The two teams had previously met twice with Missouri winning both games, in 1973 (27–14 in Chapel Hill) and 1976 (24–3 in Columbia). It marked North Carolina’s first game against a member of the Big 12 conference since a 52–21 loss to Texas in Chapel Hill in 2002.
The Tar Heels had a 14–14 bowl game record after the previous year's defeat of Tennessee in the 2010 Music City Bowl. The team was led by freshman tailback Giovani Bernard, who had 1,222 yards that season (sixth in school history) and by senior wide receiver Dwight Jones, who had 1,119 yards (second in school receiving yards). Sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner was a starter that year, who tied the school record with 23 touchdown passes.
This game marked Mizzou’s third appearance in the game since 2003, winning over South Carolina in 2005 (38–31) and losing a 2003 contest to Arkansas (27–14). The Tigers were led by sophomore quarterback James Franklin, who ranked 15th in the NCAA in total offense (298.25 yards per game), had thrown for 200 yards or more six times during the season, and had ran 839 yards and 13 rushing TDs. Missouri was ranked highly in the country in rushing offense (235.67 yards per game) and in total offense (472.42 yards per game).