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October 19, 2008

Powered Up: Time for a statement

No one covers the Tigers like PowerMizzou.com. We will be there every day during Missouri's trek toward a possible Big 12 title. Sign up today to start your Free Seven-Day Trial.

The term "statement game" was thrown around Columbia a lot this week. Saturday night's game was exactly that...for Texas. The Longhorns heard all week how they'd have a letdown. They saw experts around the country pick Missouri to march into Austin and pull off an upset. And they said, "NO WAY!" in the most resounding way possible.

But was Saturday a statement game for Missouri? In one sense, yes. The statement made by the Tigers was that for all the strides the program has made over the last few years, there is a long way to go to reach the upper echelon of college football occupied by teams like Oklahoma, Texas, USC and the rest.

I'm willing to concede that Missouri is not on that level. Anyone who watched the two games against Oklahoma last year and the loss to Texas is burying his head in the proverbial sand to pretend anything differently. At the same time, I think next weekend's game against Colorado may be Missouri's true statement game.

The one thing that I didn't see happening happened on Saturday night. I did not know if the Tigers could win. If both teams played their best game, I thought perhaps it was a toss-up. I was proven wrong. Missouri could have played the best game we've ever seen them play and they weren't going to win in Austin on Saturday. But it doesn't end the season.

This Tiger team will earn its stripes (or lose them) based on how they respond. Missouri was outclassed. They were outplayed, outcoached and outmanned. There is no other way to put it. The Tigers aren't Texas. If they played the Longhorns ten times, Missouri would probably lose eight...maybe nine.

But Missouri is still, in my estimation and most others, the class of the Big 12 North. I realize some of you will say that's like winning a beauty contest for ugly women. I don't really agree, but that's neither here nor there.

We have heard for a long time how good the leadership is on this team. Players like Chase Daniel, Tommy Saunders and Ziggy Hood have been praised for their leadership. It's time for that to show up next week.

The Tigers lost any chance at the national title on Saturday. There is not one possible way Missouri gets back in that discussion. But other than that, they didn't lose much. Mizzou has five games left. Four of them are against Big 12 North teams. If Mizzou wins those four games, it is mathematically impossible for them not to win the Big 12 North. At that point, the Tigers will have a chance to become what has been the haunting of the Big 12 Conference for a decade: The ultimate spoiler in the league title game.

Listen, Missouri is better than Colorado. They are better than Iowa State and Kansas State. They have proven they are far better than Nebraska. They were better than Kansas last year and I still happen to think they're better than the Jayhawks again this year, no matter what yesterday might have said.

But the best team doesn't always win. College football is a game of emotion and confidence. Missouri played with little of the first in Austin and can't have much of the second on hand as they return home.

This season cannot fulfill your wildest expectations. But it can still meet what should have been the base expectation, which is to win the North and have a chance to win the first Big 12 title in school history. You don't have to be the best team in the league to win that, you just have to be better than your opponent on one night. On the right night, I think the Tigers can beat Oklahoma or Texas or Oklahoma State. I'm not saying Missouri is better than those teams. If they played each ten times, they lose the series to OU or Texas convincingly and it's probably a toss-up, at best, against the Pokes.

But as Gary Pinkel said after the game on Saturday, to look that far down the road is "laughable." The focus is on Colorado. The Tigers have to win that game. If they don't, I'll be the first to admit, the wheels can, and very well might, come off.

Missouri had a chance to make a statement on Saturday night. They made the wrong one. But the true test of this team comes in the next six days. The goal must be to prove themselves as the best team in the Big 12 North for a second straight season. Nothing beyond that is even a blip on the radar right now.

How good is this team? Where is this program? Can Missouri save a season that is on the brink of going wrong? You get those answers next week. It's statement time in Columbia.

No one covers the Tigers like PowerMizzou.com. We will be there every day during Missouri's trek toward a possible Big 12 title. Sign up today to start your Free Seven-Day Trial.


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