I mean, yeah, you probably have other viewing plans on Saturday night. Missouri vs. Kentucky ain't exactly a dishy matchup. You've looked at wherever it is you look at to peep the impending weekend's slate, and you've seen a primetime docket that includes actual sexy names like Utah at Oregon and UCLA at Arizona and—again, in name only—Mississippi State at Auburn; so you're like, already set or whatever. Three games are enough to cycle through, four is just too much. Especially, especially, when the paired institutions are known more for their J-school or hoops prowess than for fielding consistent winners on the gridiron.
So I get it, unless you're a fan of Mizzou or UK—hell, even then—this matchup doesn't seem appealing. After all, the two squads combined, scored 18 points last week—yikes. But. If there's ever a category of game that entertains more than a top-25 shootout, it's the low-scoring, mistake-jammed, so-ugly-it's-pretty affair that someone eventually has to win. Missouri-Kentucky will undoubtedly be one of those games, and for that reason alone, it's must-see TV. It is, quite arguably, the can't miss game of the weekend. Skip it if you dare. But watch your social media timelines and group chats light up with LOLs, and context-less exclamations, and facepalm memes; all as everyone except you enjoys this glorious exhibition of football.
1Any magic left? Missouri won these games last year. And when I say these games, I mean games in which Mizzou, on paper, was not clearly the better team (but only by a little bit). The clashes usually turned ugly, but that Mizzou always found a way, man. Missouri got to Atlanta last year not on talent really, but by refusing to go away, and trying really hard, and, it must be mentioned, a flat-out collapse or two by other teams. Like every division everywhere, the SEC East is still technically wide open. It doesn't matter that Missouri needed a late interception last week to put away lowly UConn. It didn't matter last year when the Tigers dropped one to even lowlier Indiana, apparently. The Tigers, it seems, show up when it really counts. Kentucky has a talent-edge on Missouri, by a hair. Such a disparity (marginal, I know) didn't trouble Missouri last year; we'll see if this year's Tigers have the same ability to win ugly as last year's bunch.
2Missouri's been kinda good on the road. Honestly, I did not expect for Missouri to have the nation's third longest road winning streak. The Tigers have won 11 straight road games, which is laudable. Of course, Missouri is playing at Kentucky, so if nothing else, the Tigers should feel comfortable in their role as guests. You know, since playing in a strange place is no big deal to them. Commonwealth Stadium isn't the most inhospitable venue in sports, but as a road underdog, another win would be an impressive feat for Missouri.
3Hangover, or no? Ah man, Kentucky was sooo excited last week. Players, coaches, fans, everybody. The ‘Cats really expected to knock off Florida for the first time since '86, and when they didn't, everyone was pretty much let down afterwards. Though not out of the divisional race by any measure, it's tough to regroup after being on the verge of a program-turning win. Though really and truly Kentucky is but a plausible upset or two from being in serious contention to get to Atlanta, a loss like last week's deflates hopes and invites doubt. The UK staff's biggest job this week is rallying its team mentally. A quick start on Saturday, though, and the Florida loss is but a distant memory.
4Under center. The two quarterbacks in this game have been pretty bad to the start the season, and that's putting it mildly. Missouri QB Maty Mauk hit the scene in 2013 when the team's real starter got hurt, and he had a few games where one could see potential in him. He started every game last season and is the team's starter this season, and we're still waiting to see him realize that potential. He got booed last week, reason for such being that he's been largely terrible thus far (according to ESPN, his 55.4 Total QBR the past two years ranks him 96th amongst FBS QBs).
Patrick Towles is UK's QB, and he popped on radars last season. Towles was somewhat of a revelation, him being a big and tall quarterback with decent wheels and a seemingly decent arm. He was expected to build on last year's output, especially with seasoned weapons aligning beside him. Welp, he hasn't really, and this game now features two quarterbacks once looked at as burgeoning conference threats who currently serve as threats to their own team's fortunes. It's unlikely either of these quarterbacks do anything special to win the game (the running games will dictate the outcome), but one of them could certainly do something to screw his team out of a win. And in fact, the loser of this game will likely be loser due to a costly QB mistake.
5Streaks. So Mizzou's road game winning streak is on the line, we covered that. Let's talk about some stakes for Kentucky. The ‘Cats have lost to the Tigers every year since Mizzou joined the SEC. They obviously have a chance to end that Saturday, and again, they are favored to do so. Here's a more interesting streak: Kentucky, unsurprisingly, has not beaten a top-25 opponent in 18 tries. The Tigers, though barely, are ranked. So Kentucky stands a chance to kill a couple birds with one stone, and, with two conference wins, could find itself near the top of its division later in the calendar than usual.
THREE TO WATCH
Russell Hansbrough, RB, Missouri: Hansbrough is pretty much the best weapon Mizzou's offense has, and he hasn't played much this season after getting hurt in the opener. Mizzou's offensive output the past two games has been kind of laughable, and perhaps not having its best player has had something to do with that. This game's outcome will hinge largely, if not entirely, on who runs it best. Hansbrough is now healthy, so Missouri will undoubtedly rely heavily on the senior back.
Russell Hansbrough. Photo: David Manning -- USA TODAY Sports
Stanley Williams, RB, Kentucky: They call him "Boom," and Boom is a pretty good. The first play of the season, Boom ran for a 75-yard touchdown. Until last week, he had three straight games of 100-yards rushing. Williams doesn't necessarily do it by himself—his backup, Jojo Kemp, is more than serviceable—but if UK wants a win, Williams will need to carry the offense.
Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri: Brothers nabbed SEC Defensive POW honors after a week two game against Arkansas St. He amassed 16 tackles to go along with two fourth-quarter picks. He won't be hard to find on Saturday, because he is usually all over the field. As bad as Missouri's offense has been, its defense has been its usually stout self this season. In a game that probably won't feature a lot of offensive highlights, Missouri's defense may wind up being the key to this game. And the key to Missouri's defense is Brothers.
Hmm, tough one. My first instinct is to go with the better defense, which is Mizzou. But the pressure a bad offense puts on even a great defense, is at times unbearable. Kentucky's offense features skill guys who could pop at a moment's notice, and should they do so, Missouri may not be able to keep pace. I'm kind of sure Kentucky wins this game. I'm 100% sure this game will entertain in its grotesqueness. Kentucky 13, Missouri 7