October 23, 2010
Missouri 36, Oklahoma 27. The headline-grabbing story out of Columbia, on the heels of the road flops by Alabama and Ohio State the last two weeks, is surely the ongoing "Curse of No.1": College football hasn't seen this kind of back-to-back-to-back attrition at the top of the polls in 50 years. At this rate, it's verging on a theme that could come define to the 2010 season: No. 1 team goes on the road against a good-not-great conference rival in search of "respect," No. 1 team quickly falls behind, No. 1 team eventually goes down convincingly by two scores. Pandemonium ensues. Lather, rinse, repeat. The Sooners' likely replacement atop the BCS, Oregon (already No. 1 in all the mainstream human polls), is clearly walking into a death trap next week at USC.
Unlike Alabama and Ohio State, though, and unlike Oregon next week, Oklahoma's demise hardly came out of the blue. Its Achilles heel has been evident from the beginning. Defense was the issue when the Sooner secondary was flambeed by Utah State on opening night, it remained an issue through the subsequent six weeks and it was finally the death knell tonight in their nascent BCS Championship campaign.
Oklahoma had already been popped for at least 24 points three times over its first seven games, in too-close-for-comfort wins over USU, Cincinnati and Air Force. Each of that seemingly overmatched trio rang up secret saving grace during the 7-0 start.
That's not meant to sound dismissive toward the Tigers, who suddenly find their own perfect start validated ahead of yet another "trap" game, a defining trip to Nebraska next week that should decide the Big 12 North in its final year of existence. Mizzou wasn't supposed to be back here so quickly after the core of the explosive 2007 team took its record-breaking act to the next level, if it ever made it back at all. With an almost entirely new cast, new quarterback and newly feisty defense, it finds itself back on the verge of the national championship cauldron with five very winnable games to go, off the program's biggest win in decades. The good vibrations may or may not endure past the upcoming trip to Lincoln, but the night was every bit as much of an arrival for the Tigers as an exit for Oklahoma.
The Sooners may get another shot at the proverbial redemption, if both teams advance to a December rematch of the 2007 and 2008 Big 12 Championship games. The BCS may still beckon them as the best team in the conference at the end. But they were an awkward fit at No. 1, even for a week, and their chances of getting back left the stadium just ahead of the goal posts.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.