Citrus Bowl Preview: (16) Missouri vs. (25) Minnesota

The Missouri Tigers and Minnesota Golden Gophers both make the long trip to Orlando to battle in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.

Gary Pinkel and his Tigers finished 10-3 (7-1 SEC) on the year and second in the SEC after a loss in the conference championship to Alabama. The Golden Gophers finished the season 8-4 (5-3 Big 10) and third in the Big 10 West.

Missouri had an up and down season offensively and had to heavily rely on their defense. Missouri had an embarrassing loss to unranked Indiana at home and were shut-out by UGA in Columbia. The play of quarterback Maty Mauk seems to determine Mizzou’s success. Mauk has not needed to be excellent, but he can’t have a repeated four-interception performance like he did against UGA.

It’s fair to say that Missouri has the best defensive line in the country. The combination of SEC Defensive Player of the Year Shane Ray and his counterpart Markus Golden have combined for 22 sacks. Though the Golden Gophers are a not strong passing team, if Ray and Golden are able to get to Minnesota’s quarterback Mitch Leidner, it will make the Golden Gophers one-dimensional offensively and not as effective.

Minnesota’s offense revolves around their running game. Running back David Cobb finished the season with 1,545 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Leidner also added 462 yards and ten touchdowns on his own. Luckily for Mizzou, they have faced great SEC running backs all year and are still ranked No. 31 in nation in rush defense. Missouri does not have much depth at defensive tackle so it will be crucial for Cobb and Leidner to wear down the Tiger’s interior defense.

In this match-up, I like Missouri’s chances. After trading punches with Alabama until the fourth quarter, Missouri proved their loss to Indiana was a fluke and they can compete with the best in the country. If they continue their success against the run, it could be a long day for the Golden Gophers. Look for Shane Ray to continue his relentless pursuit of opposing quarterbacks.

Prediction: Missouri 28 Minnesota 14


*Section Photo credit to Adam Bettcher, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Jim Dedmon, USA Today Sports. 

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