- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Big Ten bowl season finally kicks off Tuesday night in the Arizona desert, as Iowa faces Missouri for the first time in a century.
Here's a quick preview of the Insight Bowl matchup:
WHO TO WATCH: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn. The senior didn't have the dominant season many expected when he passed up a likely first-round selection in the NFL draft to return to school. But Clayborn certainly has the ability to step up in the spotlight. He proved it in the 2010 Orange Bowl, recording nine tackles and two sacks against Georgia Tech en route to winning game MVP honors. Iowa is short-handed on offense and needs a huge game from Clayborn and a veteran defensive line. Clayborn's ability to pressure Missouri senior quarterback Blaine Gabbert will play a major role in deciding the game.
WHAT TO WATCH: Iowa's short-handed offense. The Hawkeyes will play without record-setting receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and leading rusher Adam Robinson, both of whom are suspended. Given Iowa's end-of-season slide in production, the personnel losses could be especially damaging. This is a huge moment for senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi. He has improved in every statistical category, but his late-game mojo seems to have disappeared. If Stanzi can regain his magic and receive good protection against Missouri's talented defensive ends, he could do some damage.
WHY TO WATCH: The Hawkeyes' response from a rough patch both on and off the field will be fascinating. Iowa dropped its final three regular-season games and then endured the DJK mess and the suspension of Robinson. How will the Hawkeyes respond? They need their seniors on both sides of the ball to display strong leadership, particularly late in the game after blowing fourth-quarter leads in four of five regular-season losses. As disappointing as the season has been, Iowa still can win a third consecutive bowl game for the first time in team history.
PREDICTION: Iowa 21, Missouri 20. Bowl games have brought out the best in Iowa the past two seasons, and despite all the turmoil, I think the Hawkeyes' seniors will put together a good performance. The defensive line harasses Gabbert and forces several miscues, and Stanzi makes enough plays in the passing game to keep Iowa close. After so many close losses, Iowa finds a way to win a nailbiter.
4dDan Murphy and Austin Ward