The No. 16 Missouri Tigers and Minnesota Golden Gophers look to finish off their overachieving seasons on a positive note when they square off in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on Jan. 1.
Missouri won its final six games of the regular season to win the SEC East and earn a date with Alabama in the conference title game. An upset of the top- ranked Crimson Tide was not meant to be, as the Tigers were steamrolled, 42-13, after getting outgained 504-41 in the running game.
Despite the lopsided loss, Missouri still posted 10 wins for the second straight season and reached back-to-back New Year's Day bowl games for the first time since 1960-61.
The Tigers have won their last two bowl games, including last year's Cotton Bowl over Oklahoma State. They have a postseason record of 14-16 and have won five of nine under head coach Gary Pinkel.
"We're building to become great. We're going to work real hard to do that," said Pinkel, who was named the SEC Coach of the Year after the Tigers were predicted to finish in the middle of the SEC East. "I think this is a step in respect for our program."
Pinkel's defensive coordinator, Dave Steckel, will leave the program to become the head coach at Missouri State following the game. Steckel orchestrated a defense that set a school record for sacks (42) and held six of its nine conference opponents to 21 points or less.
Shane Ray was named a First-Team All-American following a campaign that saw him record 14 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. Fellow lineman Markus Golden was not far behind with 8.5 sacks and 16 TFLs, linebackers Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer both recorded 100-plus tackles, and Braylon Webb highlighted the secondary with four interceptions.
The Tigers have found success without the luxury of a potent offense, as they put up a modest 27.4 ppg on 361.8 ypg.
Maty Mauk has been an enigma under center. On the positive side of things, he's accounted for 23 touchdowns, but he's completed only 52.9 percent of passes for 196.2 ypg with 11 interceptions. His primary target is Bud Sasser, who has tallied 70 receptions for 935 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jimmie Hunt has also been solid outside with 40 receptions for 698 yards and seven scores.
Marcus Murphy is one of the nation's most talented weapons and is the only player in the FBS this season to have recorded a touchdown in all four all- purpose categories: rushing, receiving, kick return and punt return. He has amassed 1,010 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns. Russell Hansbrough is the team's leading rusher at 1,023 yards and nine scores.
Minnesota had an outside chance at reaching the Big Ten title game coming into November, but losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin ended that pipe dream. Still, the Gophers posted back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time since 2002-03 and reached their third straight bowl game.
Jerry Kill was named Big Ten Coach of the Year for those efforts and has the program in striking distance of nine victories for just the second time in the last 109 years.
"We've gotten rewarded going to the Citrus Bowl, and none of us could be more excited about this opportunity. We all want to play in January," Kill said. "This is another step forward in the program."
A big reason behind the Gophers' success is senior tailback David Cobb, who broke Laurence Maroney's single-season school rushing record with 1,545 yards. He carried the ball an average of 24.4 times per game and punched in 13 rushing touchdowns.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner totaled 462 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, but the focus on the running game led to the worst passing attack in the Big Ten. Leidner threw for just 140.0 ypc and 10 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
Tight end Maxx Williams was the leading receiver with just 28 catches for 471 and seven scores. No one else caught more than 15 passes.
As for the Minnesota defense, it has performed admirably in permitting just 23.4 ppg, which was the sixth fewest allowed in the Big Ten. The Gophers are among the league leaders in turnover margin (+11) thanks to Briean Boddy- Calhoun's four interceptions. Damien Wilson is the team's top tackler with 111, which is 34 more than his closest teammate. He also leads the way with four sacks, has forced two fumbles and recovered another.
The postseason has not been kind to the Gophers, who are 5-11 in bowl games and have dropped their last six. Their most recent win came against Alabama in the 2004 Music City Bowl.