Stage is set for Missouri

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has done a lot for his program in his decade at the helm.

He's taken his team to the top of the polls and helped send his quarterback to New York City as a Heisman finalist. His teams have won the Big 12 North twice. They've also won 30 games in three seasons entering 2010, in which they sit 6-0.

But -- and this won't be the last time you hear this during the week -- Pinkel has never beaten Oklahoma or Texas. Under Pinkel, Missouri is 0-11 against the Big 12's resident powers, and his 12th opportunity to knock one of them off will come Saturday.

The Tigers couldn't ask for a better stage.

They'll host Oklahoma at home, a scenario for which Pinkel expressed excitement after his team's 30-9 win over Texas A&M on Saturday.

They'll play in prime time on ABC. ESPN's "College GameDay" will spend the morning broadcasting from campus.

If Pinkel tosses that Red River Monkey off his back on Saturday, everyone will see it.

"Now, the games get bigger, so that's exciting," he said.

Those 11 previous games may not have an impact on Saturday's contest against the Sooners, but a win Saturday will have a profound impact on the program, another step forward in a decade under Pinkel that has been full of them.

And this team may be better suited than any of Pinkel's previous best teams to knock off the team that beat them a combined three times in the 2007 and 2008 seasons to prevent the Tigers from reaching a BCS bowl game.

This Tigers team lacks the superstar skill position talent of those past teams, full of NFL talent like Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman, Chase Daniel and Martin Rucker. But its strength lies where those teams failed: at the line of scrimmage. Missouri may have its best offensive line under Pinkel this season, and the defensive line is thriving without its best pass-rusher, Aldon Smith. The Tigers sacked Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson six times on Saturday.

After his team's dominant performance against the Aggies, Pinkel was too busy taking a few hours to soak in the well-earned W to worry about what a win over the Sooners and a move to 7-0 might mean.

But after that third loss to Bob Stoops in 2008 -- a 62-21 beating at the hands of the Sooners in the Big 12 championship game -- Pinkel made his thoughts clear on his team as it relates to Texas or Oklahoma, which have combined to win the past six Big 12 titles.

"Until you win the Big 12 championship, you haven't arrived," Pinkel said that day. "We've done a lot of good things at Mizzou. But have we arrived? No. When we win a Big 12 championship, we'll have arrived."

Beat the Sooners, and that goal begins to creep very close to Columbia.