This year’s edition of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl takes place on New Year’s Eve. The 8-4 Missouri Tigers will square off with the 6-6 Oklahoma State Cowboys in an intriguing matchup of SEC and Big 12 schools. Both teams can produce fireworks on offense, but Missouri is the stronger defensive squad on paper. That said, Oklahoma State has a much stronger pass rush, so the difference in that facet may be muted.
Missouri closed out the season hot by winning four in a row, while Oklahoma State lived up to its 6-6 overall record by trading wins and losses. However, don’t let the disappointing record fool you. The Cowboys are a talented group, and we should be in line for a competitive contest as a result. The oddsmakers don’t agree with that assessment, as they have installed Missouri as a nine-point favorite.
Does that open up some value for us to pounce on or have the folks in the desert naIled it once again? Let’s dig into the numbers and find out, starting with a full breakdown of the game line.
Missouri vs. Oklahoma State, 3:45 PM EST, Mon. December 31, ESPN
Missouri vs. Oklahoma State pick:
Missouri opened up the regular season with a three-game winning streak, but that was followed by three consecutive losses. The team played much better down the stretch while going 5-1, but the ill-timed losing streak really put a dent in the team’s possibilities. Nonetheless, the team’s final ranking of #23 according to the College Football Playoff committee is indicative of the strength of the squad.
It was another wild year in the Big 12, and that’s perfectly demonstrated by Oklahoma State’s roller coaster ride of a season. The team is strong enough to go toe-to-toe with the top teams in the conference, but their six losses in conference play clearly point to the team’s struggles. The Cowboys 2018 season is made all the more curious by its victories over Texas and West Virginia, two teams who entered those respective games ranked in the Top 10.
All four of Missouri’s losses came in conference play, which further demonstrates the overall strength of the loaded SEC conference. Georgia and Alabama did a number on the Tigers, but the club also lost a pair of close ones to South Carolina and Kentucky. The latter of those two contests was a real heartbreaker, as Kentucky came from behind to steal a win in the final minute.
Oklahoma State seemed to play to the level of its competition throughout the year. The club also scored a victory over a nationally ranked Boise State team, and they lost by a single point to eventual Big 12 champ Oklahoma. Along the way were losses to programs such as Texas Tech, Kansas State, and TCU, a trio of middle of the road conference rivals.
These two schools can both bring it on offense, and we may very well see some fireworks as a result. Missouri has the statistical edge on defense, but the Cowboys have a stellar pass rush which has generated 39 sacks on the year. There’s a clear disparity in offensive line play, as Missouri does a much better job of protecting its own signal caller.
Another clue to Oklahoma State’s strange season can be found via its turnover margin. The ball clearly wasn’t bouncing the Cowboys way in 2018, as they are -8 in that key stat on the year. In a nutshell, Missouri looks to be the stronger overall program from a tougher conference, but this is an Oklahoma State squad which has demonstrated that it steps its game up for heavyweight fights.
These two programs last hooked up in the 2014 Cotton Bowl, a 31-21 victory for Missouri. Recent bowl game history is dead even, as both programs hold a 3-2 mark over their last five contests. Both squads have also won three of their last four bowl games.
Last year, Missouri came up short in the Texas Bowl, falling by a score of 33-16 to Texas. Back in 2015, the Tigers were invited to the Citrus Bowl to square off with Minnesota, and they walked off the field with a 33-17 victory. The year prior wa the victory over the Cowboys, which was Missouri’s first bowl game since 2011.
Oklahoma State has been a more regular participant in the postseason and is riding a two-game bowl winning streak. They took down Virginia Tech 30-21 in last year’s Camping World Bowl, and secured a 38-8 victory over Colorado in the prior year’s Alamo Bowl. Back in 2015, Oklahoma State lost 48-20 to Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl.
Underdogs are riding a two-game winning streak in the Liberty Bowl. Iowa State scored a one-point victory over Memphis last year, while Georgia picked up an eight-point victory over TCU in 2016. Both of those dogs covered the spread to boot. This year, Missouri is a big nine-point favorite in a potential shootout, as the projected total checks in at 74.5 points.
Missouri QB Drew Lock and Oklahoma State signal caller Taylor Cornelius appear poised to put on quite a show, and we could be treated to an entertaining back and forth affair as a result. While Missouri may be the stronger team from a tougher contest, Oklahoma State’s proclivity for stepping its game up based on the competition tells us that this game will be closer than expected. The Tigers may pull out the victory, but the Cowboys should keep it close and interesting.
We’ll take Oklahoma State plus the points.