ORLANDO, Fla. — After Missouri and Minnesota both overachieved on the field, it makes sense they meet in their final game of the season.
In just their third year in the Southeastern Conference, the 16th-ranked Tigers (10-3) enter Thursday’s Citrus Bowl coming off their second consecutive SEC East title and appearances in the conference championship game.
At Minnesota, fourth-year coach Jerry Kill and the Golden Gophers (8-4) are celebrating a return to a New Year’s Day bowl for the first time since 1962. They also have a chance to post a ninth victory for only the eighth time in school history.
Missouri sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk said this week that a victory would only add to the national brand.
“I’d say so. It’s tough to go back-to-back in the SEC,” he said. “But at the same time, we aren’t worried about that. If people want to respect us, that’s up to them. But we know what we have here and we are going to bring it every game, every year, and that will be our goal next year: Get better.”
For Kill, who arrived from Northern Illinois in 2011 promising a methodical approach to rebuilding a 3-9 program before his arrival, a matchup with a successful SEC foe is the latest opportunity in that process.
This is only the fifth time since 1906 that Minnesota has won eight games in consecutive seasons.
“We’re building this program brick by brick. This would be a huge brick,” Kill said.
Here are some things to watch in Thursday’s Citrus Bowl matchup between Missouri and Minnesota.
NOT A COMEBACK: This is the 69th edition of the bowl, but the first time since 2002 that it has been called the Citrus Bowl. It was the Capital One Bowl from 2003 to 2014 before Buffalo Wild Wings took over title sponsorship and the game was renamed the Citrus Bowl. It is also the first incarnation of the bowl since Orlando Citrus Bowl stadium reopened after a 10-month and more than $200 million renovation.
RUN GOPHERS: The three teams that beat Missouri this season were successful running the ball against the Tigers’ defense. The Golden Gophers will lean on RB David Cobb to set the offensive tone after he posted a school single-season record with 1,545 yards. He had some late-season hamstring issues, but said this week that he enters the bowl game feeling better than he has all season.
BOWL DROUGHT: Minnesota is 5-11 in bowl games all-time. Its last bowl win was a 20-16 victory against Alabama in the 2004 Music City Bowl. The Gophers have lost in their last six bowl appearances.
COACHING MATCHUP: The game features a pair of coach of the year honorees. Minnesota’s Kill was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by both the league’s head coaches and media. Missouri’s Gary Pinkel was voted SEC Coach of the Year by his coaching peers.