Missouri, QB Daniel look like legitimate title contenders

The Baltimore Sun

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Tigers stated their case for No. 1 on Saturday night, and only the clueless left Arrowhead Stadium unimpressed.

Oh, fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes and West Virginia Mountaineers might contend that the mother of all border wars exposed previously undefeated Kansas as a fraud, and there might be a teeny kernel of truth in that sentiment.

But that reality doesn't eliminate what Saturday's showdown told us about the Tigers:

They're worthy of college football's No. 1 ranking. They're legitimate national-title contenders. And they're ready for their rematch with Oklahoma in Saturday's Big 12 title game.

By beating the Jayhawks, 36-28, the Tigers removed much of the drama in Armageddon at Arrowhead, the most hyped, anticipated and significant game ever played inside the home of the Kansas City Chiefs. Mizzou scored first, led 21-0 in the third quarter and controlled this contest from start to finish.

The victory secured the Tigers (11-1) their first Big 12 North crown, which gives them a chance to erase the only blemish on their record, a 10-point road loss to the Sooners. If the Tigers beat Oklahoma, they'll likely play in the BCS title game in New Orleans.

I believe they'll knock off the Sooners.

Saturday night, the Tigers certainly looked like the most complete team in the Big 12, if not the nation.

No team in the country has a better pure passer than Chase Daniel.

Daniel's precise passing shredded a Kansas defense that had bullied 11 previous opponents. After a slow, two-punt start, Daniel and the Tigers' offense found a rhythm that the Jayhawks simply couldn't break.

Daniel completed an amazing 40 of 49 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns. Only penalties and dropped passes slowed Missouri's offense. Tony Temple carried the ball 22 times for 98 yards, giving the Tigers a dangerous run-pass option.

We knew Missouri's offense would be lethal. What really impressed Saturday night was the Tigers' defense. For three quarters, Missouri's defense throttled Kansas' normally high-scoring offense, holding the Jayhawks to seven points.

The Tigers' front seven made Kansas' offense one-dimensional, shutting down running back Brandon McAnderson. The Jayhawks' leading rusher never found consistent running lanes. He managed 41 yards on 14 carries. McAnderson's ability to run the ball was supposed to be Kansas' big advantage. It never materialized, which put more pressure on quarterback Todd Reesing.

Reesing, who came into the game with just four interceptions, cracked under the stress. He underthrew an open receiver in the second quarter, and Missouri's William Moore picked off the pass. In the third quarter, Reesing threw behind an open receiver, and Castine Bridges grabbed the deflected ball for an interception.

Reesing was off the entire game. His balls lacked zip. He tossed several passes into the dirt for no reason. By the end of the game, he had happy feet and was anticipating a Missouri pass rush.

Yes, the Jayhawks performed like a team that hadn't been tested by top competition. The Tigers, having played and lost to Oklahoma on the road earlier this season, seemed more prepared for the big stage than the Jayhawks.

Daniel, Temple, Danario Alexander, Tommy Saunders, Jeremy Maclin and Martin Rucker - Missouri's offensive stars - seized this moment. Kansas' offensive stars did not. Kansas made it to 11-0 by not making mistakes, by not losing the turnover battle. On Saturday, the Tigers played turnover-free football and stayed true to form in terms of offensive aggression.

Gary Pinkel ran a fake field goal in the first quarter. He went for it on fourth down twice in the first half. The Tigers overcame 14 penalties. It was like they laughed off any and every mistake.

You can do that when you have a quarterback as poised, experienced and skilled as Daniel. You can do that when you have a plethora of NFL-ready offensive weapons.

No matter what happens from here, we know the Tigers are for real. We know they're worthy of being in the national-title hunt.

Jason Whitlock writes for the Kansas City Star.

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