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October 14, 2008

Daniel, Missouri have chance to bounce back

COLUMBIA, Mo. Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel gets a chance to make amends fast.

The Tigers had a chance to ascend to No. 1 on Saturday, but fell 28-23 to 14-point underdog Oklahoma State. This weekend, the Tigers play at Texas, which is the new No. 1 after beating Oklahoma. It's a must-win game for Mizzou.

"We didn't play the part, we made too many turnovers, and I put it all on me," Daniel said. "We seemed like we were a little bit off all night. The reason, I don't know."

This was supposed to be the Tigers' year following a 2007 season that saw Mizzou win its first Big 12 North title. The Big 12 championship? The BCS championship? Go ahead and dream big, was the thinking. But the unexpected loss to Oklahoma State which broke the Tigers' 10-game home winning streak now means Missouri has no wiggle room.

It's this simple: If Missouri loses to Texas, its BCS title dreams will be over. A Big 12 North banner? It's possible, though Kansas will be a formidable challenger.

"We just haven't been in this situation in a while, we haven't lost in this stadium in awhile so this is really difficult on our players but we'll get going," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.

Pinkel is 0-3 against Texas, having been outscored 114-56. No doubt Longhorns defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will use a blueprint similar to that used by Oklahoma State on how to attack Daniel. The Cowboys used a variety of pressure packages to harass Daniel rushing three and dropping eight, zone blitzes, line stunts. It was all about being unpredictable and aggressive. And it worked.

Daniel did make some plays, but it was nothing like in Missouri's first five games. Daniel had engineered 48 consecutive drives without suffering a three-and-out. He had been sacked just twice and picked off once. OSU changed all of that, forcing a three-and-out in the first quarter, bagging Daniel two times and intercepting him on three occasions. Daniel was rattled and addled.

"I put it all on me," said Daniel, who had tossed 160 passes in a row without an interception. "I shouldn't have made all three of those throws. Three interceptions is very uncharacteristic."

After playing at Texas, Missouri likely will be favored in every game (Colorado, at Baylor, Kansas State, at Iowa State) leading into the regular-season finale against Kansas in Kansas City, Mo., that should be a de facto Big 12 North title game.

To have any hope of beating Texas or Kansas, for that matter Missouri will have to run better than it did against Oklahoma State, which allowed just 64 rushing yards. Star tailback Derrick Washington ran eight times for 11 yards (1.4 yards per carry). It all gets back to the offensive line, a unit Pinkel had thought was his best yet. But the group was exposed by an athletic Oklahoma State front.

"They did a good job in stepping up and stopping our running game," Missouri tight end Chase Coffman said.

For all Missouri has done in eight seasons under Gary Pinkel, the Tigers still don't measure up with the Big 12 elite. More specifically, the Big 12 South's elite.

Whipping Big 12 North partners Iowa State, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and Kansas State only will get Missouri so far. It's time for the Tigers to man up and beat a Big 12 South heavyweight. Missouri gets another shot when it plays at No. 1 Texas on Saturday night.

Kansas is another Big 12 North "power" that wants to show it's on equal footing with its Big 12 South brethren. The Jayhawks will get a big opportunity when they play at Oklahoma this weekend.

The divisional imbalance is nothing new in the Big 12. Since the inception of the conference in 1996, the South has dominated the North. The South has won five of the past six league crowns and eight of 12 overall. In head-to-head competition entering this season, the South held an 80-38 edge. It's happening again. This fall, the South owns a 5-1 record vs. the North. And the latest AP poll has four Big 12 South teams No. 1 Texas, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 7 Texas Tech and No. 8 Oklahoma State ranked in the top eight.

And Missouri's dirty little defensive secret no longer is a dirty little secret. Supporters said the defense was fine, that its mediocre numbers weren't really that bad because foes got in such deep holes so fast that they were forced to pass, pass, pass.

But Oklahoma State tailback Kendall Hunter ran 24 times for 154 yards, and the Cowboys finished with 187 rushing yards. Hunter also provided one of three big scoring plays that crushed Mizzou, a 68-yard touchdown run. And Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson connected on 40- and 31-yard scoring passes.

This week, Oklahoma State plays host to Baylor and is looking to go 7-0 for the first time since 1945.

Missouri is just trying to regroup and remain in the BCS title chase, which surely will include many more twists and turns in the second half of the season. But the Tigers need to win to stay in the hunt.

"It'll be a fun week two great quarterbacks going at it," Daniel said. "Colt McCoy put on a show against Oklahoma and we lost a game, which will sting a little bit."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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