TEMPE AZ - DECEMBER 28: Head coach Gary Pinkel of the Missouri Tigers reacts on the sidelines during the Insight Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28 2010 in Tempe Arizona. The Hawkeyes defeated the Tigers 27-24. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
This post continues our series previewing our 2012 opponents. Today, we're talking about a very interesting team: the Missouri Tigers, who visit Columbia in week four. The Tigers, as you know, will be new to the SEC this year. We've played them twice in our history, both bowl mach-ups, both losses, the second in Steve Spurrier's first year. Now, we look to end our win-less ways against the Tigers by giving them a rude welcome to Williams-Brice Stadium.
Most Carolina fans I've talked to think we're going to roll in this game. I do think we should win, but don't be so sure this team will be an easy out. The Tigers have tons of offensive firepower. They have James Franklin, who was one of the country's best running quarterbacks a year ago, and now they will have Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to. It remains to be seen how the defense will perform in the SEC, but if we get into a shootout, anything could happen.
Still, this game looks to hash out in our favor in a few key ways. First of all, this game falls in a good spot on the schedule. Mizzou will be coming off home games against Georgia and Arizona St., and it may be emotionally spent and banged up after those two showdowns. Carolina, on the other hand, will be coming off home games against ECU and UAB. We should be fresher than the Tigers. Last but not least, home-field advantage may play an interesting role in this game. Missouri has regularly played at places like Texas and Oklahoma, so it's not like they've never played in a big stadium. However, most of the big football schools in the Big 12 are in the southern division, so Mizzou isn't quite as used to playing in these kinds of environments as our SEC opponents. It's worth wondering if they'll be a little starstruck in their first SEC road game, particularly one that will likely be a classically rowdy night environment in Columbia.
Second of all, while Missouri has talent on offense, it reminds me a good bit of Clemson in the sense that it lacks a large number of SEC quality players on its offensive line. As Scout.com analyst Pete Fiutak writes, "the depth is painfully thin and it’s not going to be the most physical unit in the SEC. It’s going to be a good line, but it’ll also be a finesse blocking unit that will have to prove it can handle the killer defensive lines like Florida’s, Georgia’s and South Carolina’s." Fiutak is exactly right; "finesse blocking unit" is going to spell trouble for Mizzou, and Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor, Kelcy Quarles, and company are going to be a huge mismatch for these guys. Now, Mizzou does have one trick up its sleeve here: It's currently running a run-first spread that will be a bit of an anomaly among our opponents, so we'll have to do some special preparation to combat its scheme. However, with UAB the week before, not to mention a fairly experienced defense that won't be easily outwitted by Franklin, we should be able to handle these guys and keep them from racking up tons of points against us.
Lastly, I feel like this is the game where we could really see our offense shine in the national spotlight. Mizzou got lit up by several opponents last year and doesn't look to be significantly better this year. They did seem to perform better against run-first teams, but since the best Big 12 teams were pass-heavy and there weren't any particularly strong power running teams in the league last year, you have to wonder how they'll hold up against Marcus Lattimore, who, if he's given a limited role early on, might be due for a coming-out game against Mizzou. You also have to think that Connor Shaw will be able to hit some balls in the air if Mizzou can't get to him, and the Tigers weren't a particularly formidable pass-rushing team last year and lack SEC-quality ends.
In short, don't be surprised if these guys and their high-octane offense make things interesting early on, but after we figure them out and get Lattimore going, we should roll in the second half.