Big 12: Missouri Tigers

College football is a game driven by offense, seemingly as much as it ever has been. And yet, in our review of the best Power 5 coordinator hires in this cycle, eight of the top 10 coaches in new places are defensive coordinators.

Maybe that's because when offensive coordinators move, they become head coaches? Or maybe it's because the balance of the sport could eventually swing back toward defense? Or both?

videoThe national signing day ceremonies have concluded, the ink has dried and the fax machines have been turned off. The Class of 2015 is mostly in the books. As is the case annually, there were a number of winners -- and a couple of losers -- on national signing day. Here is a look at the schools that excelled and the schools that had a rough day.

SCHOOLS THAT FARED WELL

UCLA: The Bruins began the day at No. 17 in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings, but they quickly moved up to No. 11 with a run of ESPN 300 commitments. No. 111 prospect Chris Clark, a tight end, got the day started and was followed by RB Soso Jamabo (No. 28), OG Joshua Wariboko (No. 105) and OLB Roquan Smith (No. 29). The day got even better in the early afternoon when No. 130 recruit Cordell Broadus, a wide receiver, picked the Bruins over Arizona State. All five of the recruits who committed to UCLA on Wednesday are from different states.

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After winning several high profile recruiting battles under Gary Pinkel, Missouri fans have learned some of the tricks to help an elite prospect like Terry Beckner Jr. feel at home on an official visit.


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Let’s say you’re a hot, up-and-coming head coach in a Group of 5 league. You have job opportunities in every one of the Power 5 conferences. If you’re picking solely based on title path -- the fastest way to the College Football Playoff -- which conference do you choose?

Here's my ranking of every division in the major conferences, going from the most ideal to join as a new coach to the most difficult. Easiest to hardest. (I’m counting the Big 12 as one 10-team division. It’s a reasonable way to view it since, as with the divisions in the other four leagues, everyone plays everyone.)

1. Big Ten West

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This week, we begin the second round of the Big 12 BCS-era 16-team playoff.

But before we get to the second round, here’s a review of the results so far:

SportsNation

Which team should advance to the third round?

  •  
    78%
  •  
    22%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,152)

Play in games

16: 2007 Missouri over 2007 Kansas (55 percent)

15: 2012 Kansas State over 2013 Baylor (50 percent)

14: 2001 Nebraska over 2001 Colorado (61 percent)

First round

(16) 2007 Missouri over (1) 2005 Texas (53 percent)

(9) 2003 Oklahoma over (8) 2011 Oklahoma State (58 percent)

(4) 2008 Oklahoma over (13) 2007 West Virginia (54 percent)

(12) 2010 TCU over (5) 2008 Texas (60 percent)

(14) 2001 Nebraska over (3) 2009 Texas (58 percent)

(6) 2004 Oklahoma over (11) 2008 Texas Tech (66 percent)

(7) 1999 Nebraska over (10) 1998 Kansas State (67 percent)

(2) 2000 Oklahoma over (15) 2012 Kansas State (68 percent)

Second round schedule

Monday: (9) 2003 Oklahoma vs. (16) 2007 Missouri

Tuesday: (4) 2008 Oklahoma vs. (12) 2010 TCU

Wednesday: (6) 2004 Oklahoma vs. (14) 2001 Nebraska

Thursday: (7) 1999 Nebraska vs. (2) 2000 Oklahoma

Now, to today’s matchup between the '03 Sooners and the '07 Tigers, who, thanks to the state of Ohio, will be wearing an asterisk patch on their jerseys for the rest of this tournament:

(9) 2003 OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Record: 12-2

Final ranking: No. 3

Top player: QB Jason White

Consensus All-America: White, DT Tommie Harris, LB Teddy Lehman, CB Derrick Strait, KR Antonio Perkins

First-Team All-Big 12: White, Harris, Lehman, Strait, Perkins, WR Mark Clayton, OT Jammal Brown, C Vince Carter, DE Dan Cody, DT Dusty Dvoracek

Second-Team All-Big 12: S Brodney Pool

Best wins: at Alabama (20-13); No. 5 Texas (65-13); No. 22 Oklahoma State (52-9)

Losses: No. 10 Kansas State (35-7, Big 12 championship); No. 2 LSU (21-14, national championship)

(16) 2007 MISSOURI TIGERS

Record: 12-2

Final ranking: No. 4

Top player: QB Chase Daniel

Consensus All-America: WR Jeremy Maclin, TE Martin Rucker

First-Team All-Big 12: Daniel, Maclin, C Adam Spieker, DT Lorenzo Williams

Second-Team All-Big 12: Rucker, DE Stryker Sulak, LB Sean Weatherspoon, CB Cornelius Brown, S William Moore

Best wins: No. 25 Nebraska (41-6); No. 22 Texas Tech (41-10); No. 2 Kansas (36-28); No. 25 Arkansas (38-7, Cotton Bowl)

Losses: at No. 6 Oklahoma (41-31); No. 9 Oklahoma (38-17, Big 12 championship)

***

Who should advance: Not Missouri. The ’07 Tigers already advanced through the favorite of the tournament -- top-seed ’05 Texas -- through questionable means. For that reason alone, their run should stop here.

But another reason, the ’03 Sooners had an equally dynamic passing attack, plus a better offensive line and a much better defense that featured the fearsome trio of Harris, Dvoracek and Cody, who led Oklahoma with 10 sacks.

Even though both teams got clobbered in the Big 12 Championship, only the Sooners still played for the national title because of their body of work during the regular season.

Playoff: Second round glimpse

June, 20, 2014
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The first round of our Big 12 BCS-era 16-team playoff is done. The opening round featured several surprising -- as well as ridiculous, thanks to you voters -- results. You can click here to see all the results so far, and here to see the original bracket.

We’ll pick back up with the second round on Monday with the 16 seed, ‘07 Missouri, taking on ’03 Oklahoma, the 9 seed.

Here are the rest of next week’s matchups:

Tuesday: ’08 Oklahoma (No. 4 seed) vs. ’10 TCU (No. 12 seed)

Wednesday: ’04 Oklahoma (No. 6 seed) vs. ’01 Nebraska (No. 14 seed)

Thursday: ’99 Nebraska (No. 7 seed) vs. ’00 Oklahoma (No. 2 seed)
Texas and Texas A&M might not be playing one another anytime soon.

But other schools around the league are interested in the prospects of rekindling rivalries that were destroyed by two rounds of conference realignment.

While the Longhorns and Aggies remain at odds, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told ESPN.com this week he’s optimistic that he’ll be able to get Texas A&M on the Red Raiders’ schedule down the line again. Hocutt said there has been interest from Texas A&M’s side, as well.

“Hopefully that’s a series that at some point in time that could start again,” Hocutt said. “Is that a game that won’t happen again? No. We’ve had discussions about it. Hopefully we can reengage that in the coming years.”

Oklahoma and Nebraska already have an agreement in place to play a home-and-home in 2021-22. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has reportedly said he thinks his school will play Kansas again someday.

And West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who has already added Penn State and Virginia Tech to future schedules, told ESPN.com he's hopeful he'll be able to revive the “Backyard Brawl” with Pitt at some point, as well.

“At some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule,” Luck said. “What I’m trying to do with our nonconference games is stay as regional as possible and rekindle some of our historical rivalries. Penn State is back on the schedule. Virginia Tech is back on the schedule. That game meant a lot to southern West Virginians. The Pitt game meant a lot to northern West Virginians. We’ve continued to play Pitt in many of the sports.

“We’ve both gone through transitions, so it’s tough schedule-wise for both of us. But I think at some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule. I see [Pitt athletic director] Steve Pederson every now and then at various conventions. And we’ve had some discussions about that. We just haven’t been able to really eyeball the proper time to get it going again.”

AT&T Cotton Bowl: Three thoughts

January, 4, 2014
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Oklahoma State fought back but came up short against No. 8 Missouri in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, losing 41-31 at AT&T Stadium to finish the season 10-3. Three takeaways from what we learned about the Cowboys:

1. What a shootout: It's hard to believe a sluggish game through three quarters, with Missouri leading 17-14, ended like this. These two offenses combined for 41 points in the final quarter, and the Cowboys had a legitimate chance to win until Clint Chelf's last-minute fumble was scooped up by Shane Ray and returned 73 yards for a touchdown. The Chelf-led Pokes offense finally got rolling late in the third and took it to Missouri but couldn’t pull out the win.

2. No time for balance: Falling behind for nearly the entirety of the second and third quarters forced OSU to move away from a more balanced attack. Its run game didn’t make much of a dent, with 80 yards on the ground through three quarters, and that meant extra pressure on Chelf’s shoulders in the form of a career-high 57 passes attempts. While Chelf did rush for 60 yards in the fourth, he needed more help from his backs on Friday against a tough Missouri defense.

3. Reload or rebuild? Oklahoma State entered 2013 as the prohibitive favorite to win the Big 12, and with good reason. This was a senior-loaded team with a ton of experience coming back. Now those veterans are on the way out -- six senior starters on offense, seven on defense -- and you have to wonder what’s next for Mike Gundy’s program. The Cowboys have depth and recruit well, so maybe the drop-off won’t be as considerable as it looks on paper. Regardless, they’ll need plenty of guys to fill some big shoes this offseason.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Missouri players sat and watched the Allstate Sugar Bowl with the bewildered feeling the rest of the nation was experiencing. Oklahoma was imposing its will on SEC power Alabama in the heart of SEC country, going from underdog to the talk of the nation on Thursday night.

“It was crazy, it came down to what team wanted it most,” Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham said of the Sooners' 45-31 win. “You looked at Oklahoma and they wanted to win the game, they wanted to be Sugar Bowl champs, they went out and took what was theirs.”

Thus, Missouri players woke up on Friday morning with the knowledge that the weight of an entire conference was on their shoulders. Missouri needed to grab immediate revenge with a victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl if it wanted to defend its conference’s reputation.

The SEC took a punch from the Big 12 in the Sugar Bowl, but the Tigers punched back Friday night with a 41-31 win over Big 12 foe Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium.

[+] EnlargeHenry Josey, Blake Webb
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMissouri might be new to the SEC, but the Tigers understood the importance of beating Oklahoma State and keeping the conference's rep.
“I did feel a tad bit of pressure, because I know we represent the SEC,” senior receiver L'Damian Washington said. “I think [OSU cornerback] Justin Gilbert made a statement earlier this week that the Big 12 was better than the SEC and I think we had to go out and prove the SEC is a force to be reckoned with.”

The Tigers used a combination of a relentless pass-rushing defensive line, strong running game and timely plays to earn their school record-tying 12th victory of the season, equaling the win total of the 2007 team.

Led by Cotton Bowl offensive MVP Henry Josey, Missouri rushed for 256 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry against a Cowboys’ defense that allowed 132.9 rushing yards and 3.46 per carry during the regular season. OSU quarterback Clint Chelf will have nightmares featuring Tigers pass-rushing duo Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Missouri got to Chelf for three sacks, but the Cowboys quarterback was constantly flushed out of the pocket and forced to make plays on the move thanks to the Tigers defensive line, which cemented the win when Sam forced a Chelf fumble that was returned 73 yards for a touchdown by Shane Ray to halt OSU’s hopes of a game-winning touchdown in the final minutes.

“First-team All-American makes an All-American play,” Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said.

SEC teams rejoiced as the conference escaped back-to-back losses to Big 12 opponents.

“We believe we’re the best conference,” said Andrew Wilson, who finished with a game-high 15 tackles. “And if you want to be the best conference you have to prove it, that’s why everyone is rooting for each other in these bowl games for everyone to go out and do what they can do.”

Make no mistake, the Tigers wanted the win for themselves, but they also wanted it for their conference.

“That’s something real big, representing the SEC,” Josey said. “The SEC is such a powerful conference, that’s the conference everybody looks to, that’s where the attention is. Coming into this game, that was in the back of our mind, that is always in the back of our mind that we had to hold up the rep for the SEC.”

Now, with its job done, Missouri passes the mantle to Auburn, which has the opportunity to win the eighth consecutive BCS title for the SEC when it takes on Florida State in the BCS National Championship on Monday night.

“Right now it’s up to Auburn to bring it home,” Ealy said. “We want to keep it in the SEC, that’s the most important thing as far as this conference goes.”

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Missouri sent a message for the SEC with a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl on Friday Night at AT&T Stadium. Here’s how it happened.

It was over when: Missouri defensive lineman Shane Ray returned a fumble 73 yards for a touchdown. Oklahoma State was driving to try to take the lead or tie the game in the final minutes when Missouri’s Michael Sam stripped OSU quarterback Clint Chelf of the ball, which Ray picked up for the scoop and score.

How the game was won: After Oklahoma State drove down to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, Missouri responded on its next drive to score the game-winning points. James Franklin led the Tigers down the field to jump right back on top after running back Henry Josey's 16-yard touchdown run made the score 34-31 with 3:08 remaining. Josey’s touchdown capped off a 7-play, 69-yard drive and gave the Tigers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Turning point: Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham made a key 27-yard catch on the Tigers' final drive on 3rd-and-9 from the OSU 43-yard line. Green-Beckham used his size and ball skills to outfight OSU’s Tyler Patmon for the key third down conversion. Josey rumbled 16 yards for the game-deciding touchdown on the next play.

Stat of the game: 256. Mizzou ran for 256 yards on the Cowboys, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Josey was shifty and solid while backup quarterback Maty Mauk was explosive with three carries for 73 yards in spot duty. OSU simply didn’t have an answer for Missouri’s running game, particularly when it needed one in the fourth quarter.

Player of the game: Josey. He didn’t have outstanding numbers, but his quickness and cutback ability gave OSU’s defense fits. He finished with 12 carries for 92 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

What it means for Oklahoma State: The Cowboys end the season with back-to-back disappointing losses after falling to the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl and losing to Oklahoma in their regular-season finale. OSU heads into the offseason with very little momentum and looking to replace several starters while opening the 2014 season with Florida State.

What it means for Missouri: The Tigers rebounded well from their SEC championship loss to Auburn. Missouri finishes 12-2 with the Cotton Bowl victory and will head into 2014 with plenty of confidence and momentum.
Oklahoma State can make up for losing out on a Big 12 title with a marquee win over a former conference foe Friday, when the No. 13 Cowboys meet No. 8 Missouri in the AT&T Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Three things the Pokes much do to pick up the 11th win:

1. Attack Missouri’s run defense: You saw what Tre Mason did to this defense last month, right? The Auburn back became a Heisman finalist thanks to his domination of this Mizzou front (46 carries, 304 yards, 4 TDs). OSU can have similar success but will need contributions from several backs, including Desmond Roland, Jeremy Smith and maybe even Kye Staley. And don’t forget Clint Chelf, who’s capable of breaking big runs off the zone read. The Pokes need all hands on deck to get their run game going and attack a defense that, prior to the SEC title game, was holding teams to 119 rush yards per game.

2. Protect Chelf: Nobody needs a month of preparation to know that Missouri’s Michael Sam and the rest of the Tigers' defensive line are a disruptive, problematic unit. Missouri ranked among the top 15 nationally in sacks with 38 this season and is more than capable of getting to Oklahoma State’s senior quarterback. His offensive line must protect their passer and preserve their tempo against what should be a great challenge.

3. Get those pistols firing: The best we’ve seen Oklahoma State this season was when Baylor came to Stillwater on Nov. 23. The Cowboys came out firing, attacking the Bears’ defense like nobody had before and stifling Bryce Petty. The momentum built and a 14-3 halftime lead quickly became 35-3. Mike Gundy broke out a few trick plays, but the rest was no fluke. Oklahoma State needs to be the aggressor and regain that confidence tonight.
In case you didn't know, Friday's AT&T Cotton Bowl matchup between No. 8 Missouri (11-2, 7-1 SEC) and 13th-ranked Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) is a bit of a reunion.

Oklahoma State, proud members of the Big 12, will meet their old brothers who jumped ship for the SEC in 2012.

While a big deal has been made of Friday's meeting and its backstory, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam isn't moved by it. He's actually bored of it.

"I don't really care," Sam said. "We used to be in the Big 12; we're not any more. I think the media is blowing it way out of proportion. I could care less."

Sam might be on to something, but it is pretty cool when you think about the last two Cotton Bowls. This year, it's Mizzou-Oklahoma State. Last year, it was Texas A&M-Oklahoma.

Rematches of games that once had conference stakes on the line now feature bragging rights and even traitor talk in some circles. There are even whispers in Big 12 country that the Tigers ran away from their old league.

So while Sam might not care about the old Big 12 matchup, it does create an interesting storyline, and he'd be crazy to think that no one else in this game isn't intrigued by that aspect of the game.

"It is just a great opportunity to play a great Missouri team; they were in the Big 12, so it is a little rivalry there," Oklahoma State wide receiver Charlie Moore said. "You always want to play the best and always fun to play the SEC. It is going to be a good game no matter what conference they are in and it is fun to be in the Cotton Bowl."

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisMichael Sam is tired of the Missouri vs. Big 12 storyline, but is eager to show the Tigers defense is better than it showed against Auburn.
And, like the Big 12 that Mizzou was used to, this one has the makings of being an old-fashioned shootout in the heart of Texas.

A year removed from an injury-plagued first season in the SEC, the Tigers bit back with one of the SEC's most potent offenses. Mizzou finished the regular season ranking in the top five in the league in passing offense, rushing offense, total offense and scoring. The Tigers went from averaging 356.4 yards a game and 25.8 points in 2012 to 492.9 yards and 39 points in 2013.

The Tigers also went from missing a bowl game to winning the SEC Eastern Division, beating Florida and Georgia and ranking as high as fifth in the BCS standings along the way. If they had beaten Auburn in the SEC championship game, these Tigers would be out in sunny California for the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

On the other side, the Cowboys are averaging 440.5 yards per game with an offense that features some "Air Raid," three-back and pistol. They'll throw in some zone-read just to make things interesting.

Sam said he's excited about facing Oklahoma State's passing game, which averages 268.5 yards per game. The Tigers ranked 13th in the SEC in pass defense (256 yards per game), but Sam made it clear that this defense hasn't had an issue defending the pass all season.

"We've never struggled stopping the pass," Sam said confidently. "We want to stop the run so they can be forced to pass. We hope they pass all night, to be honest with you."

Mizzou has 18 interceptions and has given up 16 passing touchdowns. But in games away from Faurot Field, the Tigers gave up 270.7 passing yards per game and quarterbacks enjoyed a combined efficiency rating of 129.3.

Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf has thrown for 200 or more yards in four of his past five games and has 11 touchdowns to four interceptions.

"It definitely takes you back, so I am excited to see the ball in the air a little bit more than the SEC does," cornerback E.J. Gaines said.

Regardless of how the Cowboys approach their offensive plan, this is a chance for Mizzou to show the country that its defense is still worthy of being called a solid unit. Before surrounding 677 yards to Auburn (545 rushing), Missouri held opponents to fewer than 400 yards in five of the previous six games. After being gashed by Auburn, the perception is that the Tigers aren't as steady on defense as they once appeared.

"We've been a great defense all season," Sam said. "We had one bad game and I don't think that should define our season."

What will help define this season is the outcome of tonight's game. A victory would serve as more validation that the new kids deserve their seat at the SEC's big-kid table.

"The win would just prove that we belong in the SEC and we should be respected by everyone in that conference," Sam said. "... I think we earned a lot of respect from our conference, [and a victory would] show we belong where we are and we are one of the best in the country.”

AT&T Cotton Bowl preview

January, 3, 2014
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Oklahoma State will want to strike another blow for the Big 12, Missouri will want to defend the SEC’s reputation. It should be a good one.

OSU and Missouri battle in the AT&T Cotton Bowl (7:30 pm ET, FOX) on Friday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Here’s a preview of one of the most evenly matched games of this bowl season.

Who to Watch: Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Look out Clint Chelf, Sam is coming for you and he’s been a terror for opposing offenses throughout the year. He led the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. The senior brings a combination of acceleration and athleticism to the table that is very difficult for offenses to stop. If OSU has any hope to win, it can’t let Sam spend his holiday season in the backfield in hot pursuit of Chelf, the Cowboys quarterback, and OSU's running backs.

What to Watch: The interior lines. Missouri has a strong group in the trenches, and OSU’s success has mirrored its ability to control the line of scrimmage. Whoever wins the battle of the big fellas will probably win the game. Both teams have very talented skill players, like OSU receiver Josh Stewart and Missouri running back Henry Josey, who can make plays if given the chance. How do you take those explosive players out of the equation? Win the battle up front.

Why to Watch: The matchup between OSU cornerback Justin Gilbert and Mizzou receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is one reason. The battle between former Big 12 foes is another. These two teams know each other better than the normal bowl matchup, and the Cowboys will be looking to strike another blow for the Big 12 after Oklahoma’s Sugar Bowl win, while the Tigers will be looking to redeem the SEC. The Sooners’ win over Alabama could very well ramp up the intensity in this one.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 35, Missouri 34. The Cowboys prevail in one of the best games of the bowl season. Neither team dominates in the trenches, so this one is decided by turnovers and key plays on special teams. A late turnover by the Tigers helps OSU score a late touchdown to snatch the victory out of the hands of their former conference rival.

Gilbert vs. DGB is must-see TV

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Their collegiate careers have taken similar paths.

They stepped on campus as raw athletes with unique talent, they flashed that ability as true freshmen and they began to turn their potential into production as sophomores.

[+] EnlargeJustin Gilbert
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIAfter a down season in 2012, Justin Gilbert was a Thorpe finalist this season.
Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham are two of college football’s toughest individual matchups. And they’ll battle each other on Friday in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

Gilbert, a senior, is projected to be a first round NFL draft pick after a stellar final season for the Cowboys. Green-Beckham, a sophomore, will play on Sundays someday and ranks No. 6 on ESPN.com’s list of top 25 non-eligible NFL prospects ($) in college football.

The Cotton Bowl provides Gilbert one last opportunity against an NFL-level talent in Green-Beckham after a disappointing junior year. He was a star as a sophomore and looked like a guy who would be NFL-bound when he initially arrived at OSU but the struggles in 2012 led to his return for his final season.

“I felt I owed this team a lot more than I gave them last year,” Gilbert said. “During the season last year Coach [Mike] Gundy brought me in and had a little talk about the production I wasn’t having and how they expected more out of me and they knew what I could do.”

Gilbert took those words to heart, becoming one of the nation’s best cornerbacks and a finalist for the Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation’s top defensive back. Gilbert’s stellar play has made OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer’s job easier during his first year running the Cowboys’ defense. For opposing receivers, Gilbert has been like the fly you can’t get rid, keeps showing up at the most inopportune times and making life much more unpleasant than it should be.

“I’ve asked him to do some more difficult things this year than I have in the past, played more aggressive out there on the corner, some stuff schematically we’ve never done here at Oklahoma State before,” Spencer said. “I would not have been able to do those things if it wasn’t for [Gilbert].”

Now Gilbert faces one of his most difficult tests in his final college game. Green-Beckham, also known as DGB, was the No. 3 player in the ESPN 300 for the Class of 2012. At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, DGB combines the size of a tight end with the speed and athleticism of a man half his size. In the SEC title game against Auburn, Green-Beckham had six receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns. He gave SEC defensive coordinators nightmares with 55 receptions for 830 yards and 12 touchdowns this year, taking a clear step forward during his second collegiate season.

“It’s just being comfortable really,” he said of his improvement. “Looking at last year’s season [I had] that freshman mind, but this year I felt like I came out here and used last year as more of an experience to come out here and play a lot harder.”

Fortunately for the Cowboys, Gilbert seems to rise to the occasion against the best. He battled NFL top-10 pick Justin Blackmon in practice during his first two years in Stillwater and won his share of those one-on-one battles. As a sophomore, he had picks against future NFL starting quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck.

If the Cowboys hope to knock off the Tigers, Gilbert will have to play a major role in slowing DGB and the Missouri passing game.

“Justin has gotten the national accolades and well-deserved,” Spencer said. “He’s in a [high] profile position, is going to get tested many times during the bowl game.”

AT&T Cotton Bowl

December, 8, 2013
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Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2) vs. Missouri Tigers (11-2)

Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET, Arlington, Texas (FOX)


OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS BREAKDOWN
Oklahoma State was one game away from its second Big 12 title and BCS bowl berth in three years. Problem for the Cowboys, that one game was the one they seemingly never can win.

The Cowboys will head to the AT&T Cotton Bowl with a sour taste after losing to Oklahoma for the 10th time in 11 years, spoiling what otherwise was a strong regular season.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesOklahoma State's offensive effectiveness tends to depend on how quarterback Clint Chelf is playing.
Oklahoma State, which has already totaled double-digit wins for the third time in four seasons, hammered Big 12 champ Baylor by 32 points, a week after rolling Texas by 25 on the road.

The Cowboys boast the best defense they've had under coach Mike Gundy. They lead the Big 12 in scoring defense, turnovers forced, red zone efficiency and several “Next Level” stats such as points allowed per drive. The defense is also deep and experienced, with seven senior starters and a standout at every level: Calvin Barnett at tackle, Caleb Lavey at linebacker and Justin Gilbert at cornerback.

On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys aren't quite as explosive offensively as they've been in the past, but they can still put up points. Desmond Roland is a tough, one-cut running back, and the receiving corps is deep and talented, headlined by versatile playmaker Josh Stewart.

The offense, however, is usually only as good as quarterback Clint Chelf is. Chelf had the highest QBR of any signal-caller in the month of November, and as a result, Oklahoma State smoked Texas Tech, Texas and Baylor.

But in the cold of Bedlam, he struggled with his accuracy for most of the game, and in turn, the offense bogged down, which allowed the underdog Sooners to hang around. -- Jake Trotter

vs.

MISSOURI TIGERS BREAKDOWN
Give Gary Pinkel his due. Missouri’s veteran coach never pushed the panic button after the Tigers’ SEC debut a year ago produced a disappointing 5-7 season. His message all offseason was the same. Pinkel was confident Missouri would be better in Year No. 2, and he wasn't blindsided by anything the Tigers faced in their first season in the SEC.

[+] EnlargeDorial Green-Beckham
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsDorial Green-Beckham leads a sizable group of Missouri receivers who are major threats in the red zone.
He obviously knew what he was talking about because Missouri bounced back in a big way by winning 11 games and earning a trip to the SEC championship game. The Tigers enter the postseason on a bit of a downer after losing 59-42 on Saturday to Auburn in the SEC championship game. Missouri had no answers for Auburn’s running game and was shredded for 545 yards on the ground, but that was the exception this season.

The Tigers entered that game ranked second in the SEC against the run and hadn't given up more than 21 points in regulation in their last six games.

Whereas Missouri was decimated by injuries a year ago, the Tigers stayed relatively healthy this season. The notable exception was at quarterback. Senior James Franklin separated his shoulder against Georgia in the sixth game and missed most of the next four games. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk stepped in and helped keep the Tigers in the SEC East race, and then Franklin returned against Ole Miss in the next-to-last regular-season game to finish the deal.

Franklin should be as healthy as he’s been since injuring his shoulder in the bowl game. Despite missing parts of five games, Franklin still passed for 2,255 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed for 474 yards and four touchdowns. The Tigers scored more than 30 points in 10 of their 13 games and were one of the most balanced offensive teams in the SEC.

Senior running back Henry Josey rushed for 1,074 yards and 13 touchdowns and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. Three different receivers had more than 45 catches, with Dorial Green-Beckham and L'Damian Washington each surpassing 800 receiving yards. Green-Beckham, the No. 1 high school prospect in the country two years ago, caught 12 touchdown passes and Washington caught 10.

The Missouri receivers all pose difficult matchups for opposing defenses because of their size and athleticism. Green-Beckham is 6-foot-6 and Washington 6-4, and they both are excellent at going up and wrestling defensive backs for jump balls. -- Chris Low

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