Arlington, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Former conference rivals are set tocollide in the 2014 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium, as the ninth-ranked MissouriTigers take on the 13th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Oklahoma State is making its eighth straight bowl appearance and has won itslast three bowl games overall, including a 58-14 thrashing of Purdue in lastyear'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 featfor a program that had produced only three 10-win seasons in its historybefore Gundy took over in 2005.
The Cowboys were defeated by arch-rival Oklahoma in the final seconds of thisyear's installment of the Bedlam Series on Dec. 7, a result that snapped OSU'sseven-game win streak and denied its bid for the Big 12 title, as well as theconference's automatic BCS bid. Now, Gundy and the Pokes shift their focus toa 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 peopleacross the country," Gundy said. "The talk then was that Missouri and (TexasA&M) were getting into a league that they weren't prepared for in somepeople'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 SoutheasternConference. But the Tigers certainly turned it around in year two and went onto win the East Division despite being picked to finish sixth in the preseasonpoll.
They reeled off seven straight wins to start the year, including an impressivevictory over then seventh-ranked Georgia. They continued to take care ofbusiness in the latter part of the season despite starting quarterback JamesFranklin missing four starts with a shoulder injury. Franklin returned late inthe year and posted a big game against Auburn in the SEC Championship, but thesecond-ranked Tigers went on to claim a 59-42 victory and a berth in the BCSNational 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 datingback to the start of the 2010 season, the longest active streak in thecountry. The Cowboys have averaged nearly 40 points per game this season(39.8) to rank 14th nationally in scoring offense. Against OU, Desmond Rolandran for 144 yards and accounted for three touchdowns, including a one-yardscore that gave OSU a 24-20 lead with 1:46 remaining. However, the Soonersanswered with a game-winning touchdown drive to dash the Cowboys' hopes ofwinning their second Big 12 title in three seasons.
Quarterback Clint Chelf said that although it was not easy, the team hasindeed moved on from that heartbreaking outcome.
"The first week after the game, I would have said yes," Chelf said when askedif 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 badtaste out of our mouth."
Oklahoma State is one of only two teams in the country that rank in the top-15nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense (20.0 ppg, fourth),joining No. 1 Florida State. However, the defense folded at the worst timeagainst Oklahoma, as the Sooners marched 66 yards in less than a minute and ahalf to score the deciding touchdown with only 19 seconds remaining.
Despite that gut-wrenching final drive, the OSU defense is not a unit tounderestimate. 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 sixinterceptions this season. He returned two picks for touchdowns, giving him animpressive eight non-offensive TDs in his career.
Missouri quarterback James Franklin returned from his injury to start thefinal 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 threetouchdowns, while also running for another score. Junior tailback Henry Joseywent over 1,000 yards for the season in that game, as he piled up 123 yards inonly nine carries, marking his fourth 100-yard rushing game of 2013 and 11thof his career.
Balance is the key to the Tigers offense, as four players have scored at least10 touchdowns, a first-ever accomplishment at Missouri (Josey, 14; sophomoreWR Dorial Green-Beckham, 12; senior WR L'Damian Washington, 10; junior TBMarcus Murphy, 10).
Defensively, Mizzou boasts a national-best streak of 43 consecutive games witha takeaway, which junior defensive end Kony Ealy kept alive with one of twoforced fumbles in the SEC Championship Game. The last time the Tigers failedto record at least one takeaway in a game was Oct. 30, 2010 at Nebraska. Theheadliner 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 tacklesfor loss. On Dec. 9, he was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, thesecond Tiger ever to win conference defensive player of the year honors.