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December 5, 2008
Oklahoma hopes to avoid Big 12 upset
Oklahoma is cruising.
The Sooners have scored at least 58 points in five consecutive games and at least 60 in four in a row. They won a tiebreaker to represent the South Division over Texas and Texas Tech in the Big 12 Championship Game, where a victory would allow them to play for the national title. And they face Missouri, which has lost to two South Division opponents, fell to rival Kansas in the regular-season finale and is a decided underdog against the Sooners.
"There are good offenses in this league," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "But [the Sooners] are playing as good of football as anybody in the nation."
That's why Oklahoma should be concerned.
The championship game is the iceberg that often has sunk the hopes of Big 12 teams that appeared to be cruising to the national title game.
Exhibit A: In the inaugural Big 12 Championship Game, in 1996, No. 3 Nebraska was upset 37-27 by unranked Texas.
Exhibit C: In 2001, No. 3 Texas was upset 39-37 by Colorado, which it had beaten soundly earlier in the season.
Exhibit D: In 2003, No. 1 Oklahoma was blown out 35-7 by Kansas State. The Sooners still went to the national title game, but an air of invincibility had been removed and OU fell to LSU 21-14.
Oklahoma has a similar air of invincibility. Since losing 45-35 to Texas on Oct. 11, the Sooners have been on a roll in which they've trampled opponents by an average of 28.8 points. The Sooners average 53.3 points to lead the nation in scoring offense and 556.7 yards to rank third in total offense.
Quarterback Sam Bradford has passed for 4,080 yards and leads the nation with 46 touchdown passes. Running back DeMarco Murray has exceeded 1,000 rushing yards, and backup Chris Brown is closing in on that mark. Tight end Jermaine Gresham is the nation's best at his position. Three wide receivers have more than 30 receptions and 500 yards. The offensive line might be the best in the country.
That all adds up to what must be the best offensive unit in the 10-year tenure of OU coach Bob Stoops.
"I don't think there is any question," Stoops said. "I wouldn't have said that early in the year because I'd wait to see how it goes through the rest of the season. But I don't think there is any question. We've had 60 points in four games. Heck, we had 55 at halftime against Kansas State."
Missouri also has an explosive offense, averaging 45 points. Quarterback Chase Daniel has passed for 3,880 yards and 34 touchdowns, running back Derrick Washington is close to 1,000 yards rushing and receiver/return man Jeremy Maclin is among the country's greatest big-play threats.
"I love playing in our offense. It's a machine when we get going," Daniel said. "At times, we've stopped ourselves and haven't played as well as we wanted to. We feel the only people that can stop us are ourselves."
The Tigers have been stopped too often. They entered this season with national championship hopes and were ranked as high as No. 3. But they dropped after consecutive losses to Oklahoma State and Texas. Still, they won the Big 12 North, and a victory would clinch Missouri's first conference championship since 1969 and put the Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl.
"It's a one-game season," Daniel said. "They're playing for a national championship. We're playing for a BCS bowl. There's a lot on the line."
No doubt about that. A Missouri victory also would send Texas to the national championship game and drop Oklahoma into the Cotton Bowl.
Hey, stranger things have happened. In fact, history shows strange things often happen in this game.
Who gets the edge?
Oklahoma run offense vs. Missouri run defense
Oklahoma pass offense vs. Missouri pass defense
Missouri run offense vs. Oklahoma run defense
Missouri pass offense vs. Oklahoma pass defense
Oklahoma special teams vs. Missouri special teams
Oklahoma coaches vs. Missouri coaches
X-factor: Oklahoma has much more big-game experience than Missouri, which was evident a year ago when the Sooners defeated the Tigers in the Big 12 Championship Game in San Antonio. Maybe last season's experience will benefit Missouri this time around. Plus, Bradford has torn ligaments in his left (non-throwing) hand. Bradford said it isn't an issue, but if the injury is aggravated, he could have problems taking snaps.
Oklahoma will win if: The Sooners just have to do what they've been doing during a five-game streak in which they've scored 58 points or more. Given adequate protection, Bradford likely will have another productive performance. If OU avoids turnovers, Missouri likely won't be able to match the Sooners offensively.
Missouri will win if: Daniel must have his best game and Maclin needs to make big plays on offense and on special teams. The Tigers' pass rush must pressure Bradford or OU will make another run at 60 points. If Missouri can stay in contention into the fourth quarter, the Tigers' kicking game could give them an advantage in a close game.
Olin Buchanan: Oklahoma 45, Missouri 31
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.