Smile Politely

Outlook: Missouri vs. Illinois

“I’ll be deep in the cold, cold ground before I recognize Missourah.”

-Grandpa Simpson, after being asked why his American flag has only 49 stars.

I can only assume Springfielder Abe Simpson’s thoughts on this matter have something to do with the woeful Illini record against the Missouri Tigers.

Because recent games have been competitive, it’s easy to forget that in this on-again off-again rivalry, it’s been 113 years since Illinois beat Missouri in St. Louis. It’s been 33 years since Illinois beat the Tigers anywhere in that whole “state.” Just to bring home the Illini haplessness against the Tigers: In both of Illinois’ most recent Rose Bowl seasons (2007 and 1983), the team started off the year losing to Mizzou.

It’s not as if Illinois has been awful in these games. The team managed to score 111 points in the four games this decade -— an average of 28 points per. That’s usually more than enough to win at least sometimes. Unfortunately, in the same stretch Missouri has notched up an average of 37 points.

Still, despite the record, the border war rivalry is good for fans of both teams. It demonstrates a willingness by the two schools to eschew the trend of early-season cupcake festivals and actually play some competition. So while Florida is sharpening teeth on the East Texas State Prairie Dogs and Penn State is beating up on the Ohio School for the Undersized, the Illinois and Missouri teams have been showing up for a real game. Unfortunately for Illinois, that game is not basketball.

But this just might be the year that it all changes.

The two of eleven men on last year’s Missouri offense with verbs for names have moved on: both Chase Daniel and Chase Coffman are in the NFL. As is Jeremy Maclin, the all-purpose speedster who always seemed to be running in open field. After seven years of two starting quarterbacks (Daniel and Brad Smith), there is a new man at the helm. And at several other keys spots, too.

That’s nice, because Illinois has just as many questions on defense. The Illini secondary, which always seems to be strong when thought weak and weak when thought strong, is an unknown. As is the middle linebacker. Martez Wilson, who has been on the team for about twelve years now, is making his starting debut there. He certainly looks the part; in a couple days we’ll know if he can play it.

The only question on the Illinois offense is which of the platoon of running backs is going to have a break-out game. In particular, how many touches will speedy freshman Justin Green get and how often, if at all, will we see ankle-sprained Daniel Dufrene take the field. My guess is four and zero, respectively.

The combined score last year was 94 points. I don’t see that total being threatened unless Missouri is far better on offense — and Illinois worse on defense — than anyone suspected. But look for a lot of points. If Illinois doesn’t fumble or throw an interception, they’ll win by twenty.

Subtract seven points from that total for each turnover.

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