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Must-see match-ups for Missouri’s 2017 football season

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Well, I guess they’re not “must” see, per se. But these will be about the toughest match-ups Tigers players will face all season.

Missouri v Georgia

In my never-ending quest to pull my head out of a spreadsheet every once in a while and write things that people might actually care about reading, this post will be devoted to the nine toughest player match-ups Missouri has coming up on its 2017 schedule and which Tigers player gets the (mis)fortune of being the one to try and check said opposing player.

Why nine? Because, that’s why. Sheesh, when did you get so mouthy?

The match-ups are listed in the order they come on the schedule.

No interviews. Respect my decisions please.

Sept. 9 vs. South Carolina: CB DeMarkus Acy vs. WR Deebo Samuel

Or, you know, whoever happens to be the standout cover corner in an inexperienced, very crowded defensive backfield for the Tigers once this game rolls around. Samuel, despite having a fantastic, Friday-inspired nickname to go by, also happens to be one of the most dynamic returning receivers in the SEC. He caught 59 passes for 783 yards and a touchdown last season, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the receiving yards on a team piloted by a true freshman quarterback. His midair aptitude and knack for 50-50 balls also makes him seem to play a lot bigger than the 6-0, 208 pounds at which he is listed. Ask Aarion Penton about that. Now ask John Gibson. Neither of them are around anymore to see if they can limit Samuel to fewer than the nine catches for 125 yards he put up against the Tigers last year, but Acy has the size, physicality and athleticism to match up well with Samuel. Or it could be Christian Holmes. Or Logan Cheadle. Or...

Sept. 23 vs. Auburn: S Cam Hilton vs. QB Jarrett Stidham

The last time we saw Stidham, he was averaging 311 passing yards a game as a true freshman emergency starter for Baylor in 2015. Then he broke a bone in his ankle, missed the rest of the season, transferred to a junior college and resurfaced at Auburn to shore up a position that was pretty unimpressive for the Tigers of the Plains last year. Not only is the 6-3, 215-pound Stidham a dangerous passer, but he was also a dual-threat quarterback and track athlete in high school. So he can tuck it and run when he needs to as well. That’s why Hilton (or maybe Ronnell Perkins...or maybe Thomas Wilson...or maybe Anthony Sherrils...or maybe...) has to be vigilant when Stidham is in the pocket, especially with all the RPO that Gus Malzahn throws into his offense. One false step forward, and Stidham could throw a receiver behind the defense for a big gain. One false step backward, and whoever’s manning center field for Missouri could give Stidham all the space he needs to rip off a 7-yard scramble on a 3rd-and-6 to keep the defense on the field and make for a long day.

Oct. 7 at Kentucky: NB Kaleb Prewett vs. TE C.J. Conrad

Remember Conrad, Missouri fans? It may seem like a distant memory after the “death by Wildcat” Kentucky subjected the Tigers to last year, but Conrad was the original Mizzou killer during Kentucky’s surprising home win over a (momentarily) ranked Tigers team in 2015. Conrad, then a freshman, mined the seams of the Missouri defense for 55 yards on three catches, two of them the “crippling” variety: a 28-yard haul on 3rd-and-2 in the second quarter and a 24-yard touchdown on 1st-and-Goal that put the Wildcats up for good in the third. Missouri, if you’ll also remember, had a spot of trouble covering slot receivers and tight ends with their outside linebackers last year. A more natural pass defender such as Prewett — with all the added Division-I experience he brings to the table — could go a long way toward taking that threat off the table.

Oct. 14 at Georgia: MLB Eric Beisel vs. RB Nick Chubb

It seems like about 14 years ago that a little-known backup freshman named Nick Chubb stepped in for the suspended Todd Gurley and wore Missouri defenders on his back like an ill-fitting jersey during Georgia’s 34-0 drubbing of the Tigers in 2014. Chubb’s been through a whole lot since then but quietly put together an 1,130-yard season last year and remains a load to bring down at 5-10, 228 pounds. Missouri — in the exception to a rather steadfast rule last year — actually did well against Chubb head-to-head in 2016, holding him to only 63 yards on 19 carries. That was due in no small part to a workmanlike effort from middle linebacker Michael Scherer, who logged seven of his nine tackles against Chubb. So guess what, Eric Beisel? You get to be the one responsible for not allowing Chubb to run for 150 yards this year. Hope you pack some extra eyeblack for that trip to Athens...

Oct. 28 at Connecticut: WR J’Mon Moore vs. CB Jamar Summers

For all the resume building Moore did to stake his claim as a legit No. 1 wideout in the SEC last year, he still has some questions to answer entering his senior season. One, can he catch passes more consistently? Two, can he show up top cover corners? Because I think Quincy Wilson is still out there somewhere shoving Moore directly into Sean Culkin’s path, if I’m not mistaken. He’ll get that chance to showcase against a legit, high-round corner with the 6-0, 185-pound Summers in an otherwise non-exciting game. Summers logged eight tackles and helped hold Moore to 39 yards on six catches during their head-to-head in 2015, a season in which Summers picked off eight passes. Moore seems to be a much more confident receiver now than he was then, and it’ll be interesting to see how well that translates against a potential second-day draft pick.

Nov. 4 vs. Florida: DE Marcell Frazier vs. LT Martez Ivey

This should be a fun one. Ivey, after playing the last two years at left guard, is returning to left tackle, where he starred in high school. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Ivey was, in fact, the No. 4 overall player and the top tackle in the recruiting class of 2015, according to Rivals. So he’s got the pedigree. He’s also got two years as a starter already to his credit. He’s also got a...less than ideal...recent history to live down when it comes to Florida tackles trying to corral Missouri edge rushers. Frazier would love nothing more to continue that trend. And, after a blistering end to the 2016 season, he appears to be the best-suited option Missouri has to carry on that whole “D-Line ‘Zou” thing. Will Ivey show some growing pains as he moves back to the outside, and will they subside by the time the Gators come to Columbia? If the answers to that two-parter are “yes” and “no,” then Frazier could force him to be in for a long night.

Nov. 11 vs. Tennessee: RG Kevin Pendleton vs. DT Kahlil McKenzie

Missouri got to miss out on the 6-3, 325-pound McKenzie after a torn pectoral muscle ended McKenzie’s sophomore season after seven games. The Tigers had no problem pushing around Tennessee’s defensive front last year (stopping the Volunteers’ offense was another story entirely...), and the emergence of Missouri’s young offensive line was a definite highlight for the season. Maintaining and continuing that growth will be paramount to the Tigers’ path back to a bowl game this year, and the ability for a stalwart such as Pendleton to handle a potential headache such as McKenzie will go a long way toward showing how impressive Missouri’s line continues to be.

Nov. 18 at Vanderbilt: OLB Terez Hall vs. RB Ralph Webb

At 5-10, 202 pounds, Webb is not as big and physical a back as Chubb, so he likes to get outside a little more. That puts the onus on Hall and other outside linebackers like Brandon Lee, Joey Burkett and (possibly) Cale Garrett to try and hem him in. Webb has a Vanderbilt-record 3,345 rush yards in his college career — including a personal-best 1,283 last year — and can take 20 to 25 carries a game to wear the big guys up front down and leave him with a lot of one-on-ones with linebackers and safeties. He’s also a decent pass-catcher, hauling in 55 passes over the past three years. With Vanderbilt’s bunch-formation, multi-tight end sets, there may not be a ton of opportunities for Missouri to throw a nickelback out onto the field. That makes the outside linebackers’ jobs that much more crucial.

Nov. 25 at Arkansas: DT Terry Beckner vs. C Frank Ragnow

Aside from being a serious Missouri target coming out of high school in 2014 and having an absolutely gutting story to tell about the recent passing of his father, the 6-5, 319-pound Ragnow is also a Rimington candidate of a center. So it’s a good thing for Missouri that Arkansas dislikes just assembling its meaty offensive linemen into a brick wall and running right up the gut, right? Nah, I’m kidding. Bret Bielema loves to do that. Beckner hasn’t gotten a shot at the Razorbacks in each of the past two seasons because of injury, but this seems like the sort of game in which he could thrive if he ever got the chance. Beckner, as we’ve seen in fits and starts over two years, takes on blocks, sheds them and makes plays. If he can win his fair share of head-to-heads with Ragnow — or even stalemate his fair share — instead of getting pushed into the linebackers and gumming up the works, then Arkansas will have a much higher chance of staying behind schedule in the finale.