Cotton Bowl 2014: Keys to Victory for Missouri vs. Oklahoma State

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Cotton Bowl 2014: Keys to Victory for Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
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As far as non-BCS bowl games go, none have the clout of this year's AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, which will feature the No. 8 Missouri Tigers (11-2) and No. 13 Oklahoma State Cowboys on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX) in Dallas.

The Jerry Dome, home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, serves as a fitting venue for this big-time battle between familiar foes.

Mizzou holds a 28-23 lead in the all-time series that dates back to 1915, well before Oklahoma State even joined the Big Eight Conference.

Ninety-nine years later, these two programs will reprise their rivalry with a contest that figures to feature some late drama between evenly matched teams.

Here's a look at the keys for both teams entering Friday's Cotton Bowl.

 

Rebound from Big Disappointments

Missouri jumped ship from the Big 12 to the SEC before the 2012 season, but stumbled to a 5-7 record in its first year in the new conference.

Coach Gary Pinkel has done a masterful job of turning around the program in 2013. The team only has two losses this season, a 27-24 double-overtime defeat to South Carolina and a 59-42 loss to the Auburn Tigers in the SEC Championship Game. 

Missouri rolled into the SEC title game riding a four-game win streak, but Auburn looks like a team of destiny at this point, as Heisman finalist Tre Mason led his team into the BCS National Championship Game.

Mizzou's defense might have been exposed by a potent Auburn attack, but the team had given up just 51 points combined in its previous four victories.

OSU, meanwhile, entered the Bedlam rivalry game against Oklahoma with a chance to win and become Big 12 champion, but surrendered two late touchdowns to lose 33-24. Still, coach Mike Gundy has a well-balanced offensive attack and stout front seven to counter a powerful Missouri squad.

For both teams, it's a bit of a letdown to be held out of a BCS Bowl game, but this game stacks up with the best of this year's college football showcases.

 

Oklahoma State: Protect Clint Chelf

Ever since taking over full-time quarterback duties after J.W. Walsh went down with a season-ending knee injury, OSU's Clint Chelf has kept the offense humming.

In five games without Walsh, Chelf has thrown for 248.6 yards per game with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions while adding 196 rushing yards and five more scores on the ground.

Oklahoma State has a balanced offense within which five players have scored at least five touchdowns. Desmond Roland (745 rushing yards, 12 TDs) and Tracy Moore (44 catches, 638 yards, six TDs) are the team's leading rusher and receiver, respectively, but wideout Josh Stewart is a tough cover as well.

Gina Mizell of The Oklahoman recently spoke to Stewart, who sounds like he is considering declaring early for the 2014 NFL draft:

“It is what it is,” Stewart said at Monday’s Cotton Bowl media day. “Whatever happens, I’ll make the best decision for me and what my future plans are and just pray about it and see what God has planned for me.”

Stewart, a 5-10, 185-pound slot receiver, currently leads the Cowboys with 52 catches for 623 yards and two touchdowns, following a breakout sophomore campaign where he tallied 101 catches for 1,210 yards and seven scores.

No matter who's been under center for the Cowboys, the offensive line has done a great job of keeping them upright, giving up just 11 sacks in 12 contests so far this year. But OSU's big fellas will have their hands full trying to slow down Missouri's menacing pass rush.

Defensive ends Michael Sam (10.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss) and Kony Ealy (7.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss) give Mizzou one of the nation's best bookend tandems on the D-line. Don't forget about third pass-rusher Markus Golden (13 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks).

 

Missouri: Expose OSU Secondary

Missouri quarterback James Franklin has a solid sidekick in running back Henry Josey, who missed the entire 2012 season due to a serious knee injury only to come back with 1,074 yards and 13 touchdowns.

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However, Oklahoma State's run defense (23rd, 132.9 YPG) is much tougher than its pass defense (84th, 245.6 YPG), so Franklin might be better-served trying to pick apart the Cowboys through the air.

Despite missing four games due to injury, Franklin was an efficient quarterback in 2013 (2,255 yards, 19 touchdowns, 5 INTs), while also adding 474 rushing yards and four scores on the ground.

Franklin has plenty of weapons on the perimeter if he wants to air it out.

Dorial Green-Beckham (55 catches, 830 yards, 12 TDs), L'Damian Washington (47 catches, 853 yards, 10 TDs) and Marcus Lucas (55 catches, 646 yards, two TDs) create one of the nation's most electric wide receiver trios.

The 6'6" Green-Beckham is only a sophomore, but appears to have a bright NFL future. As such, look for top OSU cornerback Justin Gilbert to shadow the big wideout in a matchup of two top NFL prospects.

Gilbert has six interceptions and two defensive touchdowns this year, but his skills alone haven't been enough to shore up a porous OSU secondary. Look for Franklin to try and take advantage of his talented receiver trio when these two teams meet in Dallas.

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