Texas knew it was going bowling, and the Horns had a spring in their step when practice began on Friday, coach Tom Herman said. For the vast majority of this roster, bowl practice was something totally new.
The opponent and location were still unknowns, but it probably didn’t matter.
“Guys were flying around, they were excited to be a part of the postseason, excited to play football,” Herman said Sunday. “I think the sting is gone already and we’re looking forward to this.”
On Sunday, Texas learned it will face Missouri in the Texas Bowl at 8 p.m. on Dec. 27 in NRG Stadium in Houston. The Longhorns lead the all-time series against the former Big 12 foe 17-6. This will be the first bowl game for both programs since the end of the 2014 season.
— Texas Bowl (@TexasBowl) December 3, 2017
The Longhorns (6-6) plodded through a dreary night in Houston three years ago as Arkansas captured a 31-7 Texas Bowl victory. That was the only bowl game UT would make in three years under Charlie Strong, who gave way to Herman last November.
The Tigers (7-5) have also gone through a coaching change since their last bowl experience — a 33-17 win over Minnesota in the Citrus Bowl. This year, Missouri started 1-5 but has since won six straight against sub-.500 teams, prompting school officials to talk about a contract extension for coach Barry Odom.
“When you win a bowl game, they call you a champion,” Herman said. “We’ve got an opportunity now to play for a championship and send these seniors out the right way. But also develop our program and get a lot of momentum headed into the offseason.”
The Texas Bowl is run by the NFL’s Houston Texans. Team president Jamey Rootes said any time bowl officials can get the Longhorns, “It’s spectacular.”
“Resurgent program, one of the great football brands in the country in their first year under Tom Herman,” Rootes told KRIV-TV in Houston. “They’ve had a great year. Had some narrow losses against big teams, so this is going to be a very big test for them against Missouri.”
Texas Bowl officials had not been shy about their desire to get the Horns. However, they knew a matchup against Texas A&M was unlikely.
The SEC actively steers its teams into and away from various bowl situations when the league can. Texas officials were also not happy about the idea of facing A&M in a bowl game. The American-Statesman has previously reported that UT officials don’t want to restart the rivalry in a lower-tier bowl game.
Odom said he knew his team was “close to breaking down the wall to playing winning football.” Part of the reason for Mizzou’s success is quarterback Drew Lock, who has a FBS-leading 43 touchdown passes, two more than Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.
“Our team, they’ve shown great resolve,” Odom said. “We didn’t play very well on game days early in the season. We were doing so many really good things. We just weren’t transferring that over into playing a complete game.”
The Longhorns will have to battle the Tigers without some key pieces. Left tackle Connor Williams and safety DeShon Elliott have already announced they are going pro and will skip the bowl game to protect their health and draft status. Running back-turned-tight end Chris Warren III has also announced he is transferring.
Suspended cornerback Holton Hill is not eligible to play in the bowl game. Other players, like linebacker Malik Jefferson, cornerback Kris Boyd and defensive linemen Charles Omenihu and Chris Nelson, are actively looking at whether they should go pro as well.
Herman said UT officials submitted paperwork to the NFL on Monday requesting draft feedback. They may not hear anything until next week.
Asked specifically about whether Jefferson will or won’t play, Herman said, “All of those options are on the table.”
On the flip side, Herman said defensive back P.J. Locke III, linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch and guard Patrick Vahe may all be cleared to return from various injuries.
UT’s offensive coaches will have to make some adjustments at tight end, as fifth-year Kendall Moore is the lone choice at this point with Warren leaving and Cade Brewer injured. “That’s it. That’s what we got right now,” Herman said.
There was no update on the quarterback situation. Shane Buechele started against West Virginia, and Sam Ehlinger started the regular-season finale against Texas Tech.
“We’ve only had two practices, and they’ve rotated reps with the 1s and 2s evenly,” Herman said.
While it looks like an uphill climb, it beats going straight into offseason, something UT has done the last two years.
The Longhorns will be making their 54th bowl appearance in school history. Texas is now No. 2 alone nationally in bowl appearances. The school was tied for second with Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers went 4-8 this season and fired coach Mike Riley. Alabama holds the top spot with 66 bowl appearances.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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