With the cloud of lots of people doing really stupid things-Brian Randolph, come on down; AJ Johnson and Michael Williams, y'all stay on the sidelines-there's still a game this weekend. It's a big one, although arguably more important to a Missouri squad that has all the pressure on it this time around. If the Tigers (no, not those Tigers) can win on Saturday and against Arkansas (they're 3-2 against them, although based on the average score, don't watch this game), then the Tigers give a transitive SEC East victory to Indiana advance to play ....well, probably Alabama. Let's be honest.
But seriously, Mizzou, I know y'all are new to this conference so lemme help out a tick: you want to blow one of these next two games. Do you really want to give Indiana something to be happy about?
Let's talk skill positions.
BATTLE OF OFFENSE?
This is only true in the strictest sense of the world, as the Joshua Dobbs version of the Tennessee offense is a significant improvement over the Justin Worley-led outfit. Dobbs is averaging a cool 8.0 YPA, although it should be noted that the Missouri defense will be a new challenge for him. Jalen Hurd's YPC keeps going up-now at 4.5 on the season, and Marquez North's ongoing nicks and scrapes has opened the way for Pig Howard and Von Pearson to step up.
It's a different, earlier-season story for Missouri. Maty Mauk (3*, Rivals) has struggled (53%, 6.1 YPA, 19 TD, 10 INT) in his sophomore season. Incidentally, 53% is a tick better than his freshman year's 51%, but 6.1 YPA is way, way worse than 8.1 YPA. The moral of that story? The talent at WR has thinned out a bit, with Bud Sasser (3*, Rivals) the only kind of threat. You could get creative and add Jimmie Hunt (3*, Rivals) to the list, but that's beyond me.
Mauk, by the way, is 97th in the nation in YPA among QBs with enough attempts to be considered. Dobbs, in a limited sample size, would be tied with Nick Marshall and Driphus Jackson (from Rice, since I'm guessing you hadn't heard of him either).
Also incidentally, Sasser's 701 yards receiving is significantly better than anyone on Tennessee, but Missouri's receiving corps basically goes three deep and that's being generous. Tennessee's goes four deep at least, six if you include Ethan Wolf and Hurd.
If there's something to be scared of with Missouri, it's the running game. Russell Hansbrough (no rating, Rivals?) is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and Marcus Murphy (3*, Rivals) has fared decently well at 4.7 yards per carry. The Tigers' actual two-deep running back stable is a small step up on Tennessee's Hurd-and-Dobbs combo if only because of better distribution, but neither of these units really fills you with excitement. (Okay, one of these units definitely doesn't.)
Yeah, that can't be the battle. Let's try that again.
BATTLE OF DEFENSE!
Yeah, there we go. Shane Ray (3*, Rivals) and Markus Golden (no rating again, Rivals?) are both beasts on the defensive line; it's probably safe to assume they'll a) get a couple sacks, b) force a few hurries, and c) remind us that the offensive line is still more or less a problem. They're tougher on a yards-per-carry basis than Tennessee (3.4 YPC allowed to the Vols' 4.1 YPC allowed) and a little better through the air (6.0 YPA to the Vols' 6.9 YPA), but there are some mitigating factors in play here.
For one, Tennessee had that weird pre bye-week swoon, likely brought on because the defense is 1.5 deep. (And yeah, about that: with three absences in the first half thanks to really stupid decisions-and two in the second half-that depth is going to get tested.) For another, it's more likely Tennessee's offense can pressure Missouri's defense. Mauk is a random number generator at QB, but the real danger is Hansbrough and Murphy making hay against Tennessee's front seven.
I'M PHONING IN THESE TITLES
So here's the thing: this game might come down to the margins. There isn't much separating Missouri and Tennessee, which means you're stuck with the weird intangible stuff like home field advantage and talent. It'll be narrow, but in the end that might be just enough.
THE NOT PREDICTION BECAUSE PREDICTION IMPLIES THIS WASN'T ALREADY CONFIRMED BY ADVANCED ANALYSIS: 38-37 Tennessee.