Navy (9-4) vs. Missouri (8-4)Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Reason to watch: Witness the latest case study in the run vs. pass debate when two potent but starkly contrasting offenses take the field. Navy's option offense produced the nation's fourth-best rushing attack (272.5 yards per game) behind junior QB Ricky Dobbs, who ran for 1,037 yards and 24 touchdowns despite missing the better part of two games with a knee injury. Meanwhile, despite preseason rumblings that first-year offensive coordinator David Yost would implement an uncharacteristically vanilla offense in the post-Chase Daniel era, Missouri's spread offense continued airing it out in 2009, producing the nation's No. 13 passing attack.
Keep an eye on: Missouri WR Danario Alexander. The senior always had the size (6-foot-5, 215) and skills to become elite, but it took getting fully healthy for the first time in his Missouri career for Alexander to establish himself as one of college football's preeminent targets. He led the nation in receiving yards (1,644) and per-game average (137), and posted a season's worth of production (49 catches, 820 yards, six scores) in Missouri's last four games. That November to remember had a lot to do with the man getting Alexander the ball, sophomore signal-caller Blaine Gabbert, who was again free to showcase his cannon arm after a nagging midseason ankle injury subsided. Surprisingly mobile for a player of his size (6-5, 240), Gabbert can also bulldoze defenders who sit back waiting to defend the pass.
Did you know: Missouri has suffered the indignity of a bowl snub three years running. After falling to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game and missing out on an automatic BCS berth, the 2007 Tigers were passed over by the Orange Bowl in favor of a Kansas squad they'd beaten head-to-head. The 2008 Tigers again took the North, but the Gator Bowl instead selected Nebraska, despite Missouri's victory, in Lincoln, that season. The 2009 Tigers thought they were Insight Bowl-bound, but lost out to the 6-6 Iowa State Cyclones, whom they'd already beaten 34-24. The Texas, with the last selection of Big 12 teams, scooped up the red-headed step children of the North.
Final analysis: The Middies and Tigers know how to play defense, too. Led by All-Big 12 linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri's 12th-ranked D allowed just 96.4 yards per game on the ground. Dobbs and Co. weren't slowed when they faced and nearly upset an even stingier defense (Ohio State's) earlier this season, but they've tapered off of late, scoring just 17 points in each of their final two contests against Hawaii and Army (the former of which isn't exactly a member of the defensive elite). While Navy's slipping, Missouri's soaring. After being held to 36 total points during a three-game losing streak, the Tigers averaged 36.2 points while winning four of their last five. Plus, that three-game skid came against ranked teams Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas; Navy may only allow 19.9 points per game, but it can't shut down the opposition like the 'Huskers and 'Horns. Bottom line: When Missouri scores, it wins, and Navy won't be able to slow Alexander for long.
The pick: Missouri 34, Navy 24.
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