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Missouri Tigers vs. Kentucky Wildcats Preview and Prediction

Russell Hansbrough

Russell Hansbrough

Along with Texas A&M, Missouri joined the SEC in 2012 not knowing what would be in store. Since that time, both programs have been remarkably successful. Mizzou, especially, has turned some heads. After going 5-7 in year one, head coach Gary Pinkel's Tigers then reeled off back-to-back SEC East titles and back-to-back major bowl wins.

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Over the past two regular seasons, Mizzou has only two losses against the SEC. The same can't be said for Kentucky. The Wildcats have a record of 9-18 under third-year head coach Mark Stoops. However, it feels like the culture has changed in Lexington.

The 'Cats are coming off an emotional, close loss to Florida, in a game that many expected them to win. They have momentum. Missouri, on the other hand, just beat Connecticut, 9-6, and despite being 3-0, haven't looked stellar in any of their wins against lesser opponents. This matchup is intriguing because of the opposite directions in which these programs are trending.

Mizzou leads the all-time series against the Wildcats, 3-2, after having won the previous three meetings by significant margins. Kentucky beat the Tigers twice in the 1960s.

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Missouri at Kentucky

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: SEC Network

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Spread: Kentucky -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Will either quarterback look at least above average?

It has become a common occurrence over the past couple years for Mauk to throw interceptions. He needs to rewrite this narrative for Mizzou to earn any respect this season. Though it's not completely on him, Mauk has already thrown four interceptions this year. Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles, who looks elite throwing the ball at times, has also tossed four picks. Mauk's completion percentage is just over 50 percent. Towles's looks about the same. If either of these quarterbacks can get some movement flowing in the passing game, there is a good chance their team will be victorious. 

Related: Grading the Panic Level at Quarterback for Every Team in the SEC

2. Which running game will establish the pace?

Despite the lackluster quarterback play, Kentucky has been able to rely on their running backs, especially Stanley "Boom" Williams. Williams has rushed 40 times for 322 yards and a touchdown so far in 2015. If that pace continues, he will eclipse 1,200 yards this season. For Missouri, a team averaging only 105.7 yards on the ground thus far, it looks like they might find a spark this week. Senior running back Russell Hansbrough, who rushed for nearly 1,100 yards a year ago, is listed as 'probable' for Saturday's game. 

3. Can either team pressure the other quarterback?

Both Mizzou and Kentucky have looked decent defensively through through the first three games. The Tigers are allowing fewer than 10 points per game at this point and Kentucky allowed only 14 points to a revamped Florida offense last week. But with each team's quarterback play as a question mark, will either defense be able to get after the passer? Both teams had to replace exceptional pass rushers from a year ago. Mizzou lost Shane Ray and Markus Golden, while the 'Cats lost Za'Darius Smith and Bud Dupree. All four players are now in the NFL. In this game, it will be interesting to see whether either team's ends can get the best of veteran offensive lines.

Final Analysis

Mizzou has won 11 straight road games, but this could be one of their toughest yet. The story behind this game is momentum. Kentucky is trending up, while Missouri, at least early on, appears to be trending down. This game has a make or break feel for these teams' abilities to compete in the SEC East this year. The winner will take a huge step forward, while the loser will take a step back. If Mizzou loses, everyone will have seen it coming after their performances to open the season. If Kentucky loses, everyone will know they aren't for real after back-to-back losses in the division. This game will go down to the wire, but in the end Missouri will pull out another ugly SEC road win.

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Prediction: Missouri 20, Kentucky 17

— 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.