Cotton Bowl 2014: Missouri Tigers 41, Oklahoma St. Cowboys 31: Wins and Losses

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri finished off a stunning comeback campaign with a win against Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl, a victory that showed reasons for optimism and caution about what the Tigers can do next year

It might not be enough to completely quiet down the Big 12 fans -- Oklahoma does get to brag about beating Alabama, after all -- but in its first outing as an SEC team, Missouri delivered what the conference needed, knocking off Oklahoma State in a thrilling game. It was also a game that showed both what the Tigers have to look forward to, and what they might have to replace.

One of the things they can look forward to, or at least one of the things it would seem they can look forward to, is Maty Mauk's role in the offense next season. For all the good he has done at Missouri, there were some times Friday night when James Franklin looked off. He finished the night 15-of-40 passing for 174 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. He ran 16 times for a total of 36 yards. It wasn't an overall terrible performance -- the Tigers won, and Franklin helped them do so -- but there were some less-than-stellar moments.

Enter Mauk, and the real mystery of why he didn't play more in this game. He was 2-of-4 for 32 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 73 yards on three carries. Small sample size, sure, but why Gary Pinkel didn't see if Mauk could do just as well or almost as well with a larger sample size is one of the enduring mysteries of this game. Perhaps it had to do with trying to let his senior quarterback win the game, but some of the too-close-for-comfort moments in the fourth quarter probably warranted giving Mauk more time with the ball. At least Missouri fans know Mauk is there next year. And he'll be able to throw the ball to Dorial Green-Beckham, who made some great catches Friday and seems to be growing into his expected role as a star receiver.

Mizzou can't be as certain about one of the other offensive heroes of the game: Henry Josey. Coming off of an injury that sidelined him for all of last year, Josey has been magnificent this season, and he was again tonight: 12 rushes, 92 yards and three touchdowns -- none bigger than a 16-yarder with about three minutes left in the game shortly after Oklahoma State had taken a 31-27 lead. The way Josey has played this year has been as much evidence as you need about how badly his absence hurt Missouri last year. And there remains a distinct chance he could enter the NFL Draft after this season, opening up a large hole in the Tigers' backfield.

Those answers will come. At its core, the Cotton Bowl win capped off Mizzou's campaign to show that last year was a fluke, and that the Tigers are ready to compete in the SEC and represent it well in the postseason. Next year presents new challenges, but in college football and the SEC specifically, it always does. We have reason now to believe that Missouri can meet them.

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