About midway through the season, no one thought Missouri would be playing in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl. No one thought Mizzou would be playing in any bowl. The Tigers were 1-5 after six games, and their losses had come by an average of 23 points. Ripping off six straight wins to finish the year made them bowl eligible.
Meanwhile, Texas was envisioning a more prestigious postseason destination in Tom Herman’s first season as head coach. Injuries and offensive stagnation relegated the Longhorns way down the bowl pecking order with a 6-6 record.
Enthusiasm could go a long way to determining the outcome of this contest between former Big 12 mates.
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Missouri
Kickoff: Wednesday, Dec. 27 at 9 p.m. ET
Where: NRG Stadium (Houston)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Missouri -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Unlocking the Missouri offense
The Tigers’ winning streak coincided with two things. First, they reached the portion of their conference schedule that pitted them against teams like Vanderbilt and Arkansas.
Second, Drew Lock caught fire. The junior quarterback passed for more than 375 yards three times in Mizzou’s last six games. He also threw 26 touchdowns and just five interceptions during that stretch.
More important than how they plan to stop Mizzou’s offense, the Longhorns need to find a way to keep up offensively. Texas is in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 in both total (408.3 ypg) and scoring (29.2 ppg) offense. The Longhorns struggled somewhat in November, averaging 360.5 yards and 25 points per game in going 2-2 against TCU, Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech. Not exactly the kind of momentum you want to have headed into a matchup with one of the nation’s most explosive offenses.
2. Gone, but not forgotten
Since their regular seasons drew to a close, the major stories for both of these teams have involved departures.
For Missouri, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel helped Lock put it all together this season. He has since been hired in a stunning move to replace Scott Frost at UCF, and offensive line coach Glen Elarbee also left to be a part of Heupel’s staff. Can the Tigers’ O keep rolling without two of its key pieces?
Meanwhile, Texas will be without several of its top players. Talented offensive tackle Connor Williams and defensive back Holton Hill are among those sitting this game out as their focus has shifted to getting ready for the NFL draft. For anyone who hopes UT comes out firing in the Texas Bowl, keep those absences in mind.
3. Which team’s weakness is weaker?
Missouri’s high-flying offense versus Texas’ nasty defense is this game’s glamour matchup. In reality, the outcome could ride on the other sides of the ball.
Mizzou fielded one of the worst defenses in the SEC, and the unit was especially bad against the pass, giving up 7.6 yards per attempt. The Longhorns struggled to move the ball in the Big 12, a league that doesn’t exactly revolve around defense. Best of luck figuring out which team has the advantage there.
As with all college football bowl game predictions, you have to start with an important question: Which team cares more?
Texas’ stars skipping out on the Texas Bowl isn’t a promising sign for the team’s interest in this game, especially in light of the Longhorns’ ugly postseason history of late. Even for a program that sunk so low under Charlie Strong, a bowl game on Dec. 27 symbolizes the disappointment of the 2017 season.
On the other hand, Missouri salvaged what appeared to be a lost season, which enabled the Tigers to make it to the postseason. Head coach Barry Odom answered lots of questions about his fitness to lead the team with how Mizzou finished the year. It’s not hard to envision the Tigers coming out sky high for this one.
In addition to the enthusiasm gap, Mizzou possesses a decisive advantage at QB. That points to a win for the Tigers, even if they’re playing in the Longhorns’ backyard.
Prediction: Missouri 28, Texas 24
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.