Sizing up the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl between Missouri (7-5) and Texas (6-6):
Time, TV: Dec. 27, 8 p.m. CT, ESPN
Site: NRG Stadium, Houston
Missouri looked like it was about to undergo a massive overhaul after a brutal 1-5 start with the defense getting torched in blowout after blowout.
Then the schedule eased up.
Destroying Idaho and Connecticut didn’t seem like that big a deal at the time, but it turned out to be a chance for the offense to tune up and for the defense to take a breath and start to produce as expected.
It also helped that the rest of the Missouri schedule was a breeze, with Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas all melting down.
And now the offense that scored 45 points or more in each of the last six games has to show whether this was all for real.
Texas kicked off the Tom Herman era with a 1-2 start, but the defense became a rock in a Big 12 full of unstoppable offenses and the offense did just enough to get past the weaker teams. But there was nothing to get too excited about — Iowa State and Kansas State were the two strongest wins.
A few key Texas players are sitting out to get ready for the NFL draft — LB Malik Jefferson, S DeShon Elliott, OT Connor Williams — and RB Chris Warren III chose to transfer. With all the young players about to see time, consider this a measuring stick to see how far the program has to go.
Players to watch
QB Drew Lock, Missouri: The 6-4, 225-pound pure passer is starting to generate just enough buzz from NFL scouts to consider this a possible showcase game. On fire during the second half of the season, he finished with close to 3,700 yards and 43 touchdowns, averaging a whopping 9.6 yards per pass. He threw 12 interceptions, but he also had 385 pass attempts.
WR J’Mon Moore, Missouri: The 6-3, 205-pound deep threat exploded in his senior season, leading the team with 60 catches for 1,017 yards and 10 touchdowns. Averaging 17 yards per catch, he’s Lock’s go-to guy down the field, destroying Arkansas for 160 yards and a score on 10 catches and coming up with at least one touchdown grab in five of the last six games.
QB Sam Ehlinger, Texas: Ehlinger and Shane Buechele alternated in key moments throughout the season, but Ehlinger took over in the middle of the season. He might have an interception issue, but he is a terrific passer and leads the team in rushing.
RB Daniel Young, Texas: The Longhorns need rushing options — Ehlinger can’t be the team’s leading rusher. Chris Warren moved to tight end and then transferred. The chances have been there for Young to take over, and he finished second on the team with 325 yards and three scores, but he’s due for a breakout game.
Even with the key losses, the Texas defense is just strong enough to keep the Missouri offense from making explosive plays. Missouri’s defense hasn’t been pushed in weeks. Now it will be.
Pick: Texas, 30-26