News – Colorado hasn’t played on Halloween since 1992, and hasn’t played at home on Halloween since 1970.

Not News – Colorado has stunk it up against Missouri the last two seasons.

Colorado is hosting Missouri this Saturday morning, with kickoff at 11:30 MT. The Homecoming game represents the first time that Colorado has played on Halloween since 1992.  

[The last game Colorado played on October 31st was a true nightmare. No.8 Colorado played in Lincoln against No. 8 Nebraska (no, that’s not a typo – the teams were tied in the polls). Both teams had aspirations of a Big Eight title and national recognition. The Buffs were mauled that night, 52-7, the first conference loss for Colorado since 1988 (a run of 23-0-2). Nebraska went to win its first Big Eight title in four years. The Buffs finished the 1992 season with a 9-2-1 record after falling to Syracuse, 26-22, in the Fiesta Bowl]

Colorado’s play against Missouri the past two seasons has been ghoulish, falling to Missouri by scores of 55-10 and 58-0 in the last two meetings. The latter loss snapped the Buffs’ 242-game scoring streak, the 9th-longest in NCAA history. This week, the Buffs have been talking about focusing on playing their best game of the season against the Tigers, and held a players’ only meeting on Monday to clear the air after the Buffs’ poor play against Kansas State.

Will revenge be a factor? Will the Buffs play better now that they are back home? Will Missouri play like a team with a three-game losing streak, or a team which was ranked 24th in the nation earlier this season?

We will find out Saturday … Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” …

T – Talent

You know the story. Gone to the NFL are Missouri’s quarterback Chase Daniel, tight end Chase Coffman, and all-everything wide receiver/running back/kick returner Jeremy Maclin. While it is true that sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert is no Chase Daniel, and while it is also true that Gabbert has been slowed recently by a sprained ankle, his statistics show why he was the No. 1 rated quarterback recruit in the country in 2008. Gabbert has already passed for 1,704 yards, and has 13 touchdown passes with only five interceptions. Gabbert did practice this week without a boot around his ankle, which will give new optimism to Tiger fans that his play will return to the level seen earlier this season, when Missouri opened 4-0.

Gabbert’s favorite target is senior wide receiver Danario Alexander, who has 50 catches for 701 yards – 14 yards/catch – and five touchdowns (the Buffs’ leading receiver, Scotty McKnight, has 41 catches for 431 yards – ten yards/catch- and three scores). Alexander has already had three 100-yard receiving games this season, including 180 yards against Oklahoma State.

The Missouri rushing game, ranked 52nd in the nation last season, has fallen off to 100th this year. Junior Derrick Washington leads the team with 441 yards (Rodney Stewart has 467 for the Buffs). Washington had success earlier in the season, but was held to 35 yards by both Oklahoma State and Texas in Missouri’s last two games.

Missouri’s defense, as the second half of the season gets underway, is settling in around the mid-point nationally in most defensive rankings. In the important categories – rushing defense; passing defense; total defense; and scoring defense – the Tigers come in between 52nd and 65th nationally. In three Big 12 games, all losses, Missouri is giving up an average of 33 points per game, while scoring only 12 (the Tigers have been held under 20 points in each game).

The Tigers are not as explosive as the team which routed the Buffs the last two seasons, but they are indeed capable of scoring points in bunches.

I – Intangibles

Pick your poison here. Both teams have been talking a good game this week. Missouri is 0-3 in Big 12 play; Colorado is 1-2. Still, both team’s players talk about winning the Big 12 North – and it’s hard to fault the logic. Missouri can point to its difficult opening Big 12 games (Nebraska, at Oklahoma State, Texas), which will be followed by relatively easier games (at Colorado, Baylor, at Kansas State, Iowa State), while the Buffs, at 1-2, are a Halloween win away (assuming a Kansas State loss to Oklahoma in Norman Saturday) from being tied in the loss column with every other contender in the North.

One team will be exposed – once and for all – Saturday. It is true that a team can win the Big 12 North with a 4-4 conference record (witness Colorado in 2004), but if Missouri digs itself into an 0-4 hole, even the most ardent Tiger fan will have to start looking at the Alamo Bowl as a best-case scenario. Meanwhile, the Buffs, who would have been alone in first place in the division with a win in Manhattan, are hanging by a thread, credibility-wise. Colorado would not be mathematically eliminated with a loss to Missouri Saturday, but a 2-6, 1-3 team would be, as they say, whistling in the graveyard with a loss this weekend. (Imagine, just for fun, a 6-6, 5-3 Buff team in the Big 12 title game. Colorado would have to defeat the Big 12 South champion – likely Texas – just to be bowl eligible!)

P – Preparation / Schedule

Colorado played a morning game on the road last Saturday, and were home in time to watch Missouri get blasted by Texas, 41-7, on Saturday night. A slight advantage for the Buffs, who actually got to finish their game before their next week’s opponent for the first time in a month – but this is not enough to make a substantial difference in Saturday’s game.

Any advantage to playing a second consecutive morning game (and second of three – the Texas A&M game next weekend will also be an 11:30 kickoff), is tempered by the game the lost advantage which would have come had the game been played at night. A Halloween night “Black out” game against Missouri might have given the Buffs a substantial lift in volume. While the game will likely have around 50,000 in attendance (around 45,000 seats had been sold as of Tuesday), and while the Homecoming atmosphere will aide the home team, it would likely have been louder and more rowdy (imagine the creative costumes in the student section) had the game been played at night.

There is also a slight advantage to the Buffs in the schedule for next week. Both teams play at home against Big 12 South opponents. Missouri will play Baylor, while Colorado hosts Texas A&M. I give Colorado the edge here only because the Buffs are so atrocious on the road, that knowing that their next game is also at home gives some hope for an actual winning streak for the first time since last September. Also – and granted this is a reach – Colorado’s game against Texas A&M will be televised; Missouri’s game against Baylor will not.

S – Statistics

The weekly roundup of frustrating statistics … Colorado is ranked 100th or worse in six statistical categories, including rushing offense (110th); total offense (107th); and turnovers (107th) – and it gets worse. There are a number of categories in which the Buffs are not quite in the triple digit category, but are perilously close, including scoring offense (96th, at 22.4 points per game); scoring defense (91st, at 28.6 points per game); sacks allowed (91st) and turnover margin (96th).

Want something a little less scary to look forward to on Halloween? Here is something you might try and hang your hat on – Colorado is 21st in the nation in kick returns; Missouri is 103rd in the nation in kick return yardage defense. While it would not be in the Buffs’ best interest to have too many opportunties at kick returns, for those times when Colorado has the chance at a kickoff return, the numbers say that Brian Lockridge has a chance to make a big play.

There is another match-up which favors Colorado: The Buffs are 19th in the nation in 3rd-down conversion defense (at 32.7%, with Colorado even better, at 24.5%, in games played at Folsom Field). Meanwhile, Missouri is 80th in the nation in 3rd-down conversion offense.  Look for how the Colorado defense is faring on third downs – it may be a good barometer on how the afternoon will unfold.

If you look at only Big 12 conference play, Missouri’s numbers come down considerably from their full season rankings (4-0 non-conference; 0-3 in conference). It’s no surprise that Colorado is in the bottom third in every offensive category in Big 12 play – but Missouri is right down there with the Buffs. In six combined attempts, only Colorado, with 34 points against Kansas, has broken the 20-point barrier.

With an early start, and with the temperature likely to be still low at game time (It’s been snowing in Boulder this week, and while the clouds should be parting by Saturday, it will take some time to get the temperature up from a projected low Friday night of 22 degrees), it may well be a low scoring game.

The Buffs must hang onto the ball (Colorado is 107th in turnovers), keeping the ball away from Missouri’s offense (the Tigers are 111th in time of possession). Colorado has yet to score on defense or special teams this season.

It may take just such a score for the Buffs to be able to enjoy trick-or-treating Saturday night.

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