AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m., FOX
Oklahoma St. (10-2, 7-2) — The Cowboys bookend their season with games against SEC teams after opening the 2013 campaign at Reliant Stadium in Houston with a win over Miss. St. The Cotton Bowl’s a much tougher matchup based on personnel against the East champion Tigers who are trying to erase the taste of 545 rushing yards and 59 points given up in a conference title game loss to Auburn.
Related: SEC’s complete bowl schedule
THE SKINNY: Oklahoma State’s been a consistent threat in the Top 15 throughout the season, using a balanced offense and multiple quarterbacks to run away from the competition in the Big XII. The Cowboys are averaging 440.5 yards per game with 39.8 points per contest — 15th-best in the country. Had it not been for a regular season finale loss at home to Oklahoma, the Cowboys would’ve been BCS-bound after upsetting previously unbeaten Baylor on Nov. 23. Mizzou’s picked up the pieces since seeing its season spoiled in Atlanta and is 4-2 in this season against ranked teams. Controlling the line of scrimmage, an element the Tigers couldn’t do against Auburn, is necessary to knock Clint Chelf and the Oklahoma State offense out of rhythm.
KEY PLAYER: Quarterback Maty Mauk’s the future for Mizzou, but James Franklin will be in the pocket the majority of the time in his collegiate final appearance. Oklahoma State corner Justin Gilbert was a Jim Thorpe finalist and consensus All-American who will be keeping an eye in the backfield on Franklin. He’s made game-changing plays for the Cowboys defense this season when they’ve needed a stop. Covering Dorial Green-Beckham will be a challenging matchup but the 6-foot, 200-pound ballhawk is talented enough to do it.
WHAT TO WATCH: Mizzou’s defensive front led by Michael Sam and Kony Ealy was its calling card all season before being gashed at the the point of attack its last time out. Oklahoma State’s Pistol-Zone Read isn’t Auburn lethal but it’s produced enough plays in chunks against good teams this season to keep the Tigers at bay. The Cowboys will try and utilize senior tailback Jeremy Smith and junior Desmond Roland early to soften an athletic Tigers secondary down the field. The fifty-four totals points scored last season in Dallas during Texas A&M’s win over Oklahoma will be topped.
FINAL SAY: Both of these teams are strong enough to be playing in BCS bowls, but final weekend losses to Oklahoma and Auburn disrupted at-large berths. Expect a ton of points and big plays from two high-powered offenses and former Big XII rivals. The SEC has won five consecutive Cotton Bowls with the last lost ironically coming at the hands of Mizzou in 2008. The Tigers appear to have the edge again this season, but coach Gary Pinkel isn’t taking Mike Gundy’s unit lightly. The 46-year-old Oklahoma native is said to be one of the coaches Texas is seeking to interview and a win over Mizzou would be the perfect resume builder on a national stage.
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