Make or break stretch for Mizzou football
By ALEX SCHIFFER
College Contributor Network
Missouri became bowl eligible for the second time since joining the Southeastern Conference with Saturday afternoon's 24-14 win over Vanderbilt. The Tigers currently stand at 6-2 with four games remaining and their only losses coming to Indiana and Georgia.
Even though the Tigers attained the six-win mark, Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said after the game on Saturday that being bowl eligible is the last thing the team will discuss the rest of the season.
"We didn't talk about it all," Pinkel said. "It is not mentioned anywhere in our building. The coaches, players, and everyone on our staff didn't say 'Gosh guys, this win makes us bowl eligible.' We all know the number but we all want a higher number than that."
Counting Saturday's game against Kentucky, the Tigers have four games remaining in the regular season. The Tigers' chances to repeat as SEC East champions are alive and well, but the Tigers will need help from other conference teams if they want to make a second consecutive trip to Atlanta in December. If the Tigers can run the table during their last four games and Auburn can beat Georgia on Nov. 15, the Tigers would have the superior record in conference play, making them kings of the east.
Tigers senior wide receiver Bud Sasser, who had a big touchdown catch late in the game Saturday to help the Tigers secure the win, echoed his coach's words by saying the team isn't thinking about their SEC east chances.
"No, not really," he said. "We just want to focus on getting better each and every week and especially as an offensive unit."
Here's a quick glance at the Tigers' final four opponents and what each brings to the table:
Kentucky, Nov. 1
The Wildcats are currently 5-3, which, by their standards, is pretty good. The team is going into Saturday's game after giving No. 1 Mississippi State a run for its money in a 45-31 loss.
Coach Mike Stoops has done a remarkable job rebuilding the program, with experts saying the Cats are a year or two ahead of where they should be. Stoops has started a lot of freshmen and sophomores the past few years and has now seen the fruits of his labor payoff, as those players have gained experience.
Wildcats sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles is quietly having a good year, throwing for 12 touchdowns with only four interceptions. A year or two ago, Kentucky was a team where you could usually pencil in a "W" on the schedule but this year it won't be as easy.
Texas A&M, Nov. 15
The last time the Tigers traveled to College Station they were blown out of the water thanks to one Johnny Manziel. But with Manziel gone, along with his favorite target, Mike Evans, the Aggies haven't been as consistent, dropping three straight after starting out 5-0. Sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill has looked great at times since replacing Manziel under center, but the Aggies are far from the power they were under Manziel.
With both teams inconsistent in conference play, it's fair to call this game a toss-up from where things currently stand.
Tennessee, Nov. 21
The Vols have been taking some things out of Kentucky's playbook this year, playing a ton of true freshman under second-year coach Butch Jones. Like the Wildcats, the Vols have hung with some teams in conference play, and have been shown the door early in others. Missouri won a four-overtime thriller during their last trip to Knoxville, but with the lack of experience the Vols have, Missouri should be able to win this game comfortably.
Arkansas, Nov. 27
Missouri hasn't been in the SEC long enough to have too many rivalries but Arkansas is a program that has started to have beef with the Tigers in multiple sports, mainly basketball and soccer. The Razorbacks are currently 4-4 with no wins in conference play but have a weapon that has always given the Tigers trouble: a run game.
The Razorbacks have a pair of solid running backs in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, and the Tigers have a history with struggling against the run. The Tigers will need to stack the line with their defensive end duo of Shane Ray and Markus Golden and will have to trust their corners in one-on-one coverage if they want to keep the duo from running them out of their own stadium.
Alex Schiffer is a sophomore journalism student at the University of Missouri and hails from Westfield, New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter: @TheSchiffMan