Memphis is relatively close by for Tiger fans making the trip, and the opponent provides a chance to stroll down memory lane. The Tigers shared a conference with Oklahoma State for decades, the old Big Eight and then the Big 12. The two schools played some memorable games through the years, including a double overtime 51-50 Missouri win in 1997 when current Tiger coach Barry Odom was a player, a game that pushed the Tigers to the brink of bowl eligibility for the first time in 14 years. Of course, there were also tough losses for Missouri at Faurot Field in 2004 and 2008 against the Cowboys.
Missouri leads the all-time series 29-23, including most recently a Tiger win in the 2014 Cotton Bowl. Missouri and Oklahoma State haven’t played as often as some of Missouri’s old conference foes, but the two teams did play every year from 1960 to 1997.
More immediately, this is a big game for the Tigers. The difference between 9-4 and 8-5 feels like a significant distinction in how the year will be viewed. Also, in the quirky nature of college football, bowl games take on extra weight, given the long buildup and the fact that they are the last impression before the long offseason. Last year’s Texas Bowl defeat cooled some enthusiasm from the strong finish to the regular season. A win in the Liberty Bowl would keep the momentum going heading into the post-Drew Lock era.
Odom, an Oklahoma native, has a nephew who plays for Oklahoma State, and Odom coached at Memphis before returning to Columbia, so he has plenty of connections for this game. It’s also in a very SEC city, and extra exposure in the conference footprint is always a plus for recruiting.
Missouri opened as a slight favorite for the game, but Oklahoma State (6-6) can be a handful. Missouri had their share of up and down results, but the Tigers were stable compared to the Cowboys, who beat West Virginia and Texas but also got blown out by Texas Tech and Kansas State.
Mike Gundy, one of the sport’s fun characters, still coaches the Cowboys. OSU represents a pretty typical team from the shootout-friendly Big 12, averaging 38.4 points per game and allowing 32.4 per game. Of course, when your mascot is the stone-faced Pistol Pete, you come ready for shootouts. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius and running back Justice Hill lead the Cowboy offense.
Missouri, ranked No. 23 in the College Football Playoff rankings and No. 24 in the AP Poll, has been more consistent, especially of late. Oklahoma State is capable of playing great football, but Missouri’s A-game is pretty good this season, too. I’d give Missouri the edge, but this should be a good one in Memphis.