Missouri Looks to Leave Big 12 with Independence Bowl Win Over TarheelsDecember 13, 2011
SHREVEPORT, LA – Although both teams enter the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl with 7-5 records, few will argue North Carolina’s battles against ACC conference foes this season were more difficult than Missouri’s journey through the treacherous Big 12 schedule.
Indeed, the Tigers completed conference competition at 5-4 to finish in the top half of the league standings while North Carolina could only muster a 3-5 record in ACC action.
Incidentally, Missouri will narrow the gridiron gap with the Tarheels next season, at least geographically if not athletically, when Missouri leaves the Big 12 to join the SEC.
The two teams meet at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La. the day after Christmas with ESPN2 set to televise the game starting at 5 p.m. ET.
Players receive several souvenirs of their visit to Northern Louisiana to participate in the Independence Bowl, including a New Era cap, a Timely Watch Co. watch, commemorative football and an invitation to attend a gift suite.
During the 2011 season, the Tigers relied on a couple of cubs on offense: sophomore quarterback James Franklin, a first-year starter, passed for 2,733 yards and 20 touchdowns and scored another 13 TDS on the ground, as he picked up 839 rushing yards during the season.
Unfortunately for Independence Bowl watchers, Missouri’s other sensational sophomore, running back Henry Josey, is out of action with a leg injury sustained in the Texas game. At that point in the season, Josey was leading the Big 12 in rushing with 1,168 yards and a NCAA-best 8.1 yards per carry.
Coach Gary Pinkel, in his 11th year at Mizzou, now has the same backfield that opened the season before he inserted Josey in game three – senior De’Vion Moore and junior Kendial Lawrence.
North Carolina also has a key figure who made his big-stage debut this fall: interim coach Everett Withers who took over the helm when Butch Davis was fired this past July. North Carolina had high expectations entering the 2011 campaign but they were all but extinguished amidst allegations of improprieties leveled at Davis which no doubt caused turmoil both on and off the field.
Withers was commended by school officials for stepping into an awkward situation and moving the program forward.
But win or lose in the bowl game, Withers will hand over the reins with a tip of his cap to Larry Fedora who was wooed by the Tarheels after Southern Miss upset previously undefeated and seventh-ranked Houston 49-28 in the Conference USA championship game. Fedora is expected to coach the Golden Eagles in the Hawaii Bowl.
Sending Withers out with a win could be the emotional edge that closes the athleticism gap between these two teams, although to get a victory, the Tarheels and their interim coach will have to pull out all the stops.
Like the Tigers, North Carolina also has a first-year starter at quarterback, 6-foot-3 sophomore Bryn Renner who has thrown for 2,769 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Renner has a pair of talented options to whom to get the ball: 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior wide receiver Dwight Jones (1,119 yards, 11 touchdowns); and All-Conference tailback Giovani Bernard (1,222 yards, 13 TDs) who is only a freshman.
An interesting statistic – perhaps it can even be described as an anomaly – is that both defenses have given up exactly 23.5 points per game this season.
Look for the Tigers to maintain that average while raising the Tarheels’ final number for the year.
Prediction: Missouri 34, North Carolina 24.