Thursday, December 31, 2009

Texas Bowl: Navy (9-4) vs. Missouri (8-4)

Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs, left, and Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert.Drew Hallowell/Getty Images, left; Charlie Riedel/Associated Press Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs, left, and Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

Navy and Missouri meet for the first time since the 1961 Orange Bowl. Navy has not missed a beat in Ken Niumatalolo’s second season, stringing its streak of eight-win seasons to seven. Perhaps more impressive has been Missouri’s eight-win campaign, which came despite the general perception that the Tigers would struggle mightily attempting to replace players like quarterback Chase Daniel and receiver Jeremy Maclin. Yes, the offense has not quite matched last season’s output. In that case, the fact that Missouri was able reach eight wins speaks volumes about how far the program has come under Coach Gary Pinkel.

Texas Bowl

Thursday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN

Those touting the decline of the Navy program following Paul Johnson’s move to Georgia Tech have been sorely disappointed. The Midshipmen enter this game against Missouri a win shy of 10 for the season, which would tie the 2004 team for the most in school history. The coaches may have changed — the philosophy has not. Navy continues to run the option offense to perfection, and the current quarterback, Ricky Dobbs, may be the program’s best in a generation. Dobbs showed flashes of his all-around game in a loss to Ohio State (by 31-27) to open the season, accounting for a pair of touchdowns both through the air and on the ground. Dobbs has finished the year in equal form, cracking 100 yards rushing in each of his last four games. His play, along with the play of fullback Vince Murray, has led the Midshipmen to yet another Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy (wins over both Air Force and Army), the program’s seventh straight.

This team was able to maintain the program’s recent level of success, grabbing an eighth win in an emotional season-ending win over Kansas. Unfortunately, the 2009 Tigers also shared an inability to defeat top teams, dropping all three games against Top 25 competition — all in Big 12 action, in three consecutive weeks. That losing streak, which continued with a loss to Baylor two weeks later, cost Missouri a third consecutive Big 12 North crown, but a late-season three-game winning streak allowed the Tigers to enter bowl play riding high. The task of replacing Chase Daniel fell to the sophomore Blaine Gabbert, who has showed signs of being one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12 over the next two seasons. Gabbert struggled at times, most notably during the three-game losing streak, but passed for more than 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns despite being hobbled most of the season by an ankle injury. Missouri quarterbacks combined to complete 259 passes, 107 of which went to the Biletnikoff Award finalist Danario Alexander. Alexander, who had 78 career receptions heading into the season, has 49 receptions for 801 yards over his last four games.

Know Your Sponsor

Houston, Texas
Despite the name, this bowl is not sponsored by the Lone Star state. (Though if New Mexico can sponsor a bowl, Texas certainly can as well.) The Texas Bowl actually has 63 total sponsors, some larger than others, with the lead sponsor the city of Houston. Some of the more unknown sponsors of the Texas Bowl are Atiwa Computing, George Ranch Historical Park, Houston Ballet, Nick’s Place, Texas Firecrackers and Warehouse Pool Supply. If you’re not from Houston, you’re probably not familiar with these locations.

Pick ‘Em

Pete: Navy. The Middies always have more motivation. Missouri did nothing to impress me this year after Week 1.
Thayer: Missouri. Ricky Dobbs loses in a red state.
Paul: Navy. I think I’ll go with the team happy to be there.
Fred: Missouri. Love Ricky Dobbs and the Midshipmen, but Missouri’s offense is going to be too much.
Connor: Navy. The Midshipmen win by taking care of business on the ground.

Records Through Dec. 30

Connor: 44-26 (regular season); 8-7 (bowls)
Thayer: 44-26; 9-6
Paul: 43-27; 7-8
Pete: 43-27; 6-9
Fred: 43-27; 9-6

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