MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Sports

January 3, 2014

Reunion of sorts in Cotton between Pokes, Mizzou

ARLINGTON, Texas — Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is constantly asked to compare the SEC to the Big 12.

The ninth-ranked Tigers left the Big 12 two years ago, got off to a rocky start but won the SEC East Division this season in somewhat of a surprise.

The question came up again with Missouri (11-2) representing the SEC in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night against No. 13 Oklahoma State (10-2), its former Big 12 and Big Eight rival.

“We didn’t change anything, how we recruit or how we train our student-athletes other than trying to keep our players healthy in the grind you go in,” said Pinkel, whose team lost to No. 2 Auburn in the SEC championship game. “The Big 12 has some real good football teams, but the SEC just has more. That is the difference.”

Pinkel diplomatically pointed out Thursday that there are 14 teams in the SEC. The Big 12 has 10.

Like it has in recent national championship games, the SEC has dominated the Cotton Bowl — winning nine of the last 10 games in the Dallas area, all against Big 12 teams. The lone exception was Missouri, then in the Big 12, defeating Arkansas six years ago.

Oklahoma State came close to an overall league title this season, falling short of a Big 12 championship and the Bowl Championship Series after losing 33-24 at home to Oklahoma in the regular season finale.

“It’s been tough,” said All-Big 12 cornerback Justin Gilbert, one of 28 Oklahoma State seniors. “‘We’re just grateful that we get another opportunity ... so we don’t have to end on that.”

When they were Big 12 rivals, Oklahoma State won the last three games, including a 45-24 victory in Columbia in 2011 when Missouri quarterback James Franklin threw three interceptions.

Oklahoma State is trying to win 11 games for the third time in four seasons. Before Mike Gundy became the coach in 2005, the Cowboys had never won 11 games.

Missouri is going for its 12th win, which would match the school record set with its Cotton Bowl victory six years ago. This is already their fourth season with at least 10 wins in that span.

“2007 was important for us, it was kind of us getting going,” Pinkel said. “We got a pretty good boost out of it, but it’s all about consistency.”

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