Cotton Bowl: Key Matchups and Prediction

It's old home week in Arlington, Texas at Jerry Jones's world famous football palace as the Oklahoma State Cowboys renew one of the more competitive rivalries from the past with the now high and mighty Missouri Tigers of the SEC. The Tigers lead the series 28-23, but there have been a number of close games including multiple overtime contests.

You'd think these Tigers had changed their stripes. Heck, the Tigers players even said on media day that a football player changes with his mindset and physically when he has to step up and meet the demands of playing in the SEC.

If that were the case then there were several seasons in the old Big Eight and the Big 12 that the Mizzou players should have slipped into a phone booth and changed identities. If so, the Tigers might have won a conference championship or even better a shot at a national championship.

Missouri is good, but they are not too good to get beat by one of the more talented teams out of their old neighborhood. That old question of who is motivated and which team might be suffering a lingering hangover from their season-ending experience comes into play. Honestly, I think both teams have recovered from their slips.

Oklahoma State would have likely been in Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl, and maybe they wouldn't have fallen into a trap against Central Florida like Baylor did. The Cowboys hurt badly after the Bedlam loss to Oklahoma but head coach Mike Gundy, who has a good read on his team, is convinced that they are ready and have been after the first few days of bowl practices back in Stillwater.

Missouri lost to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game or the Tigers could be playing next week in Pasadena against Florida State for the national championship. However, checking out the Tigers this week they seem to be fine and excited about playing.

Both teams have some offensive firepower and both have several areas defensively that they can hang their hat on. It should be in the eyes of all observers, including head coaches Mike Gundy and Gary Pinkel, a very exciting game.

Key Matchups: OSU vs. MU
1. OSU cornerbacks Justin Gilbert, Kevin Peterson and Tyler Patmon
vs. Missouri wide receivers Dorial Green-Beckham and L'Damian Washington
This will be fun as two big receivers like DGB (55 receptions for 830 yards and 12 TDs) and Washington (47, 853, 10) go up against Gilbert, a Jim Thorpe finalist, Peterson, one of the best young corners in the Big 12, and Patmon, the senior transfer from Kansas who has stepped in and played really well all year. Those three corners combined for nine interceptions.

The Cowboys corners have it down, how to play and gain position to play the ball against taller receivers like the 6-6 DGB and the 6-4 Washington. This will be worth the price of admission and a matchup that could go a long way to deciding the game. The best part about it is that Missouri has not seen corners this good all season and Oklahoma State hasn't seen a pair of big outside receivers this good all season. Something has to give.
Advantage: Slight edge to OSU cornerbacks Gilbert, Peterson, and Patmon or Absolute Even

2. OSU defensive tackle Calvin Barnett
vs. Missouri center Evan Boehm
It's force versus force in this one as Barnett plays his final game at Oklahoma State. He has become as effective a defensive tackle as the Cowboys have seen in recent years. He understands the defense and how his role of influencing and eating up opposing blockers may not allow him to make the play but it allows the defense to make the play. Barnett is a people mover as he can even take a double team and push it into the backfield.

Boehm is a true sophomore who started 12 games as a freshman at left guard and all 13 games this season at center. He has started every game since he arrived at Mizzou and that is very rare for an offensive linemen. He has good feet and can really move, yet he is thick and powerful. Barnett is very strong and athletic. This will be an awesome battle and the experience may be the key to the winner.
Advantage: Edge to OSU's Barnett

3. OSU running back Desmond Roland and quarterback Clint Chelf
vs. Missouri linebackers Andrew Wilson, Kentrell Brothers and Donovan Bonner
This matchup is all about who is going to own the middle of the field when Oklahoma State is on offense. The turf war here involves others on the offensive line for Oklahoma State and the interior defensive line for Missouri.

However, in the end it is whether Roland and maybe senior running back along with Chelf can break tackles at the second level and make Missouri pay for a heavy pass rush. The advantage for Oklahoma State is that Roland and Smith are downhill runners and Chelf is a quarterback that prefers to launch his run up the middle rather than the perimeter.

Wilson, Brothers and Bonner are three of the top six tacklers on the Missouri defense, and Wilson has 98 tackles on the season. Watching video though, the Tigers do miss a few more tackles than they should and that is encouraging. I really think this matchup is the most critical for the Cowboys success in the game.
Advantage: Too Close to Call

Cotton Bowl Prediction
The way I have this figured out, Missouri will drive and score six times with an even mix of three touchdowns and three field goals. I think Oklahoma State will score six times -- an extra touchdown for four and a pair of field goals to add up to 34 points. That one more touchdown by OSU might be a kickoff return by Justin Gilbert or a punt return by Josh Stewart. Or, it could be a defensive score, something that has happened often this season.

I just think that the OSU defense and its red-zone proficiency will be working on Friday night. I also think the Cowboys collect a bonus touchdown outside of offense. I also believe that the winning score will either come in the final minute or the losing team will be knocking on the door and fail in the final minute. In other words, come ready for a heart stopper, and hopefully for Oklahoma State fans it's not a heart breaker.

Oklahoma State 34, Missouri 30

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