Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Missouri Tigers (10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS)
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
Date and Time: Thursday, January 1, 2015, 1:00 pm EST
Where:Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MINN. +5.5/MIZZU +3
Over/Under Total: 47.5
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The Minnesota Golden Gophers had one of the best seasons in school history in 2014, coming within a game from qualifying for the Big Ten Conference championship, so as their consolation prize not only do they get to play in a New Years Day bowl, but they have to step it up in regards to the level of competition when they face the SEC-East winning Missouri Tigers in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando on January 1st on ABC.
This will be the first January bowl game for the Gophers in 53 years, so you can bet theyll be pumped and ready to play despite losing two of their last three conference games to both of the Big Ten title game participants, Ohio State and Wisconsin. The loss to the Badgers was especially painful as it cost Minnesota a chance at the West division title and a shot at a rematch against the Buckeyes, but considering Gophers coach Jerry Kill was still named the Coach of the Year in the conference its safe to assume theyll come ready to play in the biggest game in Minnesota in an awfully long time.
Waiting for them will be the SEC runner-up Missouri Tigers, who ran off a string of six straight wins in conference play before laying a dud in the SEC Championship against Alabama, 42-13. With six of their wins in SEC play coming as the underdog, the Tigers are still not really taken seriously even though theyve already made it to 10 wins this season. However, SEC Coach of the Year Gary Pinkel will use that as motivation in order to keep the Tigers focused as they enter Florida again with a chance at a Citrus Bowl win in prime recruiting territory for the SEC school.
The oddsmakers are still expecting it to be a good game, installing Missouri as 5.5-point favorites when these game opened many weeks ago. So far the betting public seems to be in agreement, as they money has been split so evenly down the middle on both sides that the point spread hasnt moved much at all since its opening number, with only a few sportsbooks dropping the hook to make the Tigers just 5-point favorites.
The over/under total opened at 49, a fairly low number for a bowl game but considering both teams sport two of the college games stronger defenses, its really not al that surprising. Once again, the public is in agreement as the early money has brought the total down to 48 in Las Vegas and down to as low as 47.5 at some of the offshore sportsbooks on the Web.
Offensively the Gophers arent exactly hard to game plan against, as they run the ball with senior David Cobb behind a strong run-blocking offensive line. The recipe works, as Cobb set a new Minnesota school record with 1,545 yards and 13 TDs this year. The problem for Minnesota is when Cobb is stopped with regularity. Quarterback Mitch Leidner (1,540 yards) isnt much of a threat to beat teams passing the ball, and his accuracy (49 comp. %) and his decision making (10 TD 8 INT) can be suspect at times. Missouri does boast a strong run defense (allow 136 ypg 30th), and considering they come from a run-heavy conference (Bama, Arkansas, Georgia, etc.) thats really saying a lot.
What has been Minnesotas strength is their defense. While they do give up a fair share of yardage (363 ypg 38th), they have been very opportunistic in creating turnovers as their +11 TO margin would indicate. Theyll face a Missouri offense that doesnt really have a standout star, just lots of solid players that all play their roles well. QB Maty Mauk has thrown for over 2,500 yards and is blessed with a solid All-American receiver in Bud Sasser (935 yards, 10 TD). Mizzou also has two athletic runners in Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, so they can balance their attack in order to keep defenses honest in their approach against them.
A lot will be made of the fact the Tigers lost to one of the lower-end teams from the Big Ten this year, Indiana, early in September at home, 31-27. But it seems every team in college has one stinker every season, and Minnesota had their dud on the road at Illinois in October, 28-24.
Otherwise, the betting trends dont really favor either team. Missouri is 4-0 ATS following a double-digit loss, so they do bounce back well. They are also 9-3-1 ATS in their last 13 non-conference games, and 19-7-1 in their last 27 overall. Minnesota is also strong in non-conference games (9-4 ATS) and they also have a history of playing well on Thursdays (5-2 ATS). However, a New Years Day game is a different animal and just something you cant necessarily handicap them for using past trends.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I think Minnesota comes out of the gates fired up to play on New Years Day, but I just dont know if theyll have enough staying power. If they can continue to run downhill on the Tigers and wear them out, they have a chance. But I just think the Tigers have too strong of a defense to let that happen, and Leidner just isnt strong enough to beat them throwing it over the top. Missouri wins this and covers the number late. Im taking Missouri minus the 5-points.