The perception of many college football fans, reinforced by seven consecutive BCS national championships for Southeastern Conference schools, is that SEC teams play at an elevated level when compared to schools from other leagues.
In the past decade, SEC teams have reinforced that notion with regularity at the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, winning nine of 10 matchups between SEC and Big 12 teams.
Players from No. 13 Oklahoma State (10-2) seek to put the brakes on that trend in Friday’s matchup against No. 8 Missouri (11-2) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. It will mark the final Big 12-SEC matchup at the Cotton Bowl, with SEC schools holding a 10-5 edge during the first 15 seasons of the agreement that expires with next year’s start of the College Football Playoff era.
“As much hype as SEC teams get, we don’t look at them like that. We look at them like we can beat them,” Oklahoma State running back Desmond Roland said. “We don’t really like how much hype they get and we feel like we’re just as good as their conference. We have great teams in the Big 12 and we’re a great team ourselves.
“Players on our team, we all look at that and we have a chip on our shoulder. In the back of our minds, we’re thinking about that. Come Friday, we’ll show the world what Oklahoma State is all about.”
If they win, the Cowboys would strike a blow for the Big 12 in a bowl season that has been up-and-down for league teams. Heading into Thursday night’s Oklahoma-Alabama matchup in the Sugar Bowl, the Big 12 was 2-2 in the postseason. SEC teams were a combined 5-1, the best record of any BCS league.
To players in Friday’s contest, conference pride is a significant factor. That applies to the guys from Missouri, a second-year SEC member that scored the Big 12’s lone Cotton Bowl triumph of the past decade by beating Arkansas, 38-7, in the 2008 matchup.
“Any conference we’re in, you definitely want to compete for your conference when you’re in a bowl game,” Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines said. “We felt that way in the Big 12 and it’s the same way in the SEC. You definitely want to show up and play well. It’s good for your league to have the best record in bowl season, if you can get it.”
In recent years, that’s been a recurring theme for the SEC. It’s been particularly true at the Cotton Bowl, where the last current Big 12 member to claim a title was Texas, which defeated LSU 35-20 in 2003.
Missouri quarterback James Franklin found it ironic, and intriguing, that the Tigers have a chance to become the only school to win while representing different leagues during the Cotton Bowl’s era of Big 12-SEC matchups that has overlapped rampant conference realignment.
“Nice,” Franklin said. “We’d be happy to balance the scales on that.”
Like most Mizzou players, Franklin said the bigger motivation for his team will be trying to match the school record for most victories in a season (12) by beating Oklahoma State. To players from OSU, who have won nine of their last 10 meetings against SEC members, the issue of conference pride hits closer to home because the Big 12 has struggled in high-profile non-conference games this season.
One of the few exceptions: Oklahoma State opened its season with a 21-3 victory over Mississippi State, an eventual bowl winner from the SEC. Cowboys’ cornerback Justin Gilbert made it clear that closing the season with bookend triumphs over SEC teams would be special.
“I think the whole Big 12 is going to be behind us in this game,” Gilbert said. “We’re trying to go 2-0 right now.”
OSU linebacker Caleb Lavey, a Celina product, agreed.
“It’s definitely for bragging rights,” Lavey said. “There’s definitely a rivalry between the leagues. You always want the guys from your league to do the best so you can say, ‘We’ve got the best league in the NCAA.’”
Based on BCS championships, the SEC has a seven-year hammerlock on that claim. The streak could reach eight straight in Monday’s BCS title game when No. 2 Auburn (12-1), the team that defeated Mizzou in the SEC championship game, meets No. 1 Florida State (13-0) for the national championship.
Although relative newcomers, Missouri left tackle Justin Britt said the Tigers feel honored to carry the SEC banner in Arlington.
“It’s new, but we embrace it,” Britt said. “We’ve felt welcomed in the SEC. It’s really helped our players to get the recognition that some of us deserve. The thing about the SEC is, game in and game out, you’ll always see tough competition. Whereas in the Big 12, you might see a dropoff here and there.”
During Thursday’s news conference, both coaches attempted to downplay the Big 12-SEC rivalry that resonates with players. OSU coach Mike Gundy said: “If we were playing someone from another conference, we would ask our coaches and players to prepare the same way.” Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said: “The Big 12 has some real good football teams. The SEC just has more. That is the difference.”
The SEC also enters Friday’s matchup with a five-game winning streak in Arlington. If Missouri extends that streak, the Tigers would cap the Cotton Bowl’s era of Big 12-SEC matchups as the final winner to represent the SEC. As well as the Big 12.
Oklahoma State vs. Missouri
Oklahoma State’s Ben Grogan, a freshman kicker, went to Arlington Martin and leads the team in points scored with 93 (63-of-64 on extra points and 10-of-16 in field goal attempts). Sophomore cornerback Ashton Lampkin had 22 tackles and a pass break up for the Cowboys. Freshman offensive lineman Zachary Crabtree played at Mansfield High, sophomore backup quarterback Daxx Garman went to Southlake Carroll, freshman defensive end Vili Leveni went to Hurst L.D. Bell, freshman linebacker Dillon Rake went to Southlake Carroll, senior receiver Nick Rockwell went to Fort Worth Dunbar, junior receiver Christian Schroeder played at Grapevine, long snapper Kaleb Smith went to All Saints Episcopal, freshman offensive lineman Michael Wilson is out of Aledo, and defensive end Jeremiah Tshimanga played for Richland.
|Points per game||39.0||39.8|
|3rd down conv.||44.9%||38.5%|
|Def. 3rd down conv.||37.4%||31.3%|