Missouri loss takes luster off matchup against No. 10 Huskers

Updated: October 9, 2003, 7:29 PM ET

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Before the season, Nebraska and Missouri both could have envisioned being unbeaten going into Saturday night's Big 12 matchup. Only the Cornhuskers came through.

Tenth-ranked Nebraska (5-0, 1-0) brings a perfect record into the game, while Missouri (4-1, 1-0) tries to recover from a fourth-quarter collapse in a 35-14 loss at Kansas two weeks ago.

The defeat knocked the Tigers out of the Top 25, and created serious doubt among fans still waiting for third-year coach Gary Pinkel to turn around the program.

"Like they say, you're never as good as people say you are, and you're never as bad as people say you are," tight end J.D. McCoy said. "It was a tough loss, but no one here is hanging their head.

"The best remedy would be to get out there and beat Nebraska."

Easier said than done. Nebraska hasn't lost to Missouri since 1978, a run of 24 straight victories, and hasn't lost in Columbia, Mo., since 1973.

No current Missouri or Nebraska player was even born the last time the Tigers won in a series Nebraska leads 61-32-3. The Huskers, who have averaged 41 points their last four trips to Missouri, are a touchdown favorite to win again over a program seeking only its third winning season in the last 20 years.

Missouri has lost 45 in a row to Top 10 teams since winning at Mississippi State on Oct. 3, 1981.

The most satisfying aspect of the start for Nebraska is the team wasn't ranked at the start of the season coming off a disappointing 7-7 showing. Two of the victories have come against Oklahoma State and Penn State, which both beat the Huskers last year.

"We're right on track to where we want to be," guard Mike Erickson said. "It's been a lot of fun these first five games."

Missouri, of course, is not on track. The Kansas loss was tough for Pinkel and players.

"There's a certain point where you let something go," Pinkel said. "If you're thinking about the past it has absolutely nothing to do with making you better.

"You've got to evaluate, you've got to go on, and I think our players have done that."

Missouri's biggest edge could be an extra week to prepare.

"That's usually a big benefit for a team and that part of it worries us some," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "We have enough time to prepare well, so we expect it will be a game that comes down to how both team execute."

Both teams feature big-play quarterbacks. Missouri's Brad Smith hasn't been nearly as explosive as in his breakout redshirt freshman season, but has completed 67 percent of his passes -- best in the Big 12 -- and has not thrown an interception.

"I think I can play a whole lot better," Smith said. "I think that just comes with the maturity, and going through the season.

"Hopefully you can play better toward the end of the season and learn from the first games you play."

Jammal Lord, a fifth-year senior, was one of the players criticized most last year at Nebraska. This year he's rushed for 340 yards and five touchdowns, and also has completed 55 percent of his passes for two TDs.

The game likely will hinge, however, on how the nation's No. 1-ranked defense does against Missouri. Nebraska is coming off its first shutout in nearly three seasons, a 30-0 victory over Troy State, and Josh Bullocks leads the nation with five interceptions.

"I'm all for 'Let's win with defense," Solich said. "You look at the history of Nebraska football and generally that's been the case.

"Having a great defense is the right place to start when you're trying to win games."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index