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October 3, 2013

The Breakdown: 4-0 starts



There are two undefeated teams remaining in the SEC: Alabama and Missouri. The Crimson Tide have already played two conference games, beating Texas A&M on the road and shutting out Ole Miss at home, in addition to a neutral-site win over Virginia Tech.

Missouri has played four non-conference teams which currently have combined for a record of 6-8, not including FCS Murray State. The schedule so far is a vestige of Missouri's Big 12 days, where four non-conference games preceded the start of conference play nearly every year.

In the SEC, with conference games starting often as soon as the first week, that type of scheduling is a relative anomaly.

This week's Breakdown takes a look at Missouri's other recent 4-0 starts and the teams that Missouri beat in those seasons.



From 2006 through 2010, Missouri started 4-0 each season. In those years, the Tigers never won less than eight games in the regular season. Missouri averaged 9.6 wins, exceeding the ten-win mark three times. Did anything in the strength of the non-conference schedule hint at what type of year Missouri would have in those five seasons?

A closer look shows that there's not much correlation between non-conference strength and season success.

In 2006, Missouri's non-conference FBS opponents were a collective 4-2 at the time they played the Tigers. They finished the season a combined 19-20. Missouri went 8-5.

In 2007, Missouri's non-conference FBS opponents were a combined 1-2 at the time they faced the Tigers, and they finished a combined 17-20. Missouri finished 12-2, and it should be noted that Missouri played two teams from BCS conferences in Illinois (who received a Rose Bowl berth) and Ole Miss.

In 2008, Missouri's non-conference FBS opponents were a combined 3-2 at the time they faced the Tigers, and they finished 20-19. Missouri finished 10-4.

In 2009, the non-conference FBS opponents were 1-3 combined when they faced Missouri, and finished 18-20. Missouri went 8-5.

In 2010, the non-conference FBS opponents were 4-1 at the time they faced Missouri, and finished 25-14. Missouri went 10-3.

Those results show what a crapshoot the non-conference scheduling can be. The weakest year in terms of non-conference opponents' season record came in 2007, yet Missouri had its best season under Gary Pinkel with 12 wins. The best year for non-conference opponents' season record was 2010, and Missouri won ten games.

There's also not much history in the SEC of starting the season with four straight non-conference wins because of the traditional rivalry games that take place during September and the conference's desire to start SEC play early. Since 2006, only two teams have started the season with four straight non-conference games. Both teams went 4-0.

In 2008, Kentucky won all four of its non-conference games before the start of SEC play, and ended the regular season 6-6 (2-6 in SEC play). Its final record was 7-6 after a win in the Liberty Bowl.

In 2012, Ole Miss won all four of its non-conference games before the start of conference play. Like Kentucky, it ended the season 6-6 (2-6 in SEC play), and finished with a record of 7-6 after a win in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Missouri's conference season begins on Saturday in Nashville. If history shows anything, it's that the SEC season will determine whether the 4-0 start was meaningful or not.

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