The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
The Oklahoma State Cowboys of the Big 12 Conference and the Ole Miss Rebels of the SEC will square off in the 2010 Cotton Bowl from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Oklahoma State is set to play in a school-record fourth consecutive bowl game and seventh in the last eight seasons. The program is 12-7 all-time in bowl games, and the club is 2-1 in such tilts under current head coach Mike Gundy. Oklahoma State is 9-3 overall and finished 6-2 in Big 12 play, good enough for second in the rugged South Division. The Cowboys are, however, coming off an ugly 27-0 loss to rival Oklahoma in the finale, a setback that halted a three- game win streak.
"You have to move forward and that's something we talked about after the game," said Gundy after the Oklahoma loss. "I think the coaches have to be enthusiastic about getting back on the practice field and the chance to go to the Cotton Bowl and spend time together. That's the way we've approached it."
As for Ole Miss, it is making its 33rd appearance in a bowl game, and the 20 wins that the program has earned in the postseason ranks 12th in NCAA Division I-A history. The Rebels are 7-1 in their last eight bowl games, and they beat Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl last season in a 47-34 final. This year's squad came into the season with tremendous hype and was ranked as high as fourth in the nation. Despite falling short of expectations, the team finished a respectable 8-4 overall and 4-4 in SEC action. Houston Nutt, the head coach of the Ole Miss program, is a three-time SEC Coach of the Year.
"They can't wait," said Nutt recently of his players, who are excited about the opportunity to play in the brand new Cowboys Stadium.
It is ironic that the only previous meeting between Oklahoma State and Ole Miss took place in the 2004 Cotton Bowl, and Eli Manning led the Rebels to a 31-28 victory in that contest.
The Oklahoma State offense entered the season with perhaps the best trio of quarterback, tailback and wide receiver nationally. Signal caller Zac Robinson's numbers are far off the pace from last season when he posted 33 combined touchdowns. This year, Robinson has thrown for 15 scores while rushing for four touchdowns, and he has a mere 1,966 passing yards in 11 games. It certainly hasn't helped matters that star receiver Dez Bryant was suspended for the season early on, or that standout runner Kendall Hunter has been limited by injury and largely ineffective.
Despite all the problems, OSU is still formidable offensively, as the team is averaging 30.2 ppg and 376.2 total ypg. The best player for the offense has been tailback Keith Toston, who has racked up 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 5.4 yards per attempt. He is also second on the team in catches, providing a viable outlet for Robinson.
"The Cotton Bowl is one of those bowls if you miss the BCS; there is really no drop off by going there," says Toston. "That's how our team feels."
The Cowboys have been a solid defensive team for much of this season, as they are holding opponents to 21.8 ppg and 329.9 total ypg. They are sixth nationally in rushing defense, allowing a mere 87.7 yards per game at a clip of 2.9 yards per carry. They pass defense has been rather mediocre, but 14 interceptions have certainly helped the cause. Donald Booker leads the Pokes with 86 total tackles, while Patrick Lavine has recorded five interceptions.
Heading into this season, Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead was considered a Heisman Trophy candidate. As the 2009 campaign progressed, however, it became obvious that he wasn't even the best player on his own team. Dexter McCluster, a versatile performer, rushed for 985 yards and six touchdowns on only 147 carries, and he also caught 39 passes for 475 yards and three scores. McCluster threw a touchdown pass on his only attempt and will undoubtedly be the main focus of the Oklahoma State defense in this contest.
Getting back to Snead, he has completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 2,464 yards and 20 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. Shay Hodge is clearly his favorite target, and the wideout enters this bowl game with 63 catches for 1,023 yards and eight scores. Ole Miss is generating 30.2 ppg while gaining 405.6 total ypg, formidable numbers by most standards.
Defensively, Ole Miss has been strong this season, limiting opponents to 18.6 ppg and 319.3 total ypg. The Rebels have allowed just over a 50 percent completion rating to opposing quarterbacks, as they have been solid against the pass. The run defense has been strong as well, permitting 3.8 yards per carry. Greg Hardy, the best player for the defense, will sit out this game with a wrist injury, and his ability to rush the quarterback will be missed. Still, the team has managed to avoid a large number of injuries, something that many other clubs nationally simply can not claim.
Patrick Trahan and Jerrell Powe pace the Rebels with 11 TFLs apiece.