Tigers host Ohio today, eye 4-0 start

Saturday, September 23, 2006

MU can complete a perfect nonconference schedule with a victory.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Ohio is all that stands between Missouri and a rare perfect nonconference schedule.

Before the Big 12 games begin, the Tigers (3-0) seem to stumble at some point. Last year they lost by 10 points at home to New Mexico on the way to a 7-5 finish, and in 2004 they were upset at Troy in a 5-6 season.

Missouri is a heavy favorite to make it to 4-0 for the first time since 2003, and only the fifth time since 1925, leading to giddy talk about a potential 8-0 start among more optimistic fans. After this week they start the conference schedule against winless Colorado and figure to have tossups at worst at Texas Tech and Texas A&M and home against Kansas State.

Whatever happens, this year has been different so far because of a major improvement on defense.

"I think every week is a different challenge," Pinkel said. "I think we're seeing some consistency, certainly on defense."

Missouri had a strong second half at New Mexico last week, and ranked first in the conference while allowing only 31 points in the first three games overall. The school has had the conference defensive player of the week the last two games -- end Brian Smith last week after getting four sacks and linebacker Marcus Bacon after a 34-7 victory over Mississippi.

This year, the final obstacle before conference play is a team led by former Nebraska coach Frank Solich. Ohio (2-1) won its first two games before losing 24-7 to Rutgers last week.

"I have tremendous respect for him. Always have, always will," Pinkel said.

The Tigers have not yet attracted national attention, although they're among teams receiving votes. Pinkel knows there's a long way to go for a team reshaping its identity after four years with record-setting quarterback Brad Smith.

"It's better to stay away from everything, but I'm not naive," Pinkel said. "I talk to my staff and I talk to my seniors about things.

"We're better off just focusing on ourselves."

Solich, in his second year at Ohio, considers Missouri similar in style to Rutgers but with more size and quickness.

This will be Solich's first game at Missouri since 2003 when the Tigers won 41-24 for their first win over Nebraska since 1978.

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