Saturday, December 7 was a rough day for Oklahoma State and Missouri. The Cowboys lost to rival Oklahoma and lost any shot of a BCS berth in the process. Missouri lost to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game, ending its BCS title hopes.
It's fair to say that both squads would like to erase that taste from their mouths and finish the season on a high note by winning the Cotton Bowl.
But which players will they need to step up to do so? Who will have to win crucial battles to put their team over the top?
Let's break it down.
Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State
The pair was instrumental in leading an Oklahoma State team that allowed just 20 points per game this season, which ranked 12th in the nation.
Lavey led Oklahoma State with 87 tackles and 13 tackles for loss while also adding four interceptions. Lewis chipped in with 68 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three picks.
They'll be tested against a Missouri team led by dual-threat quarterback James Franklin (474 rushing yards, 4 TDs) and running back Henry Josey (1,074 rushing yards, 13 TDs). Missouri's 236.5 rushing yards per game were good for 17th in the nation, so slowing down their running game is a major key.
Given how Lavey and Lewis have played this year, Oklahoma State might just have the antidote.
Dorial Green-Beckham and L'Damian Washington, WR, Missouri
There aren't many, if any, wide receiver combinations better than Green-Beckham and Washington. The pair combined to catch 102 passes for 1,683 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. It'll be called upon to move the sticks against an Oklahoma State defense that has been tough against the run (132.9 yards allowed per game, 22nd in the nation).
Oklahoma State hasn't been nearly as stout against the pass, allowing 245.6 passing yards per game and 15 touchdowns on the season.
While Oklahoma State does have an incredibly talented corner—more on him below—either Green-Beckham or Washington should regularly have a winnable matchup out wide on every play.
If it continuously exposes that advantage, Missouri will be tough to stop.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert will likely be given the tough task of lining up quite frequently against Green-Beckham. The senior is one of the top corners in the country and proved it this season, picking off six passes and returning two for touchdowns.
His combination of size and speed is perfect for his position, and his ability to lock down an opponent's top receiver has been a huge part of Oklahoma State's defense this year.
Not surprisingly, Green-Beckham and Washington had nothing but good things to say about him when speaking with David Ubben of Fox Sports:
Green-Beckham compared Gilbert to Loucheiz Purifoy at Florida and said Gilbert be the best corner he's has faced this season.
"He's so athletic," Missouri receiver L'Damian Washington said. "You beat him on the play, but he's got makeup speed like no other in the country."
Gilbert will spend plenty of time on Green-Beckham, but Washington, who led Mizozu in receiving yards with 853 yards and 10 touchdowns, will see Gilbert line up across from him as well. The Tigers like to move Green-Beckham from the strong and weak sides and play him some as a slot receiver. If that happens, Gilbert is unlikely to move with him, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said.
It's no secret that Missouri will want to throw the ball around in this contest. If Gilbert can take away one side of the field, Oklahoma State's chances of slowing down the Tigers' explosive offense will increase exponentially.