Missouri took a bid to the Independence Bowl on Sunday after being passed over by four Big 12 bowl games that selected teams with worse or identical records than the Tigers.
This should come as no surprise to Missouri fans, who have gotten used to being left behind when bowl selection time comes around (BCS in 2007 comes to mind), but it is what it is and the Tigers will begin preparation for their contest against North Carolina (7-5) on the day after Christmas in Shreveport.
I’d say most Big 12 fans don’t really know much about the Tar Heels because they are from the ACC, so let’s take a look at their top players, who they have beaten to get to this point and what kind of offensive and defensive profile they have.
The ACC was fairly average this year and North Carolina finished in the middle of the pack at 7-5 (3-5). Their best win was either over Rutgers or Virginia – both of which finished 8-4 – and both of those wins came early in the year.
The Tar Heels are similar to the Tigers in that all of their losses but one came on the road and most of their losses were by margins of under two touchdowns.
But when looking at Missouri’s five losses, you notice that all of them came against teams that are currently ranked or were ranked at the time of the game (Arizona State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Baylor). North Carolina, on the other hand lost to two unranked teams, Miami and NC State.
The similarities continue when you look at position players, especially quarterback. Both teams have sophomores who took over for quarterbacks that left for the NFL and both of those quarterbacks are doing extremely well for being first-year starters.
North Carolina’s Bryn Renner, a sophomore from Virginia, finished the regular season with almost 9 yards per attempt and a two-to-one touchdown to interception ratio, good for a 161.2 efficiency rating. Compared to James Franklin’s impressive 7.75 yards per attempt and 141.3 efficiency rating, Renner looks like a phenom.
The Tar Heels also have a dynamic receiver in senior Dwight Jones, who has 79 catches for 1,119 yards and 11 touchdowns in 12 games this year.
Even with these players, the North Carolina offense is a run-based one, seeing 423 rushing attempts compared to 329 passes this season. Led by freshman running back Giovani Bernard’s 226 attempts for 1,222 yards and 13 touchdowns, the Tar Heels got 4.2 yards per attempt and scored 22 rushing touchdowns.
So how will the Tigers deal with that balanced attack? Their defense, ranked 44th in the nation in points per game allowed (23.5) has had flashes of brilliance, especially late in the season. The rushing attack as a whole for North Carolina isn’t incredibly impressive and the Tigers’ run defense has been stout all year, so this could be a win for Mizzou in this area. While North Carolina’s passing game is dynamic, Mizzou also has two good cornerbacks that could neutralize that big-play ability.
Looking at Missouri’s offense matching up with North Carolina’s, this matchup may be a bit more of a wash. The Tar Heels are also giving up 23.5 points per game, but the Tigers are more lethal on the ground, especially with James Franklin’s rushing ability thrown into the mix.
This matchup is probably one of the better ones that features two teams with average records. Stay with SB Nation Kansas City and Rock M Nation for more in-depth coverage and analysis of the Independence Bowl as Dec. 26 draws closer.