Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Missouri (11-2)
Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
• Reason to watch: Consider this “The Bridesmaid’s BCS” game. Both Missouri and Oklahoma State had chances to win their way into the BCS in the final weekend of the regular season, and both fell just short. The Tigers get to watch Auburn play for the national championship, while the Cowboys get to see Baylor – a team they beat – in the Fiesta Bowl. The Cotton Bowl, one of the premier non-BCS bowls, is the consolation prize for both teams. It’s not as if the Pokes and Mizzou are strangers; they’ve played each other 51 times, with Missouri holding a 28-23 edge. Defensively this game should be a treat. Both the Tigers (No. 18) and Oklahoma State (No. 9) rank in the top 20 in Defensive S&P. The game will be a challenge, however, for two offenses that average more than 39 points per game. Both quarterbacks – Missouri’s James Franklin and the Cowboys' Clint Chelf – can make plays with their legs. The turnover battle should be a big key.
• Keep an eye on: The matchup between Oklahoma State’s secondary and Mizzou's talented receiving corps. Cowboys cornerback Justin Gilbert, who is also an electrifying kick returner, has six interceptions and two defensive touchdowns this season. He’ll be responsible for helping to contain big, physical receivers as Dorial Green-Beckham (55 catches, 830 yards, 12 TD) and L’Damian Wahsington (47 catches, 853 yards, 10 TD).
• Did you know? Tigers running back Henry Josey came back from adevastating knee injury to have a 1,000-yard season in 2013. The junior missed all of last year and had to sit and watch as his team finished 5-7 and missed a bowl in its first go-round in the SEC. I spoke with Josey earlier this season about how hard it was to be unable to help his team:
“You’ve got to find someone else to step up and offer encouragement to everybody that you’re still the same team no matter who goes down … It’s just so hard to watch your team play from the sidelines, but you have to smile and show them you’re working to get back and get better. They have to just keep fighting the whole time.”
Now healthy, Josey, a Texas native, was the leading rusher on a team that ranked 17th in the FBS with 236.5 yards on the ground per game. He has run for 1,074 yards and 13 touchdowns coming, and Missouri will be relying on him to provide some balance against a stout Oklahoma State defensive front. ESPN’s feature on Josey from earlier in the year is worth a watch; he’s one of those players you tend to root for regardless of team allegiance.
• Final analysis: The Auburn game was an anomaly for the Tigers. The 59 points they gave up were more than the total they had allowed in their previous four games combined (51, in wins over Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Tennessee). With players like Michael Sam and Markus Golden on the line against an Oklahoma State offense that wants to score quickly (the Cowboys rank 120th in drives of 10 or more plays), this game could quickly end up looking like a kid smashing his Tonka trucks together until something breaks. These teams are extremely evenly matched, and it should be punch for punch the whole way. While Oklahoma State didn’t get nearly the amount of national respect it deserved after an early-season loss to West Virginia, Missouri has a few more weapons offensively. That should be good for a close win. • The pick: Missouri 31, Oklahoma State 28