Arlington, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Former conference rivals are set to collide in the 2014 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium, as the ninth-ranked Missouri Tigers take on the 13th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Oklahoma State is making its eighth straight bowl appearance and has won its last three bowl games overall, including a 58-14 thrashing of Purdue in last year's Heart of Dallas Bowl. A win here would give the Cowboys their third 11- win campaign in the last four years under coach Mike Gundy -- no small feat for a program that had produced only three 10-win seasons in its history before Gundy took over in 2005.
The Cowboys were defeated by arch-rival Oklahoma in the final seconds of this year's installment of the Bedlam Series on Dec. 7, a result that snapped OSU's seven-game win streak and denied its bid for the Big 12 title, as well as the conference's automatic BCS bid. Now, Gundy and the Pokes shift their focus to a former Big 12 foe that also had hopes of going to a BCS bowl.
"I think the success (Missouri) had early in the SEC surprised most people across the country," Gundy said. "The talk then was that Missouri and (Texas A&M) were getting into a league that they weren't prepared for in some people's opinion. We've always had a lot of respect for Missouri"
Missouri is back in a bowl game after missing out on the postseason last year, when it stumbled to a 5-7 record in its first season in the Southeastern Conference. But the Tigers certainly turned it around in year two and went on to win the East Division despite being picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll.
They reeled off seven straight wins to start the year, including an impressive victory over then seventh-ranked Georgia. They continued to take care of business in the latter part of the season despite starting quarterback James Franklin missing four starts with a shoulder injury. Franklin returned late in the year and posted a big game against Auburn in the SEC Championship, but the second-ranked Tigers went on to claim a 59-42 victory and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
Missouri holds a 28-23 edge in the all-time series with Oklahoma State, although the Cowboys have won each of the last three meetings.
Oklahoma State has scored 20 or more points in 51 consecutive games dating back to the start of the 2010 season, the longest active streak in the country. The Cowboys have averaged nearly 40 points per game this season (39.8) to rank 14th nationally in scoring offense. Against OU, Desmond Roland ran for 144 yards and accounted for three touchdowns, including a one-yard score that gave OSU a 24-20 lead with 1:46 remaining. However, the Sooners answered with a game-winning touchdown drive to dash the Cowboys' hopes of winning their second Big 12 title in three seasons.
Quarterback Clint Chelf said that although it was not easy, the team has indeed moved on from that heartbreaking outcome.
"The first week after the game, I would have said yes," Chelf said when asked if there was any hangover from the Bedlam game. "It was a tough loss. Now, we're focused on Missouri. We're excited to play again and to get that bad taste out of our mouth."
Oklahoma State is one of only two teams in the country that rank in the top-15 nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense (20.0 ppg, fourth), joining No. 1 Florida State. However, the defense folded at the worst time against Oklahoma, as the Sooners marched 66 yards in less than a minute and a half to score the deciding touchdown with only 19 seconds remaining.
Despite that gut-wrenching final drive, the OSU defense is not a unit to underestimate. After all, the Pokes rank fourth nationally in turnover margin (+1.3), fifth in red-zone defense (0.7), and seventh in third-down defense (0.3). Leading the way is senior cornerback Justin Gilbert, a consensus All- American who topped the Big 12 and ranked fifth nationally with six interceptions this season. He returned two picks for touchdowns, giving him an impressive eight non-offensive TDs in his career.
Missouri quarterback James Franklin returned from his injury to start the final three games, and his numbers steadily improved in each of those starts. He saved his best for the Auburn game, throwing for 303 yards and three touchdowns, while also running for another score. Junior tailback Henry Josey went over 1,000 yards for the season in that game, as he piled up 123 yards in only nine carries, marking his fourth 100-yard rushing game of 2013 and 11th of his career.
Balance is the key to the Tigers offense, as four players have scored at least 10 touchdowns, a first-ever accomplishment at Missouri (Josey, 14; sophomore WR Dorial Green-Beckham, 12; senior WR L'Damian Washington, 10; junior TB Marcus Murphy, 10).
Defensively, Mizzou boasts a national-best streak of 43 consecutive games with a takeaway, which junior defensive end Kony Ealy kept alive with one of two forced fumbles in the SEC Championship Game. The last time the Tigers failed to record at least one takeaway in a game was Oct. 30, 2010 at Nebraska. The headliner of the unit is Ealy's bookend, unanimous All-American Michael Sam. He enters the Cotton Bowl as the SEC leader with 10.5 sacks and 18.0 tackles for loss. On Dec. 9, he was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the second Tiger ever to win conference defensive player of the year honors.