Mizzou vs. Illinois Braggin’ Rights Preview

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The logo of the annual Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis between the Missouri Tigers and the Illinois Fighting Illini.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The No. 23 ranked Missouri Tigers are preparing for their annual Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis against their rival, the Illinois Fighting Illini. The Tigers come in undefeated on the season at 10-0, while the Illini stand at a 9-2 with a couple of tough losses on the road to Georgia Tech and Oregon.

Mizzou has owned this series recently, winning four games in a row. But that’s nothing compared to the nine in a row that Illinois won before that. Can the Illini swing the balance back into their favor? Let’s examine some of the elements of this game.

Star Power

Rayvonte Rice has really stepped up and been an asset this year for the Fighting Illini, scoring a season-high 25 points in a game at UNLV that saw him shoot 9-20 from the floor and 3-6 from behind the 3-point line. Rice has averaged 17.7 points per game this season. Mizzou has two big gamers in Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown. Clarkson transferred in from Tulsa and has blossomed into a phenomenal talent now in his junior year. Clarkson got 31 points at home in a game against Southern Illinois and averages 19.4 points per game so far for the Tigers. Brown is averaging 19.0 point per game while being a serious threat from behind the 3-point line. He’s hit a 3-pointer in every game for the Tigers this season.

Solid Wins

Illinois won a tough and gritty game at UNLV 61-59. A solid game like that on the road is a huge feather in the cap for the Illini. Mizzou has beaten a ranked opponent as they defeated No. 18 UCLA at home 80-71. Although at home, defeating a UCLA team that beat them last year in overtime was important.

Field Goals

The Illini are shooting a respectable 45% from the field, but Mizzou is averaging 50% of their shots. In fact, the Tigers are averaging 79 points per game while the Illini rank 218th in the country with a 71.5 per game average.They posted a 24-56 field goal mark in their last game against Oregon. .

Bigs

There’s two guys on the Illinois team that are 6’10″or above, Maverick Morgan who plays about ten minutes per game, and then Nnanna Egwu puts in a good amount of time and scores 8.3 points per game right now. Mizzou on the other hand has four players that are 6’10” or above: Stefan Jankovic, Hayden Barnard, Ryan Rosburg and Keanau Post. This distinct size advantage is evident in the stats as well, as Mizzou ranks 29th in the country in rebounds per game and Illinois ranks 118th.

Coaching

John Groce is in his second year at Illinois where hes amassed a 32-15 record so far, 0-1 in the Braggin’ Rights game. He came to Illinois after coaching for four seasons with the Ohio Bobcats, taking them to the NCAA tournament in each of their last three seasons. Frank Haith is entering his third season for the Tigers, but his tenth overall as a head coach. Frank Haith now has 192 career wins and a 63-16 overall record while at Mizzou.

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Mizzou had a lot of big questions with so many unfamiliar players incoming this year, five total. But Frank Haith is yet again showing why he earned National Coach of the Year honors in his first season with the team; he’s able to keep his guys focused, and they in turn keep finding ways to win. This Tiger teams will win some more games and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them move up in the polls, maybe even to the top-10.

In any event, I’m calling a 86-79 Mizzou win, extending their streak to five games in a row over their non-conference rival.

Follow Dan Irwin on Twitter @danirwinsports or on Facebook.
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Hometown World Series Hero David Freese Traded to Angels

St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals made a difficult but necessary decision to trade away the hometown World Series hero David Freese. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

It’s a day that many fans knew was coming, some more excited than others.

Third baseman David Freese, the hometown guy who will forever be remembered in St. Louis for his 2011 World Series Game 6 heroics against the Texas Rangers in which he had two critical at-bats near the end of the game, including the final appearance in which he hit the game winner, has been traded to the Los Angeles Angels.

But it’s been no secret that Freese has struggled at the plate. He finished the season hitting .262 after hitting .297 in that 2011 World Series year and .293 last year.

The Cardinals announced their decision on Twitter just after 2:00p.m. CST. Freese was traded for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. Cardinals relief pitcher Fernando Salas was also dealt to the Angels.

For Cardinals fans who are bummed out that the team would trade Freese away, I say… get over it. Nothing will take away what Freese was able to do in St. Louis, and no one with the team wants to forget about that, or that it was really special.But Freese is declining and it’s best to make a move while he still has the best trade value.

SEC Football: Mizzou Looks for Historic 10th Win Against Ole Miss Rebels

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Missouri’s wide receivers have turned into one of the most difficult elements to defend in 2013. Image courtesy of GaryPinkel.com.

It’s been a while since the Tigers have been this good. Sure you can point to 2010 and especially 2007 when Mizzou did make it to a No. 1 ranking in the BCS, but for a team that’s functioned this well all-around, it hasn’t happened in decades.

One of the biggest and certainly the most unsung or unknown reasons right now is the incredible play of the left side of the Mizzou offensive line. The senior combination of Justin Britt at left tackle and Max Copeland at left guard have dominated the blind side of the quarterback.  Copeland was just this week picked as a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, an award that goes to the best player in college football who started as a walk-on.

Justin Britt has exploded with confidence. Earlier in November, Britt was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week with his performance against Tennessee. He graded out at 94% with 5 knockdown blocks, 3 pancake blocks and two cut blocks. Britt also didn’t allow any quarterback pressures or sacks.

The duo made Jadeveon Clowney a complete non-factor in the Tiger’s game against South Carolina.

Mizzou is functioning well with all phases of their offense, built on the strong line. The receiving game is where it’s at right now as senior captain L’Damian Washington has stepped up on the field and as a vocal leader for the rest of the team. Former No. 1 overall high school recruit Dorial Green-Beckham has certainly found his stride as he set a new school record for touchdown catches in a game with four against Kentucky this past Saturday.

Rushing the ball has been no problem as the ‘three-headed monster’ of Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy have all come to shine for the team showing that multiple backs can play at an extremely high level while sharing the load. The team averages 235.8 rushing yard per game ranking them at No. 18 in the FBS.

Don’t forget about the mobility for the quarterback as far as rushing the ball as well. No matter whether its James Franklin or Maty Mauk in the game, the quarterback position is always a threat to take off against their opponent.

Defensively Mizzou has been incredible, and honestly a huge surprise from their preseason expectations, an absolute testament to the ability of Gary Pinkel to get players ready. The defensive line has been the talk of the team, headed by Tiger All-America candidate Michael Sam. Sam has receiving a host of national award nominations and they keep rolling in by the day. Kony Ealy and Markus Golden have played extremely well, and are likely to have NFL careers as well.

Senior linebacker Andrew Wilson leads the team in career tackles and several other categories, and has been an absolute tackling machine for Missouri this season. He’s also shown the ropes to sophomore Kentrell Brothers who has done extremely well and is no doubt capable of some great Tiger performances in the future.

The Tiger secondary showed its depth this year when senior E.J. Gaines went out with injury. Senior Randy Ponder and especially true freshman Aarion Penton (who filled in for Gaines) kept teams from thinking they were going to run all over Mizzou while Gaines was out. Now that he’s back, it’s been slim picking for opposing offenses.

Ole Miss offers an array of young players. No individual match-up on Saturday may be more interesting than Mizzou’s Michael Sam working on the side of the line with Ole Miss left tackle, true freshman Leremy Tunsil. Tunsil is the previous No. 1 overall recruit in America and he has delivered on the expectation.  It will be interesting to see if Tunsil can handle the quickness of Sam.

Mizzou will be the fourth ranked opponent that Ole Miss has faced this season, with the Rebs going 1-2 in the three previous. Their last ranked opponent was No. 6 LSU, who they beat 27-24. But one of their losses was also a 25-0 drubbing at the hands of Alabama. Mizzou is 5-1 alltime against Ole Miss with a win last time they played in Oxford.

Follow Dan Irwin on Twitter @danirwinsports or on Facebook.

NHL: Blues Look to go 10-2 With Win Over Calgary

St. Louis Blues

The Blues have been playing well to start the season. This next stretch will help decide what kind of team they are.

Despite the fact the St. Louis Blues sit at 9-2 on the season, they sit in 4th place in the Central Division of the Western Conference. But all they need to do is keep winning…all of the placement and ranking will take care of itself if you keep playing like this.

One major reason the Blues have enjoyed success in 2013 is their veteran left winger Alexander Steen, who leads the NHL in goals with 13. He’s on pace to have his best season ever and in the last five games, he’s accounted for five goals and one assist.

Their goals per-game average of 3.5 ranks second in the league while their power play conversion percentage is at 24, ranking third in the league. Defensive scoring has been good as well as they’ve only averaged giving up 2.3 goals per-game ranking them No. 7 in the NHL.

And don’t forget about Blues captain David Backes who is responsible for nine points in the last eight games.

The Blues are hot right now, and that’s good because November is shaping up to be a competitive month for them. The Blues can also take advantage of the fact that seven of their next 10 games will be at home. The Blues are next in action Thursday night at home at 7:oopm CST against the Calgary Flames.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals’ Options With Carlos Beltran

Carlos Beltran

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder and loud bat Carlos Beltran is as good as gone from St. Louis. The slugger wants a multi-year contract, and the Cardinals did not offer that to him at the beginning of the week with a $14.1 million one-year deal. The move to at least make the offer to Beltran means the Cardinals now have two prospects tied to any team that takes him, meaning the Cardinals will have done it again with their genius strategy of keeping young talent.

Letting Beltran off the ride and thanking him for coming is the perfect thing to do at this point in time. His numbers are likely going to begin to fall soon. St. Louis was able to get some peak performance out of him at the plate and with his arm, but the idea of bringing in two draft selections is too enticing.

As for where Beltran will end up, there’s the usual rumors of the Yankees, but also the Red Sox are also a possibility in the mix. If you’re looking for a real wildcard, look out for Kansas City who would love to welcome back Beltran and give him exactly the multi-year deal he’d want as they made a push for the playoffs.

Beltran led the Cardinals in home runs this year with 24, while batting .296 with 84 RBI’s.

Follow Dan Irwin on Twitter @danirwinsports or on Facebook.

SEC Football: Can Mizzou Avoid an Upset at Kentucky?

Mizzou Tigers Kentucky Wildcats

Last year, Mizzou was able to take care of the Kentucky Wildcats in Columbia. Will it be different on the road in 2013?

When Mizzou head football coach Gary Pinkel met with members of the media earlier in the week, several people brushed Kentucky to the side and asked Pinkel about what he was going to do during the bye week.

Pinkel would have none of it.

“We are just working on the University of Kentucky right now. Obviously one thing that is different in this league than other leagues I have been associated with is, and that with the SEC there is so little drop off in the talent in this league. Every team is good,” Pinkel said.

Rumors that senior quarterback James Franklin might return were quashed as well when Franklin was listed as third on the depth chart behind starter Maty Mauk and backup Eddie Printz. Putting Franklin as third says that Mizzou would still rather pull off Printz’s redshirt than risk putting Franklin in the game.

It could very well be that Franklin might be ready to play, and it further could have even been the plan to get Franklin in to get the feel of things against Kentucky. But Mauk has shown that he is capable of being the next generation Tiger quarterback, and giving Franklin enough time to heal completely turned into the best option.

As for the rest of the team, everything is firing like a well-oiled machine. Senior cornerback E.J. Gaines came firing back on the scene from injury with his fourth interception of the year. Michael Sam continues to dazzle people that have watched him come out of nowhere to establish himself as arguably the most dominant defensive end in all of college football.

But will all of this be a distraction? Let’s not forget that Mizzou has only played three road games all year, and haven’t traveled outside of Columbia for a game in four weeks. Will the fact that Kentucky is coming off of a 48-14 win over Alabama State give them confidence? Despite their record of 2-6 and 0-4 in SEC play, this is the same Kentucky team who lost at South Carolina by a touchdown.

“They are a good football team, and we are going to work very hard to play our best football game Saturday,” Pinkel said.

Missouri comes into this game in the lead in the SEC East by one game over South Carolina. Because South Carolina would win a head-to-head tie breaker, Missouri has to keep winning if they want to go to play for the SEC Championship at the Dome in Atlanta.

Kentucky presents the possibility of throwing up one of two quarterbacks, giving them the element of surprise against Mizzou with who will be their signal caller. Pinkel touched on that as well, talking about what worried him the most, “Honestly, I think with the two quarterbacks playing is the biggest thing. Who is going to play the most, and they are each a little bit different as players. I think in terms for preparation, it is significant. We will have to keep an eye on that.”

The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU with an 11:00am CST kickoff.

Follow Dan Irwin on Twitter @danirwinsports or on Facebook.

NFL: Rams Are Doomed With Egos, No Chemistry

St. Louis Rams

The Rams have had a rough time trying to find positives this season. (Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images)

In case you haven’t seen the Rams yet, don’t worry. The disappointment that was there when we all saw the preseason schedule that didn’t include playing the Chiefs? Well that disappointment has turned into an awkward happiness as the Rams simply can’t seem to mount any type of winning football at all.

The regular season started off giving Rams fans hope, as a win over divisional foe Arizona got many people thinking that a competitive season was on it’s way.

But instead, it’s early November and we’ve all pretty much packed up on the Rams party and have decided to watch Blues games or something. The quarterback situation is officially in shambles as Sam Bradford wasn’t exactly Mr. Popular before he went down with his ACL tear. I’ll say it, too… Tebow would without question be helping this team right now.

But the real issue is the dilapidated defense that ranks 29th in the league against the run. Teams are running the ball down the Rams throat and no one is stepping up to stop it. Although defenders like Chris Long are doing great, and young talent like Alec Ogletree will end up fairing very well, they cannot carry or change the problems of the defense all on their own.

The guys who think they are great are starting to add up on the Rams. High profile draft picks who are coming out with a flop.  Tavon Austin has done good things, but even he has shown that he’s very much a rookie with some of the mistakes he’s made. And not just the young guys, but players who came into the system with a lot of hype. Well, there’s not too much to be excited about, even with all the hype, until guys can play more together.

There’s no hope for 2013. There’s no NFC West division championship and there’s (unless there’s some miracle) no wild card talk. Just guys playing for a better paycheck next season. But is it all doom and gloom? Let’s not forget that it took Jeff Fisher three seasons with the Oilers/Titans before they didn’t have a losing record… and even then, those next three seasons were all 8-8 before he took the Titans to the Super Bowl after the 1999 season. But Fisher will have to work hard to keep his guys believing in his system, and that he’s not a guy who was simply successful yesterday.

But in Fisher’s successful teams, there’s a mobile quarterback and a solid running attack. The future does look bright if rookie Zac Stacy can stay healthy, but the Rams are going to have to do better than putting Kellen Clemens in the game if they expect to turn their franchise around.

The Rams desperately need star power and big time playmakers at corner. The days of Dre Bly controlling a game and fooling the quarterback doesn’t exist anymore. Any type of playmaker at the position would be a huge assist.

Can the Rams turn their 2013 experience into a positive one? It’s doubtful. Even 2014 doesn’t look so hot if you consider that drafting has never been a stable endeavor either. But I do believe in coach Fisher and the direction the team is headed. They players may know that this season won’t be what they want, but they do believe in the Fisher approach. The key will be to get players not to change that mind frame.

Follow Dan Irwin on Twitter @danirwinsports or on Facebook.