By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
The NCAA postseason kicked off Dec. 19, with 34 games being played in a three-week span.
Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their season on the winning side, in the hopes of improving the recruiting that soon follows.
The Sportmeisters will preview each of the games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
Texas Bowl, Dec. 31, 3:30 PM, Houston, TX
Missouri (8-4) vs. Navy (9-4)
The Tigers came in with high hopes for 2009, and started off living up to the expectations, winning four in a row. Then the meat of the schedule came in, and Missouri flailed, losing three straight to ranked teams. They bounced back, winning four of their last five to finish at 8-4.
With the departure of Chase Daniel, most expected Missouri to fall off in their passing game. Enter sophomore QB Blaine Gabbert, who was directly responsible for the Tigers’ 13th-ranked passing attack (285 yards a game). Gabbert finished the season with 3302 yards, 23 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He has not thrown an interception since Halloween.
Senior WR Danario Alexander’s numbers more than double anyone else on the Tigers roster. His 107 catches for 1,644 yards and 13 touchdowns are big reasons for Missouri’s success. Alexander also leads all FBS receivers with 137 yards per game.
Defensively, Missouri could stop the run (12th in NCAA FBS), but in the pass-happy antics of the Big 12 sputtered against the pass (109th in NCAA FBS).
Senior LB Sean Weatherspoon leads the squad with 104 tackles (14.5 for loss), 4.5 sacks, and an interception.
Freshman DE Aldon Smith is a tough one to contain. He led the team with 11 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss (59 tackles total).
As is the case with the Big 12, Missouri will throw early and often, and if you try to run, you might be stopped, but those numbers seem misleading.
The Midshipmen started off slow, losing two of their first three games, both against BCS opponents. They ran for glory, reeling off five straight wins before a close loss against Temple. They regained themselves to win three of their last four, including rivalry wins over Army and Notre Dame, to finish 9-4.
Navy, much like a few other teams in NCAA FBS, likes to run. A lot, in fact, which is the primary reason they average 272.46 yards a game in the rush (fourth in NCAA FBS). It’s also the reason they are last in passing offense (71.38 yards a game). The triple option is their primary weapon, and it usually starts with junior QB Ricky Dobbs.
Despite missing a game, Dobbs still rushed for 1,026 yards and scored 24 rushing touchdowns. That is a new record, breaking the previous one held by Tim Tebow and Chance Harridge.
As is the case with the triple option, if you stop one, there are others still available. Junior RB Vince Murray has been that other option, rushing for 925 yards and six touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, Navy is good, but nothing special. They are 20th in scoring, allowing only 19.92 points a game. The rest of their numbers are in that range between the top and middle third of NCAA FBS. Senior LB Ross Pospisil leads the team with 98 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Navy is undersized, and it shows.
They are 103rd in sacks (1.38 per game) and 120th in tackles for loss (3.54 per game). However, they have speed, and a rushing attack that eats up the clock, which will work in their favor.
Missouri is 12-14 in bowl games, having won two in a row during their current five-game bowl appearance streak.
Navy is 6-8-1 in their bowl history, trying to snap a three-game losing streak. This is their seventh-consecutive bowl appearance.
The two teams have not faced each other since 1961, when Missouri beat Navy in the Orange Bowl. Missouri is 2-0 against the Navy all-time.
In this game, the numbers can be a bit misleading. Yes, Missouri is ranked high on their rush defense, but they play in the Big 12. The Big 12 does not rush often, so the numbers seem skewed.
On the other side, Navy has a decent pass defense, but they are facing off against a spread offense. They are undersized, which could make stopping a 6'5" receiver a bit more challenging. The winner will come from whoever can utilize their strengths better.
For Navy, they will need to run the option successfully, eating clock and keeping Gabbert on the sideline. When Gabbert does get in, he and Alexander will need to exploit Navy’s small corners for big gains.
Missouri throws it early and often, and Navy can’t play catch-up when they only run the ball. Missouri, 38-20.