakpo, the Big 12's sack leader (1.25 sacks per game). No doubt, Daniel is a pretty passer when he works unfettered in the pocket and looks for a bevy of talented pass catchers, led by WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Chase Coffman. But Daniel had problems last week when he was pressured by Oklahoma State. The Cowboys used a variety of coverages and blitzes to confuse and confound the Missouri front, netting two sacks and countless pressures en route to forcing three interceptions. Texas watched the film. And Texas will come after Daniel. The Longhorns have the best pass rush in the Big 12 (3.7 sacks per game). And the only reason Texas has the 11th-ranked pass defense in the Big 12 (267.8 ypg) is because it's so difficult to run on this defense.
In an ideal world, QB Colt McCoy wouldn't be leading the Longhorns in rushing (348 yards). But it is what it is ? and Texas still is the third-best running team in the conference (191.8 ypg). But RB Chris Ogbonnaya has been coming on in recent weeks, enjoying a breakout performance against Oklahoma (127 yards rushing) behind a line that has gotten better each week. This isn't good news for a Missouri front seven that was gashed for 187 rushing yards by Oklahoma State, including 154 by Kendall Hunter. It's vital that Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon and DE Stryker Sulak get help.
Is there a hotter quarterback than McCoy? He's coming off a scintillating performance against Oklahoma in which he was 28-of-35 for 277 yards and a score. McCoy has completed 79 percent of his passes for 1,557 yards with 17 TDs and just three picks. McCoy also has major mojo going with WRs Quan Cosby (41 catches) and Jordan Shipley (35). This all figures to be too much for a spotty Missouri secondary to handle if it doesn't get help from a strong pass rush.
Missouri K Jeff Wolfert is one of the nation's best and is the school's leading career scorer, but he has been shaky of late. He missed two attempts against Oklahoma State and is just 8-of-12 for the season, including 4-of-7 from 40 yards and longer. After being primarily the kickoff man his first two years, Hunter Lawrence has taken over placements and been perfect for the Longhorns, hitting all seven of his field-goal attempts. He is 3-of-3 from at least 40 yards. Thanks to Maclin, the Tigers have an edge in the return game. He averages 26.1 yards on kickoff returns (with a touchdown) and 9.1 on punt returns.
When it comes to continuity, no school beats the chemistry of a Missouri staff that has been together for eight seasons. Coach Gary Pinkel has softened his approach and seen his success skyrocket the past two years, as he has made Missouri into a nationally significant program. Brown is the dean of Big 12 coaches and is in his 11th season in Austin. The key this season? Defense. It no longer is a weakness, thanks to the arrival of high-energy coordinator Will Muschamp, Texas' fifth coordinator (following Greg Robinson, Gene Chizik, Duane Akina and Larry Mac Duff) since 2004. Muschamp likely be a head coach somewhere next season.
Keep an eye on Missouri's Washington. If he is running free, the Tigers could pull the upset. In the first five games, Washington averaged close to 100 yards rushing. But he was bottled up against Oklahoma State, running eight times for 11 yards. Washington must come close to cresting the century mark for Missouri to have any chance at victory against the Big 12's top scoring defense (15.3 points per game).
Daniel gets time to operate. He didn't against Oklahoma State ? and it showed. If the Missouri offensive line was flummoxed by the Cowboys' athletic ability, wait until it gets a load of Texas' prime beef. The Longhorns, whose 22 sacks rank second in the nation, bagged Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford three times and intercepted him twice ? all while primarily using just a four-man rush against a strong Sooners offensive line.
It gets production from its running backs. That has been an issue, but Ogbonnaya showed flashes of emerging as the primary ballcarrier last week. If he is having success, that only will augment a deadly Longhorns passing attack.
Olin Buchanan: Texas 38, Missouri 28
Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.