Preview: Missouri vs. Illinois (at St. Louis)
One of the week's top games for rankings impact will take place in St. Louis where No. 7 Missouri and No. 45 Illinois (CCR Top 120) will hook-up . The Tigers are among the favorites to win the Big 12 title behind returning QB Chase Daniel, while Ron Zook's Fighting Illini are projected by many to gain a second consecutive top-three finish in the Big 10. The computer projects Missouri as a 10-2 team and the only real challenger to Kansas in the Big 12 North. However, it does not share the same enthusiasm for Illinois as it projects a slippage to 7-5 and takes Missouri in this opener by 12.25 points.
Two losses to Oklahoma were all that kept Missouri from playing for the national title last season. The Tigers took a 41-31 hit in the regular season in Norman, and fell 38-17 in San Antonio in the Big 12 Championship game. This year, they don't have the Sooners on the schedule unless they should hook-up again in the conference title affair.
The computer does not agree with a lot of the preseason hype that places Illinois in the top two or three teams in the conference. Instead, it places the Fighting Illini in a three-way tie for fifth place with the Wolverines and Spartans.
Illinois produced last year's biggest turnaround with a 9-4 season that was seven wins better than its 2006 mark of 2-10, and five wins more than the school had as a total in Ron Zook's first two seasons in Champaign. But the Illini face a brutal road slate in 2008 that sends them to Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. They won't have a chance to state their case against Purdue or Michigan State as both are absent from the schedule.
Behind senior QB Daniel (4th in Heisman voting in 2007 and a leading contender this year), Missouri ranked 4th nationally in points in 2007 with 558. The Tigers posted a minimum of 38 points on every opponent except Oklahoma.
Illinois only managed 362 points, even with the multi-dimensional Juice Williams at QB. Illinois eclipsed the 40-point mark just three times and those were against teams that went a combined 9-27 - Syracuse (2-10), Minnesota (1-11) and Northwestern (6-6).
Check these quarterback comparisons - Missouri's Daniel completed over 68% of his throws for 4,306 yards and 33 TD's. Williams only completed 57% of his tosses for 1,743 yards and 13 TD's.
A couple of sophomore weapons will also be highlighted in this contest - Missouri's Jeremy Maclin and Illinois' Arrelious Benn. Again, the Tigers appear to have a stark advantage.
Last year, Maclin hauled in 80 catches for 1,055 yards, added 375 yards rushing, and piled up 1,346 yards on kick-off and punt returns.
Benn caught 54 balls for 676 yards and just 2 TD's, ran for 158 yards, and added 280 in kick-off returns for a team that was near the bottom nationally in return yardage.
Defensively, these teams were about as even as you can get in 2007. Missouri ranked 59th in yards allowed per game and surrendered an average of 23.3 points. Illinois ranked 55th in yards allowed while opposing offenses averaged 21.8 points.
Illinois will be running uphill in an effort to silence the naysayers. There's no doubt that an opening week victory over a consensus top seven team will raise its rankings stock immensely.