Eleven Missouri players hail from the state of Texas, the most of any state aside from the Show-Me State.
The Lone Star State is also the origin place of tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley (Arlington), where defensive line coach Brick Haley plied his trade before joining the Tigers (Austin) and where Missouri’s former conference headquarters still stand (Irving).
The Tigers have more connections to Texas than anywhere outside the borders of its home state. Missouri will go back there for the first time in more than three years at the close of 2017.
The team announced Sunday it accepted a bid to the Texas Bowl in Houston. Missouri (7-5, 4-4 Southeastern Conference), which won its final six games to earn bowl eligibility, will face former Big 12 opponent Texas (6-6, 5-4 Big 12) at 8 p.m. on Dec. 27.
It’s the Tigers’ first bowl appearance since it went to the Citrus Bowl in 2014.
“The things that this team has been through — if you look at our seniors — over the last five years, I think without question our guys will be excited and we’ll have a chance to compete together one more time,” coach Barry Odom said in a press conference alongside athletic director Jim Sterk on Sunday night.
Missouri is the second SEC team to qualify for a bowl after starting 1-5. Only two teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision have ever started 1-5 and finished 8-5 (North Texas in 2002 and Rutgers in 2008 as a member of the Big East).
“To have postseason play, it’s a reward obviously for hard work but also a reward for doing things the right way,” Sterk said. “I think the team has really set a high standard for character and integrity and building the momentum with this team.”
The Tigers have 8,000 allocated seats for the game, ranging from $125 for club level seats to $85 for lower level seats.
Texas has long been a hot recruiting site for Missouri, and for many years the state was also the home to a number of conference rivals. But the Tigers haven’t played in Texas since Nov. 14, 2014, when it beat SEC foe Texas A&M.
The matchup against the Longhorns will renew a series that started in 1894 with a 24-0 Missouri victory in Austin. Texas, however, won nine straight games from 1931-96 and beat the Tigers seven out of nine times in Big 12 Conference play. The Longhorns lead the series 17-6.
Missouri got the last laugh before joining the SEC, taking down Texas 17-5 at Faurot Field in 2011.
There’s still some contention among the Tigers’ fan base for the Longhorns’ perceived dominance in Big 12 politics. Many Missouri fans also recall former Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds slamming the Tigers in an interview with the Austin American-Statesman in 2013.
“Our bad years are not that bad,” Dodds said following a three-year period over which the Longhorns went 22-16. “Take a school like Missouri. Our bad years are better than their good years. But we’ve created a standard.”
Since that statement, Missouri has gone 39-25 while Texas has gone 30-31.
Odom was asked if he needed to give the Tigers’ younger players a refresher on the rivalry with the Longhorns.
“We’ve got respect for everybody that we play, but there will be plenty of information that our team receives,” Odom said. “I’m a firm believer in making sure our guys are prepared in every situation and they know who our opponent is and what they’re about, just like I’m sure the other side is doing, as well.”
There’s a personal aspect to the rivalry for Odom, too. His first game as a college player came against Texas in Austin in 1996. That contest was also Missouri’s first game in the Big 12.
“I knew I was in the mix to maybe play and maybe redshirt,” Odom said. “They put the depth chart out on Monday and I remember calling home and said, ‘I don’t know what you guys are doing this weekend, but it looks like I’m playing.’ ”
Texas also made headlines last week for having two players – offensive lineman and captain Connor Williams and safety DeShon Elliott – announce they would be skipping a bowl game and declaring for the NFL Draft.
Conversely, Missouri’s Terry Beckner Jr. announced Friday he would skip this year’s draft to play for the Tigers as a senior and Odom didn’t plan on having any seniors miss the Texas Bowl.
Missouri might actually add to their roster if Damarea Crockett, who hasn’t played since suffering a shoulder injury against Georgia on Oct. 13, is available. Odom said Crockett “has an opportunity to play” in the bowl game.
Both teams will be playing in the Texas Bowl for the second time in their respective histories. Missouri lost its last trip to the Texas Bowl, 35-13 to Navy in 2009. Texas lost its last Texas Bowl 31-7 to Arkansas, in 2014.