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The Gasparilla Bowl might lack in sizzle, but it has plenty of substance

Missouri’s matchup against Wake Forest should provide plenty of fireworks.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV. 25 Arkansas at Missouri

The Tigers are back in a bowl game, ladies and gentlemen. It’s the first time Missouri has played in a bowl game in back-to-back seasons since 2017-2018. It’s worth noting that bowl games don’t mean what they once did. The games have been devalued by opt-outs, players declaring early for the NFL Draft and the College Football Playoff.

That is not to suggest these games don’t matter. They’re still fun! It’s one last opportunity to watch your favorite team play with this group of players. Predicting what will happen is nearly impossible. The rosters aren’t the same as they were in the regular season. The bowl preparations are... scattered. Coaches are splitting time between National Signing Day, practices and the transfer portal. College football’s December calendar is a mess.

With all of that as the backdrop, what do the Tigers have in store for us? Let’s take a look back at their recent bowl history to see if we can glean anything about their bowl future.

What is Missouri’s recent bowl history?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 22 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl - Missouri v Army Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2021 - Armed Forces Bowl - 24-22 L vs Army

  • The Tigers entered the game with no Connor Bazelak, no Tyler Badie and a defense that struggled mightily from start to finish. Brady Cook asserted himself well, especially on the ground, and gave Missouri a late lead with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Keke Chism to go up 22-21. A failed 2-point conversion left Army with a minute to drive into field goal position. That’s exactly what the Black Knights were able to do, kicking a field goal as time expired to win 24-22.

2018 - Liberty Bowl - L 38-33 vs Oklahoma State

  • Missouri came into Drew Lock’s final game as a Tiger with an 8-4 record after winning five of their final six games of the regular season. The only loss was a devastating 15-14 loss against Kentucky. We don’t need to get into that. Missouri’s offense was clicking on all cylinders and that continued against Oklahoma State with Larry Rountree III racking up more than 200 rushing yards, Johnathon Johnson finishing with more than 180 receiving yards and the offense tallying more than 600 total yards. Unfortunately, Oklahoma State put up 500 yards of their own and the Cowboys were able to finish their drives while Missouri settled for field goals. Missouri wasn’t able to overcome a 35-19 deficit heading into the fourth quarter.

2017 - Texas Bowl - L 33-16 vs Texas

  • If the only thing you remember about this game was Tom Herman mocking Drew Lock’s celebration, I don’t blame you. It was a forgettable performance. Missouri had a weird season, starting 1-5 and finishing with 6-straight wins against mostly terrible opponents. Texas got off to a hot start, going up 21-7 at half, Missouri came back with a solid third quarter to pull it within five, but four turnovers were just too much to overcome. Texas won in a route, 33-16.

2014 - Citrus Bowl - W 33-17 vs Minnesota

  • You could make an argument this was the most enjoyable Mizzou bowl performance in the past decade. Maty Mauk had an all-time “Maty performance,” finishing 12-for-19 for 97 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions through the air, but he also added 11 carries for 38 yards and a memorable touchdown run on the ground. Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy combined for nearly 270 yards on he ground, Markus Golden finished with four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble, and the Tigers’ defense finishes things off by forcing three turnovers. A close game for three quarters, Missouri scores two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull away and win 33-17.

2013 - Cotton Bowl - W 41-31 vs Oklahoma State

  • If the Citrus Bowl wasn’t the most enjoyable game, this was. I personally have fond memories because it was the first game I ever watched live in Vegas while celebrating my 21st birthday. Of course I had a Missouri ticket on the game that I cashed in. A mostly sleepy first three quarters became a Mad Max: Fury Road experience in the fourth. Missouri entered the quarter up 17-14. The two teams then scored a combined 41 points in the fourth quarter, including the memorable 73-yard Shane Ray scoop-and-score. The best Missouri team of the last decade finished the season with a heck of a memorable performance.

How does this team compare to recent Mizzou bowl teams?

Arkansas v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Missouri enters the game at 6-6, which is technically the same record as they had last season. This team is better. Or, it should be. We’ll get to the opt-outs in a moment. But the team that played in the regular season is better than the regular season team we saw a year ago. I would say the most similar team of recent memory was the 2018 team that finished 8-4 with tough losses against South Carolina and Kentucky. That team was a little better than this one, and went about it in different ways (dominant offense compared to this year’s dynamic defense), but that’s the closest comparison. Missouri entered that bowl game ranked 24th nationally before taking the loss against Oklahoma State.

How will opt-outs impact the game?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Arkansas at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Missouri will be without defensive linemen Isaiah McGuire and DJ Coleman along with safety Martez Manuel as all three have opted to declare for the NFL Draft. Leading receiver Dominic Lovett has officially announced his intentions to transfer to Georgia, and he will not play in the bowl game.

For Wake Forest, backup running back Christian Turner has entered the transfer portal and won’t be available. The Demon Deacons will also be without defensive back Gavin Holmes and defensive end Jacorey Johns after both entered the portal.

What will be the impact of those losses? My belief is they impact the Tigers more than Wake Forest. Lovett was Missouri’s most dynamic offensive player. McGuire and Coleman were critical components of the Tigers’ defensive end rotation, especially against an offense like Wake Forest. Not having those three players could loom large in the bowl game.

So, what should we expect?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 North Carolina at Wake Forest Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There are some real sub-plots in this game. How does Brady Cook look, and is he still the future quarterback for Missouri? Does Luther Burden slide into the slot to fill Lovett’s old role, or does Eli Drinkwitz keep Burden on the outside with someone else manning the slot role? How do the young defensive ends respond to increased roles against a high-powered offense? Is this the last time we see Ty’Ron Hopper in a Missouri uniform?

My belief is Wake Forest is favored in this game (2-point favorite) for a reason. Lovett is a significant loss for Missouri’s offense. The Tigers should be able to put up some points on the Swiss cheese Wake defense, but I’m not sure it will be enough to keep up with Dave Clawson’s offense led by senior quarterback Sam Hartman (as an aside, have I mentioned I would love to see Missouri target Hartman if/when he hits the transfer portal? I should mention that).

I’ll take Wake Forest in a high-scoring affair, 34-31. This is a game that reminds me a bit of the Arkansas matchup. Styles make fights, and this should be a fun one. Enjoy the game!