The roster of players for Texas continues to be pared due to declarations for the NFL draft, transfers, suspensions and injuries, all of which will add to the drama that will already be sky-high when the Longhorns square off against Missouri on Wednesday in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium in Houston.
The good news is that the Longhorns (6-6) will play in the postseason for the first time since 2014 when they square off against former Big 12 Conference foe Missouri.
The bad news is that the Longhorns have drawn one of the hottest teams in the country while they attempt to post their first winning season since 2013. Missouri (7-5), which now competes in the Southeastern Conference, won its final six regular-season games after starting 2017 at 1-5. Those wins, however, were all against teams that finished below .500 for the season.
Texas has known it would be playing in a bowl since it beat West Virginia on Nov. 18 to secure its sixth win of the season. The Longhorns then went out and produced a turkey on the day after Thanksgiving, losing to Texas Tech and failing to clinch a winning season.
For the vast majority of Texas' players, bowl practice was something totally new when the Longhorns got back to work to prepare for this game.
"We're looking forward to this," Texas coach Tom Herman said. "When you win a bowl game, they call you a champion. We've got an opportunity now to play for a championship and send our seniors out the right way. These extra practices will also help develop our program and get a lot of momentum headed into the offseason."
Texas announced Friday that running back Toneil Carter, receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey and tight end Garrett Gray have been suspended for a violation of team rules and will not play in the Texas Bowl.
Defensive tackle Chris Nelson, who had 18 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 11 games this season will also miss the game with an elbow injury, a team spokesman said Friday. Linebacker Malik Jefferson has a turf toe injury that's kept him from practice but there has been no report on his status for the bowl game and his career at Texas moving forward.
Offensive tackle Connor Williams, safety DeShon Elliott and cornerback Holton Hill are juniors who announced earlier this month that they would eschew the bowl game and their respective senior seasons and enter the NFL Draft. Michael Dickson, the Ray Guy Award winner as the best punter in college football, will play in the bowl game and then head to the NFL.
And then there's running back/tight end Chris Warren III, who has transferred, further increasing the pressure on the Longhorns' remaining players as they are desperate to produce a winning season at Texas for the first time in five years.
It will be the Tigers' first bowl appearance since Gary Pinkel's 2014 team beat Minnesota in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2015. Mizzou is 15-16 all-time in bowl games.
The Tigers boast a quarterback in Drew Lock who might have been the best passer in the nation at the end of the regular season, finishing with a nation-high 43 touchdowns, two more than Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, who won the Heisman Trophy.
Lock is the only Power 5 quarterback this century to pass for at least three touchdowns passes in eight straight games. He holds school records for most 400-yard games (five) and games with five TD passes (six).
"I'm not out here saying I'm the most elite quarterback of all time," he says. "I'm saying I made a lot of strides in my ability that got me to the point I'm at now, where people are actually talking. I felt like I was the best quarterback in the conference -- I think that showed."
Lock said he won't decide on whether to declare for the NFL draft until after the Texas Bowl and once he's received his grade from the draft advisory board. If he decides to take his game to the next level, Lock has become a dark horse candidate to go in the first round.
Texas and Missouri have played 23 times, with the Longhorns owning a 17-6 record. The two schools last met in 2011 and have met just once previously in a bowl game -- a 40-27 Longhorn victory in the 1946 Cotton Bowl. Texas has won 15 of the last 17 meetings against Missouri, dating back to 1931.
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