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Missouri Tigers vs. West Virginia Mountaineers Preview and Prediction

Skyler Howard

Skyler Howard

New head coach Barry Odom brings the Missouri Tigers into Morgantown, West Virginia, for a Big 12/SEC season-opening matchup consisting of numerous subplots. While Odom is in his first season at the helm at Missouri, Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen continues to find himself on the proverbial hot seat.

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Despite the coaching change, there is optimism surrounding the Tigers due to the presence of a fierce defense and the return of numerous skill players on offense. Coming off a 5-7 season, the Tigers underperformed but are expected to see improvements in 2016.

The Mountaineers are coming off an 8-5 season that ended in record fashion against Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl. West Virginia is led by senior quarterback Skyler Howard and a veteran offensive line that many believe could be one of the best in the country.

Missouri at West Virginia

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 2, 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FS1

Spread: West Virginia -10

Three Things to Watch

1. Missouri’s Charles Harris vs. West Virginia’s Yodny Cajuste

It is very rare when a key element of a game is on the line, especially at a specific position. But Harris is one of the best defensive ends in college football and is expected to have a monster year.

Depending on how WVU offensive line coach Ron Crook plans to set up his unit, Cajuste at left tackle may find himself matched up one-on-one on the outside against Harris.

Harris accounted for seven sacks and 57 tackles last season. Whether the Mountaineers choose to run or pass, Harris will be a threat and Cajuste will be tasked with neutralizing him.

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2. Will this be Drew Lock’s breakout game?

Lock was considered the quarterback of the future for the Tigers when he made his debut as a true freshman last season. His throwing motion is a thing of beauty and his accuracy is impressive. Unfortunately he was only able to muster a 2-6 record last season while completing less than half of his passes.

The addition of Alabama transfer Chris Black at wide receiver will be big for Lock, as the Tigers also welcome back J’Mon Moore and Nate Brown, the team’s top returning pass catchers.

Lock has weapons at his disposal and gained some valuable experience last season. He may be read to realize his full potential and there’s no better time than the season opener to take the first step forward.

3. Will Missouri’s defensive line force West Virginia to the air?

In his weekly press conference, Holgorsen called the Missouri defensive line one of the best he has seen. And while the Mountaineers return a veteran offensive line, including center Tyler Orlosky, this may be the biggest test these veteran linemen see all season.

Running away from Harris doesn’t exactly solve the issue. Defensive end Jordan Harold also is a force and will need to be contained by either Marcell Lazard or Colton McKivitz, the latter being a redshirt freshman.

Despite having an arsenal in the backfield consisting of Rushel Shell, 2015 JUCO offensive player of the year Jordan Crawford, and freshman Kennedy McKoy, the Mountaineers may be forced to go to the air to move the ball against this defensive front.

Final Analysis

This will be a competitive game. West Virginia should have the advantage through the air if senior quarterback Skyler Howard can consistently connect with the open target. Missouri returns a number of skill players on the offensive side of the ball, but it remains to be seen if the pieces can come together.

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The Mountaineers simply have too many offensive weapons and should be able to keep the young Missouri offense in check.

Prediction: West Virginia 34, Missouri 24

— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.