Big 12: Cotton Bowl first take
Jan. 2, 2 p.m. (FOX)
Mike Gundy’s team had hopes of making its first BCS at-large appearance before a stunning 27-0 loss to Oklahoma to finish the season. They could be facing more of the same against a talented Mississippi defense that ranked in the top 25 in pass efficiency defense, total defense, scoring defense, sacks and tackles for loss. The Rebels whipped Texas Tech at the point of attack last season in the Cotton Bowl and will be looking for more of the same against the Cowboys. But they will be facing a different challenge from a run-heavy Oklahoma State offense keyed by All-American offensive tackle Russell Okung, bullish running back Keith Toston (1,177 rushing yards) and 2008 Big 12 rushing leader Kendall Hunter, who will have another month to get over his early-season injuries.
Bill Young has done a nice job retooling Oklahoma State's defense, which ranked sixth nationally in rush defense and will be tested by leading Mississippi running back Dexter McCluster (985 yards). The key for the game could well be which team gets the best play from quarterbacks who struggled late in the season. Oklahoma State’s Zac Robinson was hobbled with injuries and Mississippi's Jevan Snead threw three interceptions in a season-ending loss at Mississippi State. These teams have met once before when Mississippi escaped with a 31-28 victory over the Cowboys in the 2004 Cotton Bowl.
Two of the biggest surprise teams in college football will square off in a battle of homecomings for their top players. That will boost interest in what promises to be a sentimental matchup as the bowl plays its final game at its historic Cotton Bowl location before moving to the Dallas Cowboys' stadium next season.
Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell will play close to his Ennis home in his final college game. And it could be the final game for 2007 Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree, who grew up in Dallas and is strongly considering declaring for the NFL draft.
Those homecomings aren't just for the Red Raiders. Jevan Snead returns to Texas after leaving the state to play for the Rebels, who he directed to unexpected success this season capped by an upset triumph at Florida. Snead played high-school football in nearby Stephenville and even had a turn with the Texas Longhorns before transferring when he couldn't beat out Colt McCoy for the Longhorns' starting job.
Texas Tech's potent passing offense will be tested by an underrated Mississippi defense that ranked 15th nationally in total defense. The Rebels are solid offensively, mirroring the Red Raiders' defense with steady production.
The Red Raiders' hopes of finishing off the winningest season in school history could depend on a big finish from Crabtree and Harrell. And playing close to home could give them the inspiration to do just that.
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET 4 Oklahoma Tulsa 12:00 PM ET 20 Kansas State Iowa State 3:30 PM ET Missouri State Oklahoma State 7:00 PM ET Southeast Missouri State Kansas 7:30 PM ET BYU Texas 7:30 PM ET Towson West Virginia 7:30 PM ET Northwestern State 10 Baylor 11:00 PM ET Texas Tech UTEP