Sunday, January 4, 2015

Missouri faces Minnesota on New Year's Day

Below are several of my Mizzou columns I wrote for the newspapers this season. I didn't get them posted when I wrote them, but I figured I'd at least put them all up now. 

New Year’s Day has historically occupied a special place for college football. With much of the country firmly in the icy grip of winter, the nation turned its attention to warm locales like Pasadena, Miami and New Orleans for the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl.

The Bowl Championship Series gave fans a clear national championship game, but it was played days into January and took some of the luster from New Year’s Day. Now, Jan. 1 is as special as ever, as both semifinals of the first College Football Playoff will be played on New Year’s Day, in the Rose and Sugar Bowls.

Missouri (10-3) won’t be a part of the playoff, but thanks to their successful season the Tigers get to be a part of the New Year’s Day college football extravaganza, facing Minnesota in the Citrus Bowl (noon on ABC). Sure, its the undercard to the day’s main events, but a game on network television in a big bowl game on a day when the nation voraciously consumes college football makes for a pretty great undercard.

There will be plenty at stake for the Tigers and Golden Gophers. Missouri is going for an 11th win, which would be the third most wins of any of coach Gary Pinkel’s 14 seasons at Missouri. The Tigers enter the game ranked 16th in the AP poll and 14th in the coaches poll, so a win would mean a top 15 or maybe even top 10 finish. If Missouri wins, this is probably the third most successful season in the Pinkel era, just behind the 12-win, Cotton Bowl-champion seasons in 2007 and 2013.

Winning New Year’s Day bowl games, is a big step for programs like Missouri, trying to climb up the college football hierarchy.

Missouri is 14-16 alltime in bowl games, including 5-4 under Pinkel.

Minnesota (8-4) would probably finish the season ranked with a win. Coach Jerry Kill is making progress with the program, and a win over a quality SEC opponent is always a big deal for Big Ten teams. (The Big Ten and SEC usually face each other in three January bowl games in Florida each year.)

Golden Gopher running back David Cobb ran for 1,545 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, so Minnesota can run the ball. A key for the Tigers will be getting Minnesota in third-and-long situations to take the Golden Gophers’ running attack out of the game and unleash Missouri’s ferocious pass rush on likely passing downs.

And of course, the Tiger offense will need to find ways to score against a decent-but-not-great Minnesota defense. Missouri’s offense is not potent, but it had enough impressive drives in crucial moments to give fans some hope.

I think Missouri has the edge in this game, but it should be a pretty close and entertaining game to enjoy on New Year’s Day.

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