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Key stretch: Missouri

The next in our series examining the stretch of games that will make or break each team's season.

Now at bat: The Tigers of Columbia.

The stretch: at Nebraska (Oct. 30), at Texas Tech (Nov. 6), Kansas State (Nov. 13) and at Iowa State (Nov. 20)

The breakdown: Missouri looks like the unquestioned second-best team in the North. But with this stretch of four games, they can move up or down the pecking order in the last year of Big 12 North existence.

Missouri's matchup with the Huskers should be a division championship game, but it's much more important for the Tigers to win than the Huskers. A loss by the Tigers would probably force them to win out and hope both Texas and Texas A&M can knock off Nebraska. But as I mentioned in Nebraska's key stretch, the Tigers have won in Lincoln just once since 1978, and were heavy favorites in the 2008 win. That won't be the case this year, and Nebraska won't want to leave for the Big Ten with Missouri holding the rivalry bragging rights.

Gary Pinkel has had success against Texas Tech, winning each of his past three matchups with the Red Raiders convincingly, including a 38-21 win in Lubbock in 2006. On the road, Missouri may be underdogs in this game, and by this point in the season, the playing without starting running back Derrick Washington will start to show.

Having Washington will obviously help the Tigers balance against a Texas Tech defense that may improve rapidly in 2010 under Tommy Tuberville. The development of De'Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence will decide this one.

Missouri has beaten division foe Kansas State by at least 17 points in each of the past four meetings, but three of those came under Ron Prince. Missouri should be favored in this game, but Kansas State will be improved from last season. The Tigers won't need to play great to win this game, but the front seven will be in the spotlight against Wildcats running back Daniel Thomas. In 2009, if teams stopped Thomas, they stopped the Wildcats. We'll see if that's the case once again.

Iowa State will need any win they can get this season, and bringing the Tigers to Ames should give them a good chance. Missouri will be more talented on both sides of the ball, but Iowa State earned its only Big 12 win of 2006 against Chase Daniel and Missouri in Ames. Considering Baylor also earned its only conference win against the Tigers last season -- and in Columbia -- a win is far from a given for the Tigers.

The prediction: 3-1, with a loss to Nebraska

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