Mississippi-Oklahoma State: Cotton Bowl Preview

The SportmeistersAnalyst IDecember 30, 2009

DALLAS - JANUARY 02:  Wide receiver Dexter McCluster #22 of the Mississippi Rebels runs for a touchdown against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the fourth quarter during the AT&T Cotton Bowl on January 2, 2009 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

By Ryan of The Sportmeisters

The NCAA postseason kicks off December 19th with 34 games being played in a three week span. Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their season on the winning side in the hopes of improving recruiting that follows afterward. The Sportmeisters will preview each of the 33 games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!

Cotton Bowl, January 2nd, 2:00 PM, Arlington, TX

Mississippi (8-4) vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State (9-3)

About Mississippi : Ole Miss was the chic pick to make a run at the SEC crown this season. Two big early wins went for naught when they lost two of their next three, both conference games. They went on to win five of their next six before succumbing in the annual Egg Bowl to rival Mississippi State.

The Rebels boast a solid offense, led by their 33rd ranked rushing attack (182.83 yards a game). Senior Dexter McCluster is Mr. All-Everything for Ole Miss, racking up 1488 all purpose yards and ten touchdowns. If he would line up as a WR (which was often), Sophomore RB Brandon Bolden would be in the backfield, and he gained 614 yards and four touchdowns as the backup. Junior QB Jevan Snead had a decent year, throwing for 2464 yards and 20 touchdowns, but his 17 interceptions were a big reason Ole Miss was 105th in turnover margin. His top target is Senior WR Shay Hodge, who caught 63 balls for 1023 yards and eight touchdowns.

The defense is extremely strong, especially against the pass. They held opponents to a mere 179 yards a game (16th in NCAA FBS) and gave up only 18.58 points a game (17th in NCAA FBS). Their ability to get pressure was a big reason for that success. They averaged 2.83 sacks a game (13th in NCAA FBS) and averaged 7.67 tackles for loss a game (10th in NCAA FBS). Senior DE Emmanuel Stephens led the front four with 21 tackles (7.5 for loss) and 5.5 sacks. Senior LB Patrick Trahan was another leader, contributing 64 tackles (10 for loss), four sacks, and an interception. Ole Miss is a good team that just has bad days.

About Oklahoma State : An opening season win over then No. 13 Georgia had Cowboy fans dreaming big. Those dreams were shattered with an upset against Houston. They would reel off five wins in a row to set up a Big 12 South showdown against Texas. The Longhorns got the best of the Cowboys, but they bounced back to win three more in a row. They ended their season on a disappointing note, getting shut out against rival Oklahoma.

The loss of WR Dez Bryant put a damper on the team’s passing ability. They ended up relying heavier on the 24th ranked rushing attack (191.75 yards a game). Senior RB Keith Toston stepped into the starters role when Kendall Hunter went down with an injury, and he played the Lou Gehrig role nicely. Toston rushed for 1177 yards and 11 touchdowns, while adding 256 receiving yards and a touchdown, putting a nice grip on the position. Senior QB Zac Robinson managed as best he could without top WR Bryant, combining for 2262 total yards and 19 touchdowns. The O-line is one of the best in the nation, only giving up .83 sacks a game (fifth in NCAA FBS).

Oklahoma State has one of the best rushing defenses in NCAA this season. Opponents average a mere 87.67 yards against them, which is good for sixth in NCAA FBS. Senior LB Donald Booker leads the team with 86 tackles (eight for loss), five sacks, and a fumble return. Senior LB Patrick Lavine is right behind him with 70 tackles (seven for loss), 2.5 sacks, and five interceptions. They were the two biggest contributors on a defense, giving up 21.75 points a game (35th in NCAA FBS). With the opponent ahead of them, Oklahoma State needs that run defense at the top of its game.

The Matchup : Ole Miss is 20-12 in its bowl history. They have won three in a row, most recently the 2008 Cotton Bowl against Texas Tech, 47-34.

Oklahoma State is 12-7 in bowl games. This is their third straight bowl appearance, losing their most recent matchup against Oregon in the Holiday Bowl, 42-31.

The big matchup is the abilities of McCluster and Bolden against the sixth ranked run defense of Oklahoma State. Ole Miss will run a variety of formations with McCluster, lining him up as a receiver, running back, or even quarterback. This is all in the effort to slow down a defense that will stunt and blitz in order to force Snead into throwing a few more interceptions. McCluster will get his, though, win or lose, so it will be important for Oklahoma State to support that with some offensive firepower.

The best matchup of the day should be the front line of Oklahoma State vs. the defensive line of Ole Miss. Ole Miss can put pressure on and get into the backfield, while Oklahoma State gives up very few sacks a game. RB Kendall Hunter is expected to return, and combined with Toston he offers a two-headed rushing attack. With the pressure Ole Miss will throw, look for some screens or zone rushes to the outside that let Toston and Hunter get some room to run on the outside.

The Prediction : Ole Miss has one of the most amazing playmakers in McCluster, and they ride him to victory 21-17.