Missouri is one of only seven undefeated teams remaining at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, and coach Gary Pinkel's club is coming off arguably its biggest win ever -- a 36-27 triumph at home over then-BCS No. 1 Oklahoma. Of course, that win won't matter much should the Tigers falter down the stretch, but there is no minimizing the impact such a victory, UM's first over any team bearing a No. 1 ranking, has on the overall college football landscape, at least for the moment.
Pinkel was clearly moved by the effort of all involved last week, "It's a great win obviously. It's a great win for our fans too. Tiger Walk today was better than it's ever been. It was a battle. It went down to the end and they are a tough team," he continued, "It's obviously a huge win anytime you can beat the number one team in the nation. I am proud of our team and now the games get bigger. We will enjoy it tonight and get back to work tomorrow. Nebraska is a great team and we have great respect for them."
Following this clash, the Tigers will play at Texas Tech before returning to Big 12 North play against Kansas State.
Nebraska was perfect through five games, but a 20-13 loss at home to Texas on October 16th knocked the Cornhuskers from the ranks of the unbeaten. Coach Bo Pelini's club responded last week, winning a wild one over another undefeated team in Oklahoma State, 51-41.
It was NU's first win in Stillwater since 1995, and it also marked the Huskers' seventh straight road victory -- an impressive feat considering they start a freshman at quarterback.
The winner of this bout will seemingly have the inside track in representing the Big 12 North in the conference championship game. One of these two teams has been the North Division rep in each of the last four Big 12 title tilts.
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Missouri, 64-35-3, but the Tigers have won three of the last five meetings.
The Tigers are the last unbeaten team remaining in the Big 12 as they made a statement by knocking off an Oklahoma squad that had beaten them seven straight times, and 19 of 20 overall. As a result, the Tigers jumped up to the No. 7 spot in the latest BCS standings.
An 86-yard touchdown return by Gahn McGaffie on the opening kickoff set the tone for Mizzou. It was the first time since 1967 that the Tigers had an opening kickoff returned for a score.
Later, the Tigers scored on their first three possessions of the fourth quarter to take control. Blaine Gabbert completed 30-of-42 passes for 308 yards and a TD. Jerrell Jackson caught nine passes for 139 yards and a score, while De'Vion Moore led the way on the ground with 73 yards and a TD on just 10 carries.
Gabbert is a 67.3 percent passer who averages 271.3 ypg and has thrown 11 TD passes against only three INTs this season. Through seven games, both Michael Agnew and T.J. Moe have in excess of 50 catches and they have combined for 1,070 yards and six TDs. With the passing game doing as well as it is, UM's effort on the ground is lacking as Henry Josey is the team's leading rusher with just 319 yards, despite not logging a single start. He and Moore each have four rushing scores.
Gabbert was excited about the win over Oklahoma, but also knows the road from here on out gets even tougher.
"There were huge implications in this football game and we just had to go out, stay focused, and play our game. Each game gets bigger and bigger. Nebraska's a great football team and we're looking forward to playing in Lincoln."
Not to be overshadowed by their offensive comrades, the Tigers have been getting it done on the defensive side of the ball as well, currently ranking fifth in the nation in scoring defense (13.1 ppg). A total of 12 players have at least 20 tackles on the year, with Zaviar Gooden and Andrew Gachkar leading the pack with 45 apiece. Mizzou averages three sacks a game, and has 17 turnovers to its credit.
The Tigers held Oklahoma to 99 net rushing yards last week, and three takeaways also played an integral role in the outcome. The UM defense was only on the field for 21:34, and the Sooners converted just 4-of-12 third-down attempts and were successful on only half of their six trips to the red zone.
A week after suffering a seven-point loss to Texas, the Cornhuskers bounced back with an impressive win at Oklahoma State. Freshman sensation Taylor Martinez was the star once again, throwing for a school freshman-record 323 yards and five TDs. He also totaled 112 yards on the ground, earning National Offensive Player of the Week honors. Martinez has gone over 100 yards rushing five times this season, and he also became the only QB in school history to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 in the same game.
Martinez, who has hit the mark on 59.5 percent of his passes for 1,046 yards with eight TDs and three INTs this year, has been key to the team ranking fifth nationally in rushing offense (290 ypg) and 10th in scoring (38.9 ppg), as he has amassed 870 yards and a dozen TDs on the ground.
Brandon Kinnie caught three TD passes in the win over OSU, and he is currently second on the team with 21 grabs for 281 yards. Niles Paul leads the way with 26 catches for 358 yards and he has scored one TD.
The Cornhuskers allowed 495 yards and 41 points to the Cowboys last week, the most surrendered under Pelini. Despite the success the Pokes had on offense, which included a perfect 5-of-5 effort in the red zone, they converted just 3- of-13 third-down chances. DeJon Gomes logged a game-high 10 tackles for Nebraska in the win.
Lavonte David is the Huskers' leading tackler with 78, while Gomes is next with 63. Their closest teammate (P.J. Smith) has just 36. Overall, Nebraska ranks second in the conference in scoring defense (17.9 ppg), with its effort against the pass being its strong suit (140.7 ypg, six passing TDs allowed, 90.1 pass efficiency rating).
Pelini stated that this matchup with Missouri is just another in a line of tough games that the Huskers need to win.
"They're all big games," he said. "This is the next game for us. Our guys are just worried about what to do today to keep getting better as a football team. If we do, we will be ready. The attitude is that you have to win every week."
As good as Missouri is, there is the danger the team will suffer a letdown following last week's enormous win. Lincoln is as tough a place to play as there is in the country, and with the Cornhuskers also playing at an exceptionally high level, the edge goes to the home team this week.