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There’s plenty of motivation for Missouri on Saturday

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And it starts and ends with the name on the front of the opposing team’s jerseys.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Benny Snell is the leading rusher in the SEC and one of the best running backs in the nation. He’s led the way for No. 12 Kentucky, a surprise contender in the SEC East.

But the near certainty of going head-to-head against Snell, the unstoppable force, doesn’t get Missouri linebacker Terez Hall, the immovable object, excited. It’s just the fact that Snell will be wearing a Kentucky uniform, and Hall will have one last chance to beat the Wildcats before he leaves Columbia.

Of all the astounding facts and stunning moments of Missouri’s SEC tenure, the Tigers’ three-game losing streak to Kentucky might be the strangest. Here are the SEC teams that Missouri currently has three-game losing streaks against:

  • Georgia (5)
  • Alabama (4)
  • South Carolina (3)
  • Kentucky (3)

Georgia and Alabama — those make sense. South Carolina — well, things have been weird, but the Gamecocks’ success still fits more. But Kentucky was supposed to be one of those teams that Missouri didn’t have to worry much about when it joined the SEC. The question was, “How would Missouri compete against Georgia and Florida and Tennessee?”

Kentucky wasn’t part of that equation.

The losing streak against the Wildcats has most certainly not gone unnoticed by Missouri’s players.

“(Coach) Odom made a good point,” Missouri offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton said. “He asked how many guys have beaten Kentucky in their career here. We did it my redshirt freshman year, but we didn’t play. I don’t count that.

“We definitely got a chip on our shoulder, because we haven’t beaten this team since I’ve been here and played here.”

Kentucky has suddenly become the measuring stick for these Missouri players, something that seemed unfathomable five or six years ago — when Missouri was not just beating Kentucky, but manhandling the Wildcats.

The Wildcats are now nationally relevant, perched just outside the Top 10 and with a real chance to win the SEC East should they keep winning. It speaks volumes about an athletic director (Mitch Barnhart) sticking with a coach (Mark Stoops) during the slow build in order to see the winning start, which it has over the past three seasons.

“He was given time to do it and he’s done it the way he’s wanted,” Barry Odom said about Mark Stoops.

Beyond the fact that his players haven’t beaten Kentucky since 2014, there’s bound to be some more motivation for Odom, too. Stoops has gotten time to build in Lexington, but he was also on the hot seat for much of his first four seasons.

If Odom’s comment about Stoops had any bit of deeper meaning, it’s still not an apples-to-apples comparison. Because while Kentucky is a measuring stick for this team, for these players, for this year, it shouldn’t be the measuring stick for Missouri’s program.

Stoops got more time because Joker Phillips didn’t, because success during the Rich Brooks era was eight wins, because a ten-win season has happened just twice in Lexington (1977, 1950)

Odom deserves more time, but his timeline for continued success at Missouri should be faster than Stoops’ at Kentucky. Already, he’s done that, going from a sub-.500 first year to a bowl season in Year 2; it took Stoops until Year 4 to reach a bowl.

Stoops’ Kentucky team is taking the next step in Year 6. It shouldn’t take Odom and Missouri that long to do the same.

It starts with Saturday, with No. 12 Kentucky, a team Missouri hasn’t beaten since 2014.

A team that’s suddenly Missouri’s most-pressing measuring stick.