2010 Cotton Bowl Preview
#18 Oklahoma State (9-3, 6-2; Big XII) vs. Ole Miss (8-4, 4-4; SEC)
January 2nd, 2010 @ 2:00 PM (EST) – FOX – Dallas, Texas
The Cotton Bowl is one of the most high profile bowl games every year and this season features two non-traditional powers having solid seasons. Oklahoma State’s high-powered offense combined with a newfound defensive prowess propelled the Cowboys to the brink of a ten win season while Ole Miss rebounded from a tough start to manage to match last year’s 8-4 regular season record. Can the Rebels cap off a second consecutive season with a Cotton Bowl victory or will Mike Gundy’s team win ten games for the first time since 1988?
Oklahoma State began the year in impressive fashion, dominating the Georgia Bulldogs at home on opening day. However, the Cowboys’ season afterwards was marked by inconsistency and they suffered blowout losses against Texas and Oklahoma. The Cowboys were expected to be an offensive juggernaut this year but they only finished the regular season averaging 30.2 points per game and were shut out on the season’s final day by the Sooners. However, it is very important to mention that starting quarterback Zac Robinson was struggling with injuries at that point and his return to health in the Cotton Bowl will be paramount to their success. The Cowboys are a dangerous rushing team as their ground game finished ranked 24th in the country and he plays a major part in that success with his mobility. With Robinson and tailback Kendall Hunter returned to health, expect Oklahoma State to be firing on all cylinders on January 2 nd.
Defensively, the Cowboys are only allowing 21.8 points per game and are much improved from last season. Most notable is their excellent run defense, which is ranked 6 th in the country! For all of the Cowboys’ struggles to get over the hump against the traditional powers in the Big XII South, they still have had a very strong year and will be a very difficult opponent for the Rebels.
Ole Miss entered the season with extremely high expectations: Many observers were picking them to win the SEC West! However, early season struggles with the flu and an upset at South Carolina quickly relegated the Rebels to the middle of the pack in the SEC. Part of the reason for falling short of expectations was their offense, which only scored 30.3 points per game despite including two D-1AA teams in their non-conference schedule. The biggest reason for their struggles was their passing game, which finished 56 th in the country due to the struggles of starting quarterback Jevan Snead. Mississippi got on track late by making do-it-all star Dexter McCluster the focus of their offense and finished with the 35 th best rush offense in the country. Expect Dexter to continue to be the focus of the Rebels’ offense in the Cotton Bowl.
Defensively, Ole Miss was solid all season, allowing only 18.6 points per game, good for 17 th best in the country. The biggest reason for their success was a very strong pass defense which finished 14 th in the country despite only forcing 9 interceptions. However, they are no better than average against the run, finishing in the middle of the pack nationally at 56 th. Ole Miss will have to improve during bowl practice because Oklahoma State will undoubtedly try to run the ball early and often to test the Rebels’ front seven.
The final question heading into this game is ‘who wants it more?’ There is no secret that a lot of bowl games appear to be even matchups on paper but devolve into mismatches because one team isn’t as excited as the other about being at a particular venue. However, I don’t think that be an issue with either team in this matchup. Oklahoma State’s season ended on a sour note against archrival Oklahoma and they will be fired up for the chance to redeem themselves. Meanwhile, Ole Miss also faltered against rival Mississippi State and they will be looking to match the success of 2008 with a second consecutive win in Dallas. Expect both teams to come ready to play.
When analyzing this matchup, I keep coming back to both teams’ running games. Both the Cowboys and Rebels like to emphasize the run but only Oklahoma State has had a lot of success defending it. Furthermore, the Cowboys present a more dangerous aground game than the Rebels and I’m wondering if Oklahoma State won’t have a mismatch when they run the football against Ole Miss’ mediocre rush defense.
On the other hand, you have to account for the individual brilliance of Dexter McCluster, who will assuredly make some big plays in this game. With the Wild Rebel offense, he could singlehandedly keep his team close. However, I think that the Cowboys are deeper across the board and have a major advantage on the ground and that will be the deciding factor in an Oklahoma State victory.
Cotton Bowl Pick: Oklahoma State 31, Ole Miss 23
by Matt Baxendell
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