I am admittedly a BIG Missouri football fan. I am not one of these fair-weather fans that showed up in the past couple years. I have sat through Woody's Wagon. I have been there for Bob Stull. I have been around for the kicked ball against Nebraska and the 5th down. So I am elated that Missouri Football is so heavily reported on now and that they are in the top 10 in the country to start the season. That being said you can't erase 30 years of heartbreak with one Cotton Bowl appearance and finishing 4th in the country. So I am VERY concerned about this season and specifically this game on Saturday night.
It has been widely reported about all the players returning for Missouri specifically Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman etc. but what has been underreported has been the changing of the guard on the offensive line. All football games are won and lost by the offensive line. The Tigers have 4 new starters on the line including a freshman who will be playing left tackle and guarding Chase Daniel's backside. That is a lot of transition. It doesn't necessarily mean that they won't be good at the end of the season but I really wonder how good they will be starting Saturday.
What I am not worried about is the Tigers defense. They got better and better each game last season and I think they will be even better this year. The Illini defense I wonder about though. J Leman was a tremendous player and leader on that defense and it will be interesting to see how they replace their star linebacker.
Offensively for the Illini the biggest question is at running back. The loss of Rashard Mendenhall is obviously a big deal. Althoff High's Travis Ford will receive carries on Saturday night as a true freshman so you have to figure that either Ford is really good, which I think he is, or the Illini are a little thin right now at running back. What is encouraging about the Illini is Juice Williams and Aurelious Benn. From all accounts they have both improved a lot in the offseason. If Williams gets significantly better this season the Illini might win the Big Ten.
To me the biggest matchup in this game will be the Illini offense against the Missouri defense. Will the Illini be able to keep up with the high powered Tigers offense. This is where my history of Missouri Football comes into play. I have had a bad feeling about this game for the past few months and now that the game is here I feel even worse. But like a bad car wreck I will watch every snap. I hope it all comes out alright. I believe Missouri is a better football team than Illinois but I think something bad is going to happen to the Tigers. I can't place my finger on it but I know that 30 years of Missouri football makes me skittish. So here is my prediction....
Illinois 34 Missouri 31
I hope I am wrong but I got a feeling.