There's a weird historical quirk that's happened in the Cotton Bowl over the last two years: The SEC representatives in the game have been Texas A&M and Missouri. In a game that matches the SEC and the Big 12, two former Big 12 teams have taken up the Southeastern Conference's cause in Arlington. Welcome to the age of conference realignment.
In both cases, the SEC also badly needed a boost to its reputation after an upset in the BCS. Texas A&M's waxing of Oklahoma came two days Florida was beaten by Louisville in the Sugar Bowl; Missouri's game against Oklahoma State comes a day after Alabama was rocked by, coincidentally enough, Oklahoma. Beating another Big 12 program only adds to the possibility of a little bit of pre-national title game redemption for the SEC.
Both teams in this game are also looking to salvage their own seasons after dropping games with the conference title on the line. Missouri, of course, lost the SEC Championship Game to Missouri, while Oklahoma State lost to Oklahoma when a win would have given them the Big 12 title. It's not just conference pride that these teams are fighting for; they're also trying to regain a little bit of the luster that was lost on the season's last week.
It's also an interesting case of playing against type for the conferences and, in the case of Oklahoma State, the team. The Tigers have the better offense, averaging more than 52 yards a game more than the Cowboys (492.9 to 440.5).
But Oklahoma State is better on defense, allowing 29 fewer yards per game (378.5 to 407.7) and holding opposing quarterbacks to a passer efficiency rating that's nearly 15 points lower (106.65 to 121.41). Neither team allows a lot of points; Auburn was the only team to score more than 30 against Missouri, and while a few more teams did so against Oklahoma State, a notable exception was Baylor -- which managed only 17 points against the Cowboys.
You know the stars on the Missouri team, from James Franklin (MO) and Henry Josey to L'Damian Washington and Michael Sam. The more significant players on Oklahoma State might be on defense, including Justin Gilbert, who has six interceptions among the team's 20 picks on the year. Franklin, and Maty Mauk if he sees any action, will have to be careful.
In other words, expect both teams to get some yardage, but don't look for a barn-burner. And look for Missouri to edge out the Cowboys, delaying at least for a weekend the notion of SEC decline.
Missouri 23, Oklahoma State 20