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Blum: Missouri football 2020 game-by-game picks

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune
Vanderbilt running back Keyon Brooks (21) is tackled by Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton (32) and defensive lineman Kobie Whiteside (78) during a game Oct. 19, 2019, at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.

Missouri’s 2020 schedule stands out with zero nonconference games and six nationally ranked opponents.

And four of those six ranked foes start the season in the top six.

As treacherous as the 10-game Southeastern Conference-only schedule appears, however, there’s also an opportunity for Missouri to notch signature wins in Eli Drinkwitz’s first season at the helm.

Here’s a chronological game-by-game breakdown of the Tigers’ schedule, as well as a score prediction for each game.

At the bottom are additional predictions, including College Football Playoff finalists, the national title game matchup and the national champion (should the current system hold amid the coronavirus pandemic).

Alabama at Missouri, Sept. 26, 6 p.m. kickoff

Welcome to the SEC, Eli.

Facing one of the favorites to win a national championship and an even bigger favorite to win the conference in your first game at Missouri is a steep test regardless of any other circumstances.

A Missouri head coach hasn’t won their coaching debut with the school since Bob Stull in 1989, one of his two wins that season. The Crimson Tide are too tough to buck that trend. But the Tigers cover the spread with some late-game touchdowns.

Alabama 45, Missouri 21

Missouri at Tennessee, Oct. 3, 11 a.m. kickoff

The Volunteers should be one of the most improved teams across the league, and this will be their home opener in front of one of the largest crowds — about 25,000 — that Missouri will play in front of this season.

Tennessee has a chance to be ranked in the top 15 in the country when this matchup rolls around.

The last time Missouri played at Tennessee, the Tigers won 50-17 in 2018. The bad news: I don’t imagine the Volunteers have forgotten that.

Tennessee 38, Missouri 31

Missouri at LSU, Oct. 10, kickoff TBD

The last time Missouri played inside Death Valley was Ed Orgeron’s first game leading the Bayou Bengals. He’s now the defending national championship coach.

Despite departures including Joe Burrow and Justin Jefferson, LSU is still loaded and will push for an SEC West title.

The tough opening-season stretch for Missouri continues, and while Columbia’s Tigers may show promise that could help them down the line, Missouri will have its hands full against a program coming off a 15-win season.

LSU 35, Missouri 17

Vanderbilt at Missouri, Oct. 17, 6:30 p.m. kickoff

This is likely to be Missouri’s first game against an unranked opponent this season, and it could be the last such matchup for MU until the week before Thanksgiving.

The Commodores might be an underdog in every game they play this season, and being favored would be refreshing for Missouri. Yet the Tigers can’t overlook Vanderbilt, as the Commodores won the meeting between the teams last year.

Nevertheless, it will be homecoming weekend for Missouri and it’s hard not to see the Tigers picking up the win here.

Missouri 41, Vanderbilt 20

Missouri at Florida, Oct. 24, kickoff TBD

Florida is the trendy pick to take the SEC East with depth returning at many positions, and the Gators could be ranked in the top five in the country when this game happens.

The battle-tested Tigers will play their third road game in a 21-day span.

If Florida overlooks the Tigers, this has a chance to be Missouri’s signature win of 2020. But I don’t see the Gators lapsing here under Dan Mullen.

Florida 34, Missouri 16

Kentucky at Missouri, Oct. 31, 11 a.m. kickoff

Missouri is mired in a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats.

The last time Missouri won against Kentucky was with Markus Golden and Shane Ray. In the five years since, there haven’t been any undeniably superior Kentucky teams. The Wildcats have just had the Tigers’ number.

Even with Kentucky’s experience and Missouri’s bad memories, this is a game the Tigers can win despite likely not being favored.

Missouri 23, Kentucky 21

Georgia at Missouri, Nov. 14, kickoff TBD

Coming off a bye week, Missouri has a stiff test against the Bulldogs. This should be the Tigers’ last game of the season against ranked opposition.

Even with Jake Fromm leaving for the NFL and Jaime Newman opting out of the season, there’s still plenty of talent in Athens, and Georgia is expecting to be the SEC East’s representative in the league title game for the fourth straight season.

While host Missouri has at least a chance to upset Georgia, which will be fresh off a big game against Florida, the Bulldogs’ talent is too high.

Georgia 35, Missouri 14

Missouri at South Carolina, Nov. 21, kickoff TBD

Drinkwitz was victorious last season in the SEC’s other Columbia while coaching Appalachian State. Very few others on Missouri’s roster knew that feeling until last season, when the Tigers snapped a three-game losing streak to the Gamecocks.

While I think the Tigers have a better roster than South Carolina, this isn’t close to a guaranteed win. This matchup comes at an odd time for Missouri, with rival Arkansas coming to town the following week and with the contest against Georgia still in the back of players’ minds.

This one will be close no matter who wins, and because of timing, I give a slight edge to the Gamecocks.

South Carolina 28, Missouri 20

Arkansas at Missouri, Nov. 28, kickoff TBD

Barry Odom returns to Columbia with the Razorbacks.

Arkansas, likely to be winless or have just one victory when this game rolls around, will be happy to face a team with a losing record.

Missouri is clearly the better team on paper. Unless Arkansas finds chemistry quickly under first-year head coach Sam Pittman, I don’t think 2020 — or this game — will go well for the Razorbacks.

Missouri 34, Arkansas 7

Missouri at Mississippi State, Dec. 5, kickoff TBD

This will be the Tigers’ regular-season finale and possibly their last game of the season depending on bowl eligibility.

New Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach will have plenty of time to install his Air Raid offense, but with such turnover in personnel on the team, it could take until year No. 2 for that to be effective. In Leach’s first year at Washington State, the Cougars went 3-9.

I like this matchup a lot for MU. The Tigers have never visited Starkville before, but with nearly a full season for Drinkwitz to tweak schemes to his liking, I think the regular season ends on a high note.

Missouri 42, Mississippi State 24

Blum’s College Football Playoff

1. Clemson, 2. Alabama, 3. Oklahoma, 4. Ohio State

National championship: Clemson vs. Alabama

National champion: Clemson

eblum@columbiatribune.com

Missouri running back Tyler Badie (1) catches a pass for a touchdown as Tennessee linebacker Henry To'o To'o (11) chases during a game Nov. 23, 2019, at Memorial Stadium.