Thursday, January 9, 2014

Missouri meets familiar opponent in Cotton Bowl

Below are a few columns I didn't get posted the week I wrote them for the newspapers. I make it a New Year's resolution to get them posted each week this year. 

Some bowl matchups can be less than appealing. Fans surely appreciate one more chance to see their team play, but with a bloated schedule of bowls, sometimes the games are matchups of mediocre teams playing before half-empty stadiums, often rusty after three or four weeks off and sometimes working with an interim head coach.

Fortunately for Missouri, that’s not the case for the Tigers this year. No. 8 Missouri (11-2) has a gem of a bowl game, against No. 13 Oklahoma State (10-2) in the Cotton Bowl. The teams have a long history, plenty of talent will be on the field, and the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium will have a big crowd for the 78th Cotton Bowl (7 p.m. Friday on FOX).

Missouri’s last big bowl game was the 2008 Cotton Bowl, after the memorable 2007 season. It’s another trip to Dallas, but a lot has changed since that season. Missouri has, of course, since moved to the SEC. The Tigers wear different uniforms. The game itself has changed venues, from the old Cotton Bowl stadium on the Texas State Fairgrounds to the Cowboys’ massive stadium, nicknamed “Jerry World” in honor of owner Jerry Jones, who spared no expense in building the football palace.

As a fringe benefit, the only bowl game FOX airs is the Cotton Bowl, so FOX has been airing ads for the game featuring Mizzou to its NFL audiences for weeks.

With 11 wins and an appearance in the SEC title game, this season will be remembered as a success regardless of what happens in Dallas. Still, this is a big game for the Tigers. Losing back-to-back big games to end this season could stunt some of the momentum Missouri had built up.

Also, a win would tie 2007 for the most wins in school history. A win would also give Tiger coach Gary Pinkel 102 wins at Missouri, the most by a coach in program history. Pinkel is currently tied with Don Faurot. (Faurot was old fashioned, racking up all 101 wins with himself in the stadium; Missouri credits a win to Pinkel when he was suspended and watching the Tigers beat Texas Tech from a condo at the Lake of the Ozarks.)

Pinkel is 4-4 in bowl games, and Missouri is 13-16 all-time in bowl games.

Missouri’s 30th bowl game is against an opponent they know well. Missouri and Oklahoma State have played 51 times (Missouri leads the all-time series 28-23), and the two were in the Big Eight and Big 12 together for decades.

On paper, these teams are pretty even. The Cowboys score 39.8 points per game; Missouri is a 39.0. Oklahoma State’s defense holds opponents to an average of 20.0 points per game; Missouri’s defense is at 22.5.

Missouri has more balance on offense, with 256.5 passing yards per game to 236.5 yards rushing. Oklahoma State is a little more passing-based, piloted by senior quarterback Clint Chelf. The ability of Missouri’s defensive line to get pressure on Chelf will be a key subplot in the game. This should be a close one, and a fitting end to the season for these two teams.

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