noon, orlando • TV: ch. 5 (100.3-fm, 1130-am)
Line: Missouri by 4½ • Series: Missouri leads 4-3-1 • Surface: Artificial turf
Both coaching staffs are strong, especially when given extra time to prepare. This will be the final game for Missouri's 14-year defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who is taking over as the head coach at Missouri State. The Tigers love Steckel, so they'll be eager to send him off with a win. But Minnesota's senior class is on a mission not to fall to 0-3 in bowl games. It should be low-scoring, with two good defenses and two somewhat shaky offenses. Minnesota has a plus-11 turnover margin, and Missouri's is plus-eight, so both teams are used to winning that category. Mauk has thrown just two interceptions in the past six games, but this one will swing with a big pick from Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Cobb will seal the upset with 150 rushing yards, and Jerry Kill will dance another locker room jig. Gophers 24, Missouri 23
Missouri was picked to finish fourth in the SEC East, despite winning the division last year, when the Tigers went 12-2 and defeated Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers returned just four starters on offense and defense, and suffered a stunning loss to Indiana in September. But the Tigers reeled off a six-game winning streak and won the division again. It was enough to make Gary Pinkel the SEC Coach of the Year.
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Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk, a third-year sophomore from Kenton, Ohio, completed just 52.9 percent of his passes and threw 11 interceptions, making him a liability at times. But when he's at his best — scrambling to extend plays and hitting big throws — he can give opposing teams fits. He had a big fourth quarter to lead a comeback victory at Arkansas, for example. But he tossed four interceptions in the loss to Georgia.
gophers offense vs. tigers defense
Missouri's best player is defensive end Shane Ray, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. The Tigers also have two second-team All-SEC selections in linebacker Kentrell Brothers and safety Braylon Webb. The Tigers rank 30th in rushing defense, but the Gophers are confident David Cobb will get his yards. The key for the Gophers will be their receivers and Maxx Williams' ability to get open quickly, giving Mitch Leidner a chance to avoid a fearsome pass rush. Advantage: Missouri
gophers defense vs. tigers offense
Receiver Bud Sasser was a first-team All-SEC selection, but Missouri's second-leading receiver, Jimmie Hunt, needed season-ending shoulder surgery in December. The Tigers run a no-huddle, one-back offense. Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy are both speedy and interchangeable at tailback. Missouri's offense definitely can be shut down, as Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas and Alabama showed. If Minnesota's defense plays as well as it did against Michigan, Northwestern and Nebraska, the Gophers could be in business. Advantage: Gophers
Peter Mortell was the Big Ten Punter of the Year, but he and kicker Ryan Santoso need to avoid returner Marcus Murphy, the SEC Special Teams Player of the Year. Murphy returned one punt and three kickoffs for TDs. Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett hit field goals from 52 and 50 yards against Arkansas and made both of his field goal attempts against Alabama. Advantage: Even
With fans flocking from Minnesota, the Gophers feel like they've reached the big time. Missouri, meanwhile, will have to avoid a letdown after the Cotton Bowl victory last year and losing a second consecutive SEC title game. Under Gary Pinkel, the Tigers also bounced back to win bowl games after losing Big 12 title games in 2007 and 2008, but the guess here is Missouri won't be as excited to play this one. Advantage: Gophers