The wait is nearly over.
It's been exactly 30 days since the Missouri Tigers last saw the field, dispatching of arch rival Kansas on Nov. 28.
Having recently touched down in Houston for Thursday's Texas Bowl, the Tigers will spend the next few days squeezing in some last-minute preparation for 9-4 Navy.
And the matchup between the Tigers and Midshipmen is one of the bowl season's more intriguing, if for no other reason than the stark contrast between the two teams' style of play.
How effective will Missouri's defense be in dealing with Navy's intricate triple-option offense? Can Navy offset the Tigers' perceived advantage in speed, athleticism, and overall talent?
Will the Tigers and Midshipmen combine to produce a bit of much-needed drama for a bowl season that has been light on close games? Will the Big 12 prove to be too much, or will the pride, nostalgia, and grit that defines a service academy rise up to slay the BCS giant?
And how will each team respond to the long layoff between the regular season and now, especially Navy, which had 11 fewer days to prepare?
To help me tackle some of these questions in the season's final edition of Enemy Intel, I've enlisted the help of Bill Wagner, the Navy beat writer at the Annapolis Capital-Gazette .
RF: How would you characterize the 19-day layoff between Navy's emotionally-charged win over Army and its bowl game against Missouri? Does the extra preparation benefit the Midshipmen? Or, considering Navy won three of its last four games, will the extended break possibly halt some of the team's momentum?
BW: Navy was not able to practice much during the 19-day break because the players were involved with exams. I do not think the break helps Navy one bit because the (triple) option is a repetition offense, and practicing it regularly is important.
I think schools are allowed an extra 15 practices when going to a bowl, and Navy will only use about half of them.
RF: Why are the Midshipmen so efficient at running the triple-option, and why is it that opposing defenses have such a hard time defending it?
BW: Navy is so efficient and executes at such a high level because it practices the option day after day after day, while most teams only have a week or so to prepare for it. As former head coach Paul Johnson used to say, "If they can get better at stopping it in a week than we can get at running it all season, then they deserve to win."
It's all about practice repetitions, and most of Navy's offensive players have been repping this system for years.
RF: With fewer resources at its disposal compared to a majority of other college football programs, how has Navy managed to sustain success? And has the blueprint changed much between Johnson and current head coach Ken Niumatalolo?
BW: Navy's blueprint for success is to use the triple-option to level the playing field with bigger, stronger opponents, play bend-but-don't-break defense that forces teams to drive the field, rely on conditioning and toughness, and don't beat yourself with penalties and turnovers.
That blueprint was created by Johnson and Niumatalolo has wisely maintained it.
RF: Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel stated recently that it's a privilege to be given the opportunity to compete against a service academy, and I think it's safe to assume a majority of coaches across college football would say the same. Is there a certain mystique that comes along with playing an Army or Navy? And, if so, why do you think that is?
BW: I don't know that there is a mystique to playing a service academy, but most opponents do respect that they are going against men who are more than just college football players and have academic and military requirements that are well beyond the average Division I player.
Ultimately, none of that helps Navy win games on the field.
RF: Is there anything specific Navy coaches have pointed out regarding the Missouri Tigers that they feel they have to either guard against or that they can exploit during the Texas Bowl?
BW: Navy coaches and players have talked about Missouri as a great opponent with great athletes, great size, great speed. In typical Navy fashion, they are making Missouri sound unbeatable.
Obviously, the hope is that because none of the Tigers' defenders have seen the option, they may struggle to stop it for a while. All in all, the Navy coaches and players know they have their hands full.
RF: In your mind, what are the keys to this game for Navy? How do you see this one playing out?
BW: I think Navy is capable of winning this game, but it would be a bit of an upset. If Navy can control possession, keep Missouri's offense off the field, run the ball effectively, and get a few turnovers, they could pull it off.
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