With seven weeks completed in the season, we have essentially hit the halfway mark of the college football season. Over that time period, the free pick discussed in this weekly feature is 5-1-1 (83 percent ATS). While that record is strong, Missouri, one of the surprise national championship contenders, has made it to this point unblemished at 6-0 overall and 2-0 in the SEC. With the SEC East champion likely on-track, again, to face the SEC West winner in a virtual national semifinal with the winner earning a spot in the BCS Championship game, this game means quite a bit. Because it features two strong SEC teams midway through the season, it could be argued that this game is more impactful to the national landscape than Florida State at Clemson -- and it's definitely the game with more value to us). If it wins, Missouri has home dates with South Carolina and Tennessee followed by road games at Kentucky and Ole Miss before a home showdown with Texas A&M to take aim at the SEC East title. While all of those games are winnable, it's fascinating to note that Missouri and Texas A&M, neither of which were in the SEC two years ago, could conceivably both be in a position to clinch a spot in the SEC Championship Game when they meet November 30.
Of course, this becomes far less interesting if Florida wins in Columbia this week, which is a realistic possibility, especially given an injury to Missouri quarterback James Franklin, but it's not our expectation.
Missouri is 6-0 this season against the 43rd ranked schedule in the country to-date. The Tigers would be ranked #9 nationally in our College Football Power Rankings, but they currently come in 18th with redshirt freshman Maty Mauk expected to start in place of Franklin under center (we'll get back to that in a second). Though not elite at anything aside from how it runs the tempo of its offense, Mizzou is relatively well balanced. According to our strength-of-schedule adjusted efficiency metrics, the Tigers, as presently constructed rank in between 30 and 41 in overall defense, passing offense, run defense and pass defense. Aided by a top 15 running game, the offense overall looks a little better and ranks 17th nationally in our numbers.
Again, this is with Maty Mauk at quarterback. Understanding his value is important to this projection. The fact that Mauk only has six career pass attempts is not too helpful to us, but the fact that he redshirted is. We know that he has had more time and opportunity to prepare for this moment than a normal freshman. More notably, we can go back to his high school career to see that Mauk was highly recruited and that he comes out of a program that has had success with quarterbacks going on to succeed at this level in the past (his brother, Ben, played at Wake Forest and Cincinnati). And lastly, Franklin missed over a third of the season last year, giving his backup at the time, Corbin Berkstresser, an opportunity to prove himself. Knowing that Mauk beat out Berkstresser for the backup job is helpful in setting a baseline for Mauk. All of this -- his experience, his accolades, his high school stats and the coach's selection of him over the previous back-up -- goes into our projection and gives us confidence in Mauk's ability to succeed to the extent that he would need to for Mizzou to win this game against a tremendous defense in Florida (fortunately, since Missouri runs the ball 55 percent of the time, his impact is not as great as most quarterbacks in college football anyway).
Florida is 4-2 straight-up and has played the 16th most difficult schedule in the nation. The Gators are also playing with a backup quarterback, Trent Murphy, who has improved this team offensively since Jeff Driskel went down against Tennessee. While Murphy has played tougher defenses than this (at LSU in a 17-6 loss last week), this will be the first time he will have had to lead his team against an opponent that will almost assuredly push the tempo and score points. Overall, Florida ranks 13th in our College Football Power Rankings. However, the Gators are just 50th in passing efficiency and 46th in rushing efficiency, neither of which look good in what, by Florida's standards, could quickly become a shootout.
And lastly, though perhaps most importantly, Missouri is one of the best teams in the country with respect to home field advantage (putting wins at Georgia, at Vanderbilt and at Indiana into better perspective). Playing at home in Columbia means as much as a full touchdown (rather than the 3-4 points that Vegas sports books tend to assume) to the Tigers. Part of this has to do with the fact that it is easier to run no-huddle, up-tempo offenses at home where the crowd is not a hindrance on offense and where the players are most comfortable. Getting three straight in-conference home games after playing three of the last four on the road, Missouri is in a prime spot to make things interesting in the SEC East. That stretch starts with a showdown with Florida in which the Tigers will do everything they can to make their opponent uncomfortable.
According to 50,000 games played by the Predictalator, Missouri wins in an upset relative to the spread over Florida 52.1 percent of the time and by an average score of 23.1-21.6. This would mark the first time Florida has allowed more than 20 points in an SEC game since November 5, 2011. As three point underdogs who win straight-up, Mizzou covers the spread 56.6 percent of the time, which would warrant a $44 wager from a normal $50 player. Though this is a high-scoring game for Florida, the current consensus total line of 44 is in line with our projection on not playable on the over or the under.