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Mizzou is trying to pull off the (nearly) impossible at Georgia

Can the Tigers become first team to go on the road and beat the top-ranked AP team in more than a decade?

NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

What are the odds of going into Athens and beating Georgia on Saturday? It depends on who you ask.

The current Vegas odds have the Missouri moneyline set at +660, odds that give Missouri an implied win probability of approximately 13 percent. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Tigers similar odds, with a 16.6 percent chance to beat Georgia.

It might not seem this way, but given the circumstances, those are actually encouraging numbers for Mizzou fans.

A No. 1 team in the AP Poll has not lost at home since the inception of the College Football Playoff in 2014, according to On3. Let me repeat that again because it hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it the first time.

The top-ranked team in the country has not lost at home in nearly a decade.

Hot damn. That’s impressive.

Okay, back to the cold, hard facts.

Only four top-ranked teams in the AP Poll have fallen in the regular season since 2014 — all on the road. According to On3, the top-ranked team in the AP Poll is a combined 200-7 (.966 winning percentage) at home since 1992. The last time the top-ranked team dropped a game at home, it happened in back-to-back weeks. The year was 2012. A young star was born when Johnny Manziel went into Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama. The very next week, #14 Stanford traveled to Eugene and beat Chip Kelly’s Oregon Ducks.

Is now a good time to mention Mizzou is 0-17 in its program’s history against teams ranked #1 in the AP Poll? That includes an 0-8 stretch against #1 ranked opponents this century. The only Mizzou games against top-ranked opponents in the past 20 years decided by 10 points or less came in 2011 at Oklahoma (38-28) and last year against Georgia (26-22).

I know Han Solo said to never tell me the odds, but I think it’s important to note that what the Tigers are attempting to accomplish on Saturday has been a near impossibility for teams in recent memory.

Alright, enough fear-mongering. If the Tigers are going to go into Athens and pull off the impossible, how do they do it? Let’s use the past decade of top-ranked upsets as our guide.

2021: Texas A&M 41, #1 Alabama 38

  • The Aggies opened the season 3-2 with losses against Arkansas and Mississippi State. Their backs were against the wall when Alabama came into to town boasting a 5-0 record. How did they do it? Well, they got off to quite the hot start. Texas A&M scored on each of its first three drives, and forced back-to-back turnovers after allowing a touchdown on Alabama’s first drive. The Aggies were up 17-7 by the end of the first quarter. Things got a bit hairy early in the third quarter, but Devon Achane gave A&M a bit of breathing room again with a 96-yard kick return to put the Aggies up 31-17. They coasted to the end from there. What’s the lesson? Takeaways. Big plays on special teams. Efficiency through the air. That was enough for the Aggies.

2020: #4 Notre Dame 47, #1 Clemson 40 (2OT)

  • Not a lot can be learned from this one, in my opinion. First of all, Notre Dame was a top five team in the country in their own right. Secondly, Trevor Lawrence missed the game with COVID. The lessons from Texas A&M still apply, though. Notre Dame forced three takeaways, including a scoop-and-score.

2017: #6 Auburn 26, #1 Alabama 14

  • This was different than the more recent top-ranked upsets. Auburn followed an old-fashioned formula of a defensive butt-kicking in order to take down the Crimson Tide. Alabama started the day 0-for-6 on third down and finished just 3-for-11 on third down and 1-for-4 on fourth down. Auburn played ball control on offense and kept Alabama at bay defensively. Most importantly, Auburn’s best players came through when they needed it most. Kerryon Johnson ran the ball 30 times for more than 100 yards and he also threw a jump pass for a touchdown.

2014: #4 Alabama 25, #1 Mississippi State 20

  • What does it look like when a team turns the ball over three times and takes a safety against Alabama? Mississippi State found out the hard way. Alabama was up 19-0 midway through the second quarter. Mississippi State made a game out of it, but it’s tough to come back from down three scores against any Alabama team, but especially one with A’Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen, Reggie Ragland and Landon Collins on defense.

The moral of the story is that it’s incredibly rare to beat the top-ranked teams in the country. Doing so will almost certainly require some turnover luck. It will require Missouri’s best players to show up on the biggest possible stage. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if the Tigers found a way to score on defense or special teams. The defense has to get off the field on third down. All of this might seem obvious. Forcing turnovers, getting off the field on third down and staying ahead of the chains offensively feels like a good way to win football games regardless of opponent. But in a game like this, it might be the only way to do so.

It’s been more than a decade since the top-ranked team in the country lost at home. That’s the task in front of Missouri. If they do it, this will go down as arguably the greatest win in the history of the program. Here’s to hoping we can put together that list this time next week.