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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, September 9, 2011 at 8:50 AM

Things have been trending badly for the Missouri Tigers football program of late. They hope to get things moving back in the right direction Friday Night with a national TV victory over Arizona State on ESPN.

A quick review:

  • After a 7-0 start last season that included impressive wins over Texas A&M (on the road) and Oklahoma, the Tigers split out their last six games even though they were favored by a field goal or more in five of the six. One of the losses was to a very mediocre Texas Tech squad. Another was in a bowl to generic Iowa. The three late season victories came against Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State, who didn't exactly present potent challenges.

  • Star quarterback Blaine Gabbert graduated after the season. Trying to rebuild after ending a season with a thud can be particularly difficult.

  • Missouri's place on the national map took a hit during all the "Super Conference" talk when it became clear nobody wanted them! Missouri lobbied pretty hard to join the Big Ten. The Big Ten said "No thanks, we just want Nebraska." The Pac 10 took Colorado and Utah, and continues to flirt with big name programs from the Big 12 South.

Missouri believes they're a major sports program. It started to sink in with them that they might be looking at a future in the Mountain West or Conference USA if they couldn't make a more convincing case to outsiders. In these kinds of discussions, you want to be lumped in with Nebraska, Colorado, the Oklahoma schools, and Texas. You don't want to be thought of as "best of the bunch" with Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State. You're going to form an Upper Midwest Super Conference with those guys and the Dakota's?

That's not exactly setting the stage for a fantastic start to the 2011 season. Not surprisingly, Missouri played poorly last week in their season opener at home against Miami of Ohio. That wasn't a game that was on the radar much. So, let's run the numbers so you can see what turned out to be a statistical debacle.

Total Yardage: Miami 270, Missouri 291
Rushing Yardage: Miami 76, Missouri 162
Passing Stats: Miami 26-39-1-194, Missouri 17-26-1-129
Third Downs: Miami 44%, Missouri 23%
Turnovers: Miami 2, Missouri 1
Yards-Per-Play: Miami 3.6, Missouri 4.6
Las Vegas Line: Missouri by 19, total of 49

So, you're almost a three touchdown favorite at home against a MAC team. Las Vegas expects you to win by a score of 34-15, which is in line with your #21 ranking in the national polls. And, you do this:

*291 total yards
*129 passing yards (!!!!!!)
*23% on third downs
*17 points, meaning you didn't even score the pointspread!

Hey, it's a WIN! But, this was not the boxscore of a top 25 team. Nor was it the boxscore that's going to get anyone excited about new quarterback James Franklin. Okay, he's only a sophomore. But, he was supposed to be so good that Missouri wasn't going to miss a beat. They missed several beats on their home field against a team they were expected to dominate.

The good news is that the defense played very well. They may have to become a more defensive-minded team in the post Daniel/Gabbert era if they want to compete with the Southern powers in the Big 12 (for however much longer it lasts).

Was Missouri looking ahead to this week's big TV game? It's certainly possible. If you know you're going to be on TV in Week Two, it can be hard to get up for Week One against a team that doesn't get your juices flowing.

We're going to be watching tonight's game with Arizona State very closely because it should paint the picture of what's going to happen the rest of the season. A strong bounce back on the road, and Missouri is somebody to keep an eye on in Big 12 battles. More sluggishness, and we're now talking about a team that may be worse than Texas and Baylor when they already started the season ranked behind Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State. Even Texas Tech would very likely post better numbers against somebody like Miami of Ohio than Missouri did.

Right now, we're pretty skeptical about a big year in 2011 for the Tigers.

  • They finished last year ranked 35th in the nation on offense, and 47th on defense. Average those out, and you get a team in the low 40's rather than the low 20's. They only ranked 35th on offense with a guy some pundits believe will be starting in the NFL in a matter of weeks!

  • Gabbert was a smart quarterback using his senior savvy last season. If you watched those "Quarterback Camp" TV shows with Jon Gruden on ESPN in the offseason, you know that Finance major Gabbert looked like a Nobel Prize winner in Physics compared to guys like Ryan Mallett, Cam Newton, and Terrelle Pryor. Franklin is still learning the ropes, and probably won't be good at decision-making under pressure until the latter stages of the season.

  • The Super Conference snubs had to have an effect on the players and their attitudes. Nobody wants you? The best teams in your current conference are trying to leave you? Many of the recruits come from Texas via a pipeline Coach Gary Pinkel has had set up for years. They go to Missouri knowing they get a few games in Texas every year. Did concerns about the future start to dry up that pipeline? Did it dampen the spirits of the Texas kids who were already in uniform?

You can't answer big questions in just one week. Maybe the Miami of Ohio game was a lookahead, and something resembling the Tigers team that beat A&M and Oklahoma last year is going to show up tonight (hopefully not in uniforms that visually represent the state flag tossed in a blender).

JIM HURLEY will have a selection for you in this game posted on the website Friday afternoon. Use it to build your bankroll for what's shaping up as a huge weekend.

We went 2-1 with this feature last week, and will be looking at games like Alabama-Penn State, South Carolina-Georgia, Notre Dame-Michigan, BYU-Texas, Utah-USC, Mississippi State-Auburn, TCU-Air Force, and maybe even Oregon State-Wisconsin. Because of our traditional early season edges against the Vegas line, all three of these will equate to GAME OF THE MONTH caliber releases.

We won this feature last year with the NY Giants over Carolina by double digits. There's a BLOWN LINE this Sunday that we're going to be pounding into oblivion. Oddsmakers are always most vulnerable early in the season when the rely too much on last year's Power Ratings. We've found a mismatch where the spread is off by at least a touchdown.

You'll get our top play from New England at Miami or Oakland at Denver. If we end up liking both matchups at the game-day spreads, we'll make it a KICKOFF PARLAY for Monday Night Football.

Sign up online for the full weekend. You can also call 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check out the offers for our TOUCHDOWN CLUB and RED, WHITE, AND BLUE CLUB that offer the most bang for the buck in terms of the full season.

Maybe Missouri Malaise won't turn out to be Friday Night's theme. Maybe it's Missouri Misery! Or, Desert Disaster! But, Tiger Turnaround has a nice ring to it as well. Don't take a guess Friday Night when a BIG JUICY WINNER is just a few clicks away!

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