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Kentucky Wildcats vs. Missouri Tigers Preview and Prediction

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It's hard to believe it's already week nine of the college football season. Time flies when you're having fun... unless you are Missouri. But the 2-5 Tigers have a chance to turn things around this weekend when they host the Kentucky Wildcats, a team that looks to be hot at the right time but hasn't looked good away from home.  

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After starting off the season 0-2, Kentucky has won four of its last five games and appears to be a strong contender for a bowl game. The only loss for the Wildcats during that stretch came on the road against Alabama. However, Kentucky also has been pretty fortunate with its schedule. In only two road games this season, the 'Cats have been outscored 79-13. They'll have to be better than that to take down Mizzou in Columbia.

Mizzou has lost three in a row — getting smoked by LSU and Florida and dropping a game at home last week to Middle Tennessee. The Tigers' defense, which many thought would be the team's biggest strength this season, looks horrendous. But as crazy as it sounds, it still isn't out of the question for Mizzou to get to a bowl game. A win over Kentucky would be a huge step. Then all the Tigers would need to do is win three of their remaining four games against South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Arkansas. It's not likely, but it's doable.

Kentucky and Missouri will meet for only the seventh time on Saturday. The series is tied 3-3 but since Mizzou joined the SEC in 2012, the Tigers have won three of four against the Wildcats. Kentucky got the win last year in Lexington 21-13. Can the ‘Cats do it again, or will Missouri turn the tables?

Kentucky at Missouri 

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 29 at 12 p.m. ET

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TV Channel: SEC Network

Spread: Missouri -4.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Missouri Quarterback Drew Lock
This is where the Tigers have an edge and why they are favored in this game. Missouri is second in the SEC in passing, averaging more than 304 yards per game. Kentucky, meanwhile, is 13th in passing at just 178 yards per contest. Lock, Mizzou's sophomore quarterback, is not "struggling," as some have reported. He has looked stellar for the most part against every team he's faced not named LSU or Florida. Lock's completion percentage isn't at an elite level, but he's already thrown for 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. He's on pace for a near-4,000-yard season. And Kentucky's defense is nowhere near the level of LSU or Florida's. Lock could have a big day — and that may be the difference in the game.

2. Scoring vs. Clock Control
On one hand, the numbers point to this game being a high-scoring contest, as neither defense is any good. However, it also looks like it could be one of those games decided in the 20s. Both teams run the ball well. Mizzou leads the SEC in total offense, averaging 505 yards per game. The Tigers have the sixth-best rushing offense in the conference. Kentucky is right behind them in seventh, thanks to star running back Stanley "Boom" Williams. In total defense, Kentucky ranks ninth in the SEC, while Missouri ranks dead last. Will these teams light up the scoreboard, or will they sustain long drives on the ground? It's tough to tell. The over/under on this one is set at 70.5. It will be interesting to see just how close the guys in Las Vegas are on how many points end up being scored.

3. Special Teams
These teams are two of the SEC's best when it comes to punt returns. Both average more than 12 yards per return and have returned a punt for a touchdown this year. Mizzou's Chris Black is second in the SEC in punt return average, behind only Alabama's Eddie Jackson. The Wildcats are fifth in the conference when it comes to kickoff returns, averaging more than 24 yards per return. In the punt game, the Tigers' Corey Fatony ranks third in the SEC, totaling close to 44 yards per punt. Statistically, Kentucky is the SEC's third-best field goal kicking team. We could go on and on with numbers, but the point here is that each team excels in multiple special teams categories. That's often a factor in close contests.

Final Analysis

This is a tough one. I understand the logic from those questioning why a Missouri team that has lost three in a row in ugly fashion is favored against a team that has won four of its last five. The momentum of these teams just doesn't point to Mizzou winning. However, I also can see that Mizzou has the SEC's best offense, at least statistically, and is playing with a better quarterback at home — which explains why the Tigers are favored. My bet is that Kentucky will control this game on the ground for the most part and try to keep that Mizzou offense off the field. The Wildcats finally have something to play for and they just beat a team from the SEC West. The confidence level is high.

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Prediction: Kentucky 35, Missouri 28

— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host and lead SEC Writer for Three Point Stance Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.