Friday December 24th, 2010

No. 14 Missouri (10-2) vs. Iowa (7-5) Dec. 28, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Reason to watch: Missouri is the first top 15 BCS-conference team to play its bowl game, but more curiosity surrounds Iowa. Is Kirk Ferentz's program on the verge of a freefall, or just having a bad month? Iowa started the season ranked ninth but lost its last three games, including an embarrassing upset at 2-9 Minnesota. Since then, star receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was arrested for keeping a drug house, top running back Adam Robinson was suspended for the bowl game and school officials announced they had found flaws in their drug-testing procedures. Presumably, Iowa will still field a team.

Keep an eye on: Missouri's offensive line against Iowa's defensive front. While preseason All-American Adrian Clayborn has been a disappointment, the Hawkeyes' veteran defensive line remains highly regarded and can get pressure on Tigers quarterback Blaine Gabbert. But Missouri's offense is more balanced this year (410 rushing attempts, 433 pass attempts) than in recent seasons, which has helped stave off sacks (just 20 allowed).

Did you know: The Insight Bowl increased its payout from $1.4 million per team last year to $3.3 million the next four years in order to move up in both the Big 12 (No. 4) and Big Ten (No. 5) selection order and promptly landed the first 10-win team in its 22-year history (dating to its days as the Copper Bowl). Last year's game pitted two 6-6 teams, Iowa State and Minnesota.

Final analysis: While it failed to live up to preseason expectations, Iowa is more evenly matched with Missouri than its 7-5 record indicates. It narrowly lost to 11-1 teams Wisconsin (31-30) and Ohio State (20-17). Underrated senior quarterback/patriot Ricky Stanzi (25 TDs, four INTs) will go out with a bang.

The pick: Iowa 30, Missouri 28 NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline shares his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:

Missouri: DE/OLB Aldon Smith* -- Smith is a rare breed of defensive prospect who has the ability to impact the game in a variety of ways. He's an awesome pass-rusher who has enough athleticism and speed to catch ball-handlers from behind in pursuit. Smith was slowed by a leg injury all season but still ranks as an early first-round pick and is expected to enter the draft. Grade: First-round prospect.

Iowa: DE Adrian Clayborn -- Clayborn entered the season as one of the highest-rated seniors in the nation, but fell short of expectations. He's an explosive pass-rusher and was very productive in the past but struggled making plays behind the line of scrimmage in 2010. Scouts still consider Clayborn a legitimate starting defensive end at the next level. Grade: First-round prospect.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.