Honestly? I wanted OU. Upon finding out that OU had beaten OSU on the Saturday of the SEC title game, my first reaction was, "Well, if we lose, at least we get the Sooners in the Cotton Bowl."
I wanted OU for two different reasons. First, it's more fun to beat OU than OSU. The Cowboys are a kindred spirit of sorts, forever a second-tier program looking to randomly crack into the upper echelon. They have also spent a good portion of their history getting dominated by OU, just like Missouri did. (It was fun writing that in past tense.) Second, OSU's just better than OU. Despite the result in Stillwater, the Cowboys have more upside and consistency than the Sooners in 2013, and while I'd have loved Missouri's chances to beat the Sooners, OSU matches up quite a bit better.
This is going to be a hell of a game.
It took a long time for OSU to figure out its offensive identity this year. Clint Chelf started in the season opener against Mississippi State, stunk, and was quickly replaced by J.W. Walsh. Walsh started five games, stunk against TCU, and was replaced by Chelf, who played pretty well the rest of the year. Jeremy Smith was unseated at running back by Desmond Roland midway through the year. And the Cowboys started five different combinations of offensive linemen in the first seven games. A new offensive coordinator had no confidence in anything beyond zone reads and screen passes early on, but by November, OSU was beginning to look like the more interesting, explosive offense we've come to expect from the 'Pokes.
Clint Chelf (6'1, 210, Sr.): 131-for-234 (56%), 1,792 yards, 15 TD, 6 INT, 6 sacks (7.3 yards/attempt); 47 carries, 368 yards (7.8/carry), 6 TD
J.W. Walsh (6'2, 205, So.): 113-for-190 (60%), 1,333 yards, 9 TD, 5 INT, 4 sacks (6.8 yards/attempt); 54 carries, 304 yards (5.6/carry), 3 TD
Clint Chelf is maddening. Just look at his game log. A 65.4 passer rating, then 210.8. 68.7, then 112.7, then 138.3, then 168.9, then 239.9 ... then 106.0. His full-season averages are decent, but he doesn't hardly ever seem to play average. He was terribly inefficient even while leading strong offensive efforts against TCU, Iowa State, and Texas Tech (38-for-85 for 467 yards, three TDs, four INTs). He was incredible against Texas and Baylor (35-for-47, 567 yards, five TDs, one INT). And he had no idea where to go with the ball against OU (19-for-35, 200, one TD, one INT).
Chelf rarely gets sacked, but if Missouri can at least make him aware of the pass rush and hurry his decision-making, he could produce another woefully inefficient performance. Or he could do what he did against Texas and Baylor. I have no idea.
Desmond Roland (6'2, 210, Jr.): 160 carries, 745 yards (4.7), 12 TD; 12 targets, 8 catches (67%), 80 yards (6.7/target)
Jeremy Smith (5'10, 208, Sr.): 115 carries, 442 yards (3.8), 9 TD; 17 targets, 11 catches (65%), 37 yards (2.2)
Rennie Childs (5'10, 180, Fr.): 38 carries, 177 yards (4.7), 1 TD; 5 targets, 3 catches (60%), 45 yards (9.0)
OSU's "running game" extends to both handoffs and quick, horizontal passes, not entirely unlike Missouri. The actual run game (the handoffs) is perhaps less impressive than it's been for quite a while. Like Chelf, Des Roland has been all over the map: 26 carries for 219 yards against Iowa State, 16 for 44 against Kansas, 30 for 95 against Texas and Baylor, 21 for 144 against Oklahoma. Figure that out.
Really, the drastically variable production of Chelf and Roland hints at OSU's offensive production as a whole. Sometimes it clicks, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes OSU figures out weaknesses to exploit via pass, sometimes via ground, and rarely both. This isn't as talented a group as OSU has seen in previous seasons, but the Cowboys have had a month to prepare for Missouri and have almost certainly found some weaknesses to pick on. We'll see what those are.
Josh Stewart (5'10, 185, Jr.): 74 targets, 52 catches (70%), 626 yards (8.5/target), 2 TD
David Glidden (5'7, 185, So.): 22 targets, 14 catches (64%), 168 yards (7.6)
Tracy Moore (6'2, 215, Sr.): 77 targets, 44 catches (57%), 638 yards (8.3), 6 TD
John Goodlett (5'10, 190, Sr.): 5 targets, 2 catches (40%), 14 yards (2.8)
Blake Jackson (6'3, 235, Sr.): 7 targets, 6 catches (86%), 98 yards (14.0), 2 TD
Jhajuan Seales (6'2, 185, RSFr.): 57 targets, 36 catches (63%), 493 yards (8.6), 2 TD
Marcell Ateman (6'4, 190, Fr.): 29 targets, 18 catches (62%), 240 yards (8.3)
OSU's top seven targets average 8.3, 8.5, 8.6, 8.3, 8.3, 7.8, and 7.6 yards per target. Stewart and Moore are the closest things to go-tos that the Cowboys have, but as you see, OSU targets seven players at least twice per game and at least four players four times per game. Again, there's little in the way of breakout talent here, but OSU is deep enough to take advantage of whatever weaknesses it finds.
Jake Jenkins (6'3, 298, Jr.): 13 career starts, 12 in 2013 (all at C)
Paul Lewis (6'3, 295, RSFr.): 1 career start, 1 in 2013 (at RG)
Chris Grisbhy (6'5, 325, Jr.): 8 career starts, 8 in 2013 (2 at RG, 6 at RT)
Zachary Crabtree (6'7, 275, Fr.)
OSU started Graham-Webb-Jenkins-Cross-Koenig against Mississippi State, then Graham-Webb-Jenkins-Cross-Grisbhy, then Graham-Webb-Jenkins-Lewis-Grisbhy, then Graham-Webb-Jenkins-Grisbhy-Koenig. After a second week of that, it was Koenig-Webb-Jenkins-Graham-Grisbhy for a week and Koenig-Webb-Jenkins-Graham-Garrett for two. Et cetera. OSU has only once had the same starting line for three consecutive weeks, and while there are injuries involved here, some of it seemed to be constant shuffling because the 'Pokes just couldn't find the right mix.
The unit is solid in pass protection (quick passing doesn't hurt), but the run blocking has been incredibly subpar for what we're used to seeing from OSU. That is something Mizzou can take advantage of, even if the pass rush isn't lighting Chelf up (and it probably won't).
Mike Gundy lost his offensive coordinator, Todd Monken, to Southern Miss after last season. But he basically pushed out defensive coordinator Bill Young, meaning he had to replace both coordinators. The offensive results have been shaky (due at least in part to personnel), but the risk on dumping Young has paid off so far.
The Cowboys were the quintessential bend-don't-break defense in recent years, and it worked pretty well for them. This year, with a trio of studs at linebacker (two seniors), extreme experience at safety, and a salty duo at defensive tackle, the 'Pokes are both smart and aggressive, a strong combination. How much of this is because of Glenn Spencer and how much is because of experience, we'll soon find out. But the defense Mizzou will face in the Cotton Bowl is damn strong.
Jimmy Bean (6'5, 245, So.): 21.5 tackles, 6.5 TFL (4 sacks), 3 QB hurries
Trace Clark (6'4, 250, So.): 8.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry
Emmanuel Ogbah (6'4, 270, RSFr.): 17.5 tackles, 5.5 TFL (4 sacks), 1 FR, 4 QB hurries
James Castleman (6'2, 296, Jr.): 27.5 tackles, 5 TFL (1 sack), 1 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 blocked kicks
Anthony Rogers (6'3, 293, Sr.): 2.5 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack)
Davidell Collins (6'5, 275, Sr.): 2.5 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry
Tyler Johnson (6'1, 245, Sr.): 42.0 tackles, 9.5 TFL (4.5 sacks), 1 PBU, 3 FF, 1 FR, 4 QB hurries
Sam Wren (6'2, 255, Jr.) -- 14.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL (0.5 sacks), 1 FF
OSU can rush the passer, but the relatively undersized line can be prone to getting pushed around at times against the run. Because of an awesome LB corps, this hasn't necessarily cost the 'Pokes too much, especially against teams that can't pass incredibly well. Texas had its moments on the ground this year but rushed for just 151 yards on OSU. Baylor rushed for 94 (albeit without Lache Seastrunk). Mississippi State rushed for 111. Just like stopping OSU's offense requires balance, moving on OSU's defense does, too. Luckily for Mizzou, the Tigers have that balance.
Shaun Lewis (5'11, 225, Sr.): 62.0 tackles, 9 TFL (1 sack), 3 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FF, 2 FR, 1 QB hurry
Joe Mitchell (6'3, 225, Sr.): 37.5 tackles, 3 TFL (1 sack), 1 PBU, 2 FF, 1 FR
Having three play-makers at linebacker is a luxury; having three play-makers who make plays against the run and pass is an extreme luxury. This might be the best linebacking corps Mizzou has faced this season.
Shamiel Gary (6'0, 210, Sr.): 44.5 tackles, 2 TFL, 9 PBU (10 games)
Lyndell Johnson (6'3, 215, Jr.): 44.0 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 2 FR, 2 QB hurries
Deric Robertson (6'2, 195, Fr.): 3.5 tackles
Justin Gilbert (6'0, 200, Sr.): 37.5 tackles, 6 INT, 7 PBU, 1 QB hurry
Ashton Lampkin (5'11, 180, So.): 19.5 tackles, 1 PBU
Daytawion Lowe has been OSU's starting free safety since approximately 1997.
I'm really, really curious about the matchup of Mizzou's WRs and OSU's DBs. This is a deep, experienced unit, one that has more size than we're used to seeing. Mizzou's receivers are still bigger, obviously, but of the six regulars, four are at least 200 pounds, and three are at least 6'0. Like I said, Mizzou might be able to run pretty well as long as it can also pass. The Tigers will need to attack each portion of the field well.
Ben Grogan (6'1, 175, Fr.): 63-for-64 PAT, 10-for-16 FG (8-for-11 under 40)
Kip Smith (6'1, 209, Jr.): 71 punts, 39.9 average, 26 fair caught, 22 inside 20, 9.6-yard return average
Michael Reichenstein (6'4, 212, Jr.): 2 punts, 32.0 average, 1 inside 20
Kip Smith (6'1, 209, Jr.): 84 kickoffs, 59.9 average, 19 touchbacks (23%), 18.5-yard return average
Justin Gilbert (6'0, 200, Sr.): 16 returns, 26.6 average, 1 TD (long: 100)
Desmond Roland (6'2, 210, Jr.): 7 returns, 22.1 average (long: 40)
Brandon Sheperd (6'1, 195, So.): 5 returns, 28.2 average (long: 50)
Josh Stewart (5'10, 185, Jr.): 20 returns, 18.2 average, 2 TD (long: 95)
David Glidden (5'7, 185, So.): 5 returns, 2.2 average (long: 9)
Place-kicking has been an issue, and punting has been a pretty big issue, but the return games are terrifying, as they always are for OSU. While Mizzou can avoid kick return coverage issues with touchbacks, Josh Stewart is a pretty incredible punt returner.
BTBS preview coming tomorrow. Balance is the watchword in this one.