The Missouri Tigers have played into a historic position for themselves, as they control their own destiny heading toward the conference championship—something they haven't won outright since 1960. Mizzou has only outright won 10 conference championships in school history since their first season of football started in 1890.
Head coach Gary Pinkel is in the discussion for National Coach of the Year as well, based on the incredible job he's done yet again in making NFL-ready players out of moderate recruits. Pinkel is also just two wins shy of tying Don Faurot for all-time wins at Mizzou.
But what's even more amazing is that Mizzou is certainly well within distance of being able to play for the national championship. Let's discuss some scenarios here.
If Missouri loses to either Ole Miss or Texas A&M, the whole thing is over and you can likely catch the Tigers in either the Outback or Chick-fil-A Bowl—still plenty respectable. But if Missouri can close out against both teams, starting with a crucial matchup of ranked teams in Oxford, they will be playing in the SEC Championship Game against the winner of the Iron Bowl.
It's within Mizzou's interest to want Alabama to win this game. Beating a stronger team will ultimately move you up in the BCS computers.
Let's look at this first scenario, with Missouri winning out, including a win over Alabama or Auburn in the SEC Championship Game, but Ohio State and Baylor winning out their seasons as well. Here's what the BCS would most likely look like:
- Florida State
- Ohio State
By winning out and beating Alabama, Missouri would move above Oregon as the best one-loss team (unless it was Alabama before the comments light up). But in any event, Missouri wouldn't be able to pass an undefeated Baylor and Ohio State team.
To fully understand how good of a shot Mizzou has at this, let's take a look at the remaining schedules for both Baylor and Ohio State.Date Baylor Ohio State Nov. 23 @(10)Oklahoma State INDIANA Nov. 30 @TCU @Michigan Dec. 7 TEXAS Big Ten Championship
Baylor's toughest test on paper comes this week when they travel to Stillwater to take on the No. 10 ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys. Ohio Sate's road looks easier, but the Big Ten Championship Game could deal them No. 13 Michigan State, who is 9-1 and on a roll right now. And of course don't count out that game with Michigan at the Big House as rivalry games of that intensity can yield major upsets.
There hasn't really been that big BCS shakeup yet, like there was last year. Despite the fact that both teams would have to lose to allow Missouri a shot at the national championship, the idea isn't out of the realm of possibility. It would be the biggest game Missouri has ever played in its history.
Let's take a look at what the BCS standings would likely look like if both Baylor and Ohio State were to take a loss, and Missouri were to win out with a win over Alabama.
- Florida State
Here we see Missouri as the top one-loss team after beating either Alabama or Auburn (Alabama represented in the example) and at the No. 2 spot behind Florida State, putting the Tigers in the BCS National Championship Game in the Rose Bowl against the Seminoles on January 6.
Of course, getting to the game itself will take another feat of great performance aside from what Missouri has already done this season. Going down to play Ole Miss after they just hung a school-record amount of offense on Troy has them feeling extremely confident at 7-3 and ranked No. 24 in the BCS. Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel coming to The Zou in Columbia will be an extremely challenging game as Mike Evans could give the Mizzou secondary fits.
But the Tigers are no slouch this season. They now have the added assurance of knowing that if something should go wrong with James Franklin, the game is in good hands with Maty Mauk at the helm. The entire defensive line for Missouri is like a minicamp of NFL-caliber draft picks, headed by Michael Sam. Win these two games, and Mizzou is in position to play for the SEC Championship where they would face the winner of the Iron Bowl.
Beating Alabama would be a daunting task, but is it possible Mizzou could be up to that challenge? Mississippi State held the Tide in check for most of the first half this week, and Alabama has shown moments of being vulnerable. Could the Alabama defense have an issue with the explosive Tiger offense? And what about A.J. McCarron's ability to move the ball on a tough defense and throw into the likes of a player like E.J. Gaines, who will likely be playing on Sundays as well?
It's all fun to think about, but in the end it will come down to performances on the field. It starts this Saturday for Mizzou as they take on Ole Miss at 6:45 p.m. CST on ESPN.
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In a final tune-up before an epic Iron Bowl showdown with Auburn, Alabama will host the Chattanooga Mocs of the FCS on senior day in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The Mocs come into the game with a record of 8-3, including 6-2 in the Southern Conference. Alabama is, of course, undefeated and gunning for a third straight BCS National Championship.
The game will be a chance to see if Alabama's offense can get back into a rhythm after being out of sync for much of a 20-7 loss to Mississippi State last week.
Another big story will be seeing how many young players get into the game after it gets out of hand early.
Here's everything you need to know:
Date: Saturday, Nov. 23
Time: 1 p.m. CT
Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, Mocs Sports Network
Spread: No lines are listed on Vegas Insider.
Marion Grice has been Arizona State's best offensive weapon this season, and his scoring prowess earns him MVP honors.
It's hard to imagine what the Sun Devils offense would be like without Grice.
He's currently second in the nation in scoring, averaging 15 points scored per game and accounting for 120 points so far this year.
The senior from Houston has found the end zone 14 times on the ground and six times through the air.
To put those numbers in perspective, Grice's 20 touchdowns account for nearly 38 percent of touchdowns scored by ASU this year, including defensive scores. His 120 points account for almost 30 percent of all points scored by the Sun Devils this year.
There was a point earlier in the season when it seemed Grice scored every time he touched the ball. Grice has since come back to down to earth.
Grice is ASU's MVP, though, because he gives the Sun Devils a big-play threat its offense desperately needs.
His durability is also unmatched.
The running back really hasn't missed any time since coming to Tempe, even when his childhood friend was shot and killed before ASU's bowl game last year.
It's Grice's skill set, though, that make him a special player.
Pac-12 Network analyst Glenn Parker told Doug Haller of azcentral.com that Grice's toolkit is full of offensive moves:
When he hits the hole, he hits it at full speed, but he can stop and make a lateral cut if he needs to. He’s maybe better than anybody in the country at using the momentum of the person striking him to spin or use it to his advantage to gain more yardage. If he weren’t carrying the football, it’d almost be like a sprawl of a wrestler. He can almost kick his hips out and then spin off them to keep his feet going. It’s impressive.
This impressive athletic ability has allowed Grice to become ASU's featured offensive threat in the red zone.
At the end of October, Dan Greenspan of NFL.com wrote about the running back's red-zone scoring abilities and compared him to a former NFL superstar:
How about LaDainian Tomlinson? There is the same dominance inside the 20-yard line -- Grice has an FBS-high 31 carries in the red zone this season, resulting in 11 rushing touchdowns to tie for the national lead. There is the same versatility in the passing game -- Grice has four red-zone touchdown receptions.
While those stats have since changed, the sentiment still rings true: Give Grice the ball in the red zone and he'll score.
This ability to score in the red zone has been especially important for the Sun Devils this year, as their offense has had trouble finishing off drives at times. When they give it to Grice, though, those troubles subside.
While Grice has had a remarkable 2013 campaign, it's a shame he hasn't gotten any Heisman hype.
As he told Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com though, his lack of publicity doesn't bother him:
It doesn’t frustrate me. I do things other running backs can’t do. That’s a positive. I might not touch the ball 40 or 50 times like some other guys. But I know if you give me the opportunity to make a play, I’m going to make it for you.
Grice is humble and the strongest offensive player the Sun Devils possess, and for that, he wins MVP honors.
Stats and information from ESPN.com, unless otherwise indicated.
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Experience—not to mention another year past an ACL injury—probably plays a part, but there's more to Branden Dawson's imminent emergence.
Confidence, perhaps at a career-high, has been his most visible attribute.
His heroics during late stages against then-No. 1 Kentucky and Columbia helped Michigan State reach No. 1 for the first time since 2001.
With an eight-point, 10-rebound effort Monday during the Spartans' 82-67 late dismissal of Portland, Dawson continued demonstrating advanced ability in several facets of the game.
His rebounding, for one, appears stronger.
As a sophomore, he averaged nearly six boards per game. This season, he's averaging nine per outing. Considering the competition, that stat's not all that impressive, but he grabbed nine rebounds against the Wildcats in Chicago, a game in which the Spartans won 78-74, thanks in part to a late tip from the 6'6", 220-pound junior.
Overlooked due to his athleticism, Dawson's touch on the pass has experienced an upgrade, too.
Averaging 3.3 assists per game, he's tripled his career average of about one per game. Again, it's early in the year, so it's important to note the level of opposition.
So far, though, his top game of the season has been against the best competition. Not only did he score eight points and grab nine boards vs. the Wildcats, but he also had four steals, two assists and just one turnover—not bad for his second go of the year, right?
The Spartans (4-0) will certainly get much more from Dawson. And it's only November.
The Time is Now
Upon arrival, Dawson was given, at most, three years by most Spartans fans. The former 5-star recruit, per Rivals, was viewed as a player who could easily jump to the Association after two winters in East Lansing.
Suffering an ACL injury late in his freshman year derailed that plan, and as a sophomore, Dawson was forced to play catch-up instead of advancing his game to the professional level, which will likely happen after this year.
So yeah, this is it for Dawson. If not now, it'll be never. The chances of him staying for his senior year are based on his performance—and if he plays up to the level that most expect him to, well, it's good-bye Mr. Dawson.
Playing up to par means also means satisfying Tom Izzo, who chose to "shake it up" by removing Dawson from the starting lineup prior to meeting Portland, per Diamond Leung of MLive.com.
Izzo's move was a way to motivate Dawson, who needs to be nudged every now and then. Izzo knows what this season has in store, and it's more than a future professional contract for an underclassman—it's a second national championship.
As one of the most athletic in the Big Ten, Dawson is absolutely the X-factor. He's been that and will continue to be for as long as he's at Michigan State. Shades of a stardom have been revealed by Dawson, who is a few breakout games away from becoming more than a hidden gem in the Big Ten.
Too Much Talent to Fail
There are teams that could only dream of having a contributor such as Dawson, let alone the amount of power that surrounds him.
He has an All-American power forward in Adreian Payne, an all-conference point guard in Keith Appling and a lottery pick flanking the wing in Gary Harris.
In reality, someone with much less skill and raw ability than Dawson could survive. No excuses. With a cast like that, there is no reason why Dawson shouldn't develop into one of the best juniors in college ball.
NBA Draft Express ranks Dawson as the No. 7 junior (No. 37 overall). He could finish as a top-three junior by simply going with the flow. He could be No. 1 in his class if he completes his apparent transformation from a decent piece of Izzo's roster to a cornerstone.
Michigan State's media guide contains the following Izzo-on-Dawson line, per Leung:
When I watched him this summer, he was finishing so much better. I think we will see a lot different kid this year. He's also worked on his shot a lot. He's still got work to go, but he's making strides.
With skill abundant, Izzo's team shouldn't have an issue earning a No. 1 to No. 3 seed in March. Already tops in the nation, the Spartans could be the undisputed No. 1 entering The Big Dance. Should that happen, it'd be safe to assume that Dawson had more than a little to do with it.
Sure, he has good teammates, but Dawson is the guy who'll push Michigan State over the edge.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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