COLUMBIA — The Missouri Tigers find themselves in familiar territory this week as the team prepares to face former Big 12 opponent Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic on Friday.
The last time the Tigers were in the Cotton Bowl, the team was coming off another dream season that found the team at No. 1 at one point in 2007. This year, Missouri made noise in its second Southeastern Conference season, making it to the SEC Championship game against Auburn. If the Tigers had won, they might have been playing for a National Championship. Instead, the team returns to the Cotton Bowl for the third time in program history.
This time, however, won't be in the Cotton Bowl stadium. The Tigers will play in the 4-year-old AT&T Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys. With all the stadium's lavish amenities, including one of the largest high-definition video boards that stretches from one 20-yard line to the other, head coach Gary Pinkel chose to have the team practice in the stadium throughout the week to prepare for Friday, writes Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
I mean...it is massive.... pic.twitter.com/fwkVHiGIiy— Gina Mizell (@ginamizell) December 30, 2013
Just like many SEC teams had to plan how to play against Missouri's tall receiving corps, Oklahoma State will have to do the same — starting with the matchup between Dorial Green-Beckham and Oklahoma State Cowboys defensive back Justin Gilbert, writes Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star.
Another intriguing matchup won't be on the field Friday, but between two assistant coaches for the Tigers and Cowboys, writes Palmer. Oklahoma State wide receivers coach Jason Ray was a captain for the Tigers in 2007. Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson used to be on the Oklahoma State coaching staff in the early 2000s.
Missouri running back Henry Josey looks for a hole while receiver Marcus Lucas blocks Texas A&M defensive back Clay Honeycutt on Nov. 30. Josey is one of many players to come from Texas to play for the Tigers. (Quint Smith/Missourian)
In addition to the game itself, the recruiting impact the game will have for the Tigers could be beneficial. When the Tigers played in the Cotton Bowl in 2007, Texas was a key recruiting state for the team. Starting quarterback James Franklin and all three running backs come from Texas.
Now that Missouri is in the SEC, some of the team's recruiting efforts have moved east, proving Texas is no longer the "single most important territory for the Tigers," writes Palmer.
One of those running backs from Texas, Henry Josey, has faced more than just questions about Friday's game. Josey said this week that he's still undecided about whether to stay at Missouri for his senior season, writes Matter.
Josey says he hasn't made any decisions about entering the draft. Also said he promised his grandma he'd graduate— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) December 31, 2013
One of the things that made Missouri so strong this year, and kept the team in the game against Auburn, was the defense's ability to force turnovers, as seen below against Auburn. The Tigers have now forced a turnover in 45 straight games, something the team hopes to do against the Cowboys.
(Video: Mizzou Network)
The Tigers were also frequenly recognized with weekly awards for their play this year, such as defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. However, it was Michael Sam who came away with SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Ealy may not have garnered a postseason award, but he has become one of the team's defensive leaders and future NFL prospect, writes Palmer.
I asked MU's Michael Sam about Ealy & NFL draft. "I wouldn't be surprised if this is Kony's last game." Said he didn't know, just a guess— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) January 1, 2014
Oklahoma State, like Missouri, had a chance to play in an even bigger bowl game. A loss to Oklahoma in the end of the season kept the Cowboys from a Big 12 title and subsequent Fiesta Bowl trip. Missouri's loss to Auburn likely kept the team out of the National Championship picture. Friday's bowl is the "consolation prize" for both teams, writes Martin Rickman of Sports Illustrated.
The Cowboys, from the offense-minded Big 12, will try to "maintain balance" with the offense and take what Missouri gives them, writes Derek Brown of the Stillwater NewsPress.
In addition to Missouri having to corral Oklahoma State's offense, the Tigers will have to keep an eye on returner Josh Stewart, writes Gina Mizell of The Oklahoman.
Missouri made headlines last month with the team's reaction to their bowl gifts. The Tigers hope they'll be celebrating the same way after Friday's game.
Supervising editor is Laura Johnston.