MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The 23rd-ranked Missouri Tigers will take on Oklahoma State on Monday in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
It’s the Cowboys’ first-ever appearance in the bowl, and the first meeting between the schools since Missouri announced its departure from the Big 12 Conference to join the Southeastern Conference in 2011. Oklahoma State defeated the Tigers 45-24 that year in Columbia on its way to a 12-1 overall record and its first-ever conference championship.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, now in his 14th season, owns an 8-4 overall record in bowl games, and said the Liberty Bowl is one that he traditionally watched growing up.
“It’s interesting, this bowl’s gone on 60 years, and Oklahoma State hasn’t been in it, so we’re excited about it,” Gundy said. “We’ve been to a lot of bowls, and we’re excited about being in Memphis.”
The Cowboys (6-6, 3-6 Big 12) had a mercurial road to their 13th-consecutive bowl berth, losing three of their final four games after upsetting then sixth-ranked Texas, 38-35 on Oct. 27, including a one-point loss to No. 4 Oklahoma on Nov. 10. Despite wins over No. 17 Boise State, the Longhorns, and No. 9 West Virginia, Oklahoma State finished in a three-way tie for seventh place in the final Big 12 standings.
“It’s been an unusual season for us from the standpoint (that) we turned over a lot of veteran players,” Gundy said. “And we had a new quarterback who has played very well most of the year. The couple games he didn’t play well in, we didn’t win, which is kind of the way it is. It’s the head coach and the quarterback’s fault, it’s always been that way, but our team can be very competitive.”
Missouri (8-4, 4-4 SEC) is making its second-consecutive bowl appearance under head coach Barry Odom, now in his third season at the helm of his alma mater. The Tigers cracked the Top-25 for the first time all season after winning five of their last six, with the lone loss in that stretch coming on a last-second touchdown against then 12th-ranked Kentucky.
The game is a homecoming of sorts for Odom, who was the defensive coordinator at Memphis from 2012-14 before rejoining Missouri in 2015 in the same role.
The Tigers arrived in Memphis Wednesday to begin preparation for Monday’s game.
“This place was so special to myself and to my family,” Odom said. “So many people here that still I’m close friends with, and I want to make sure that I do everything right for our football team and for our guys this week to put them in position to go play their best.”
Missouri has made two previous appearances in the Liberty Bowl, defeating LSU 20-15 on Dec. 23, 1978, and most recently losing to Purdue, 28-25 on Dec. 27, 1980.
“We’re really, really excited to be in Memphis,” Odom said. “We know that we need to prepare the right way to go play our best, because it’ll take a great effort for us to have an opportunity against Oklahoma State, which is a great opponent.”
The experience is a true homecoming for three members of Missouri’s roster, including wide receiver Johnathon Johnson and freshman running back Tyler Badie, as well as sophomore linebacker Aubrey Miller Jr.
“You always look at experiences for your guys,” Odom said. “Any time that you have an opportunity to get back in the city that number one, you recruit, and number two that you’ve got players on your roster from here, it means a great deal.”
Johnson led Missouri in receptions this season with 50, and was second on the team in receiving yards (552) and receiving touchdowns (4). Badie has been an integral part of the Tigers’ backfield throughout his freshman campaign, rushing 80 times for 407 yards and two touchdowns to go with 11 receptions for 125 yards.
The game will likely be a high-scoring affair, with both teams boasting top-20 offenses. The Cowboys average 38.4 points per game, which ranks 14th nationally, while the Tigers rank 19th, averaging 36.9 points per game.
Oklahoma State quarterback Taylor Cornelius ranks 10th among FBS signal-callers with 3,642 passing yards, while Missouri’s Drew Lock, a potential first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, ranks 19th with 3,131 passing yards. Cornelius has 28 passing touchdowns on the season, while Lock finished with 25.