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Friday, October 24, 2014

Tigers look to repeat 2007 Cotton Bowl success

Missouri captured its first Cotton Bowl title six years ago.

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At left, Tony Temple fights through an Arkansas tackle en route to setting a new Cotton Bowl rushing record in 2008. Henry Josey, right, will lead MU's rushing attack in the 2014 game.

Maneater File Photos

ARLINGTON, Texas — Missouri coach Gary Pinkel doesn’t like comparing different editions of Tiger football, so when the 2013 team started drawing comparisons to the 2007 squad, Pinkel objected.

“The 2007 team was a great football team, but this team, the 2013 team, is very unique,” Pinkel said in a press conference, announcing the Tigers would play in the same bowl they had six years before. “To sit there and throw them in the same basket and say they’re all the same, they’re not.”

But the similarities prove difficult to ignore. Both teams won their divisions, fighting off early-season conference losses to get there, beating their longest tenured conference opponent in the final game of the regular season.

Both then went on to lose their conference championship games, with Oklahoma beating the 2007 Tigers 38-17 and Auburn beating the 2013 team 59-42 in a track-and-field display.

Both teams then found themselves heading to North Texas for the Cotton Bowl Classic, a storied and prestigious bowl, but lacking the BCS stamp that would’ve come from a conference championship.

Although the team’s results mirror each other, the means vary.

Senior quarterback James Franklin posted his best statistical season in his three-year reign at starting quarterback, but Chase Daniel, along with 2003 graduate Brad Smith, is arguably Missouri’s top offensive weapon in program history. In 2007, Daniel threw for 308 yards per game, while 2013 Franklin threw for just 251 per game.

The major wrinkle in quarterback play was the sprained shoulder Franklin suffered in Missouri’s Oct. 12 win at Georgia. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk served as an adequate backup, throwing for 910 yards and 10 touchdowns, and rushing for 200 yards and one touchdown, as he led the Tigers to a 3-1 record in Franklin’s absence.

Both defenses had studs. 2007 featured now-NFL starters such as Sean Weatherspoon, William Moore and Ziggy Hood. This season, the Tigers have their first consensus All-American in 53 years in senior defensive end Michael Sam, projected first round pick and senior defensive end Kony Ealy, and senior E.J. Gaines, one of the Southeastern Conference’s top corners.

Despite matching the star power of 2007, the 2013 defense actually gave up close to 30 yards more per game.

So if the 2007 team had a better passing attack and defense, there’s really only one place the 2013 could make up the ground, and that’s exactly where they did it: on the ground. The three-headed monster of Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy helped the offense average 237 yards per game on the ground, over 60 yards more than Tony Temple and the 2007 crew.

Perhaps the most important similarity is that neither team came into the season with great expectations. This season’s group was picked to finish sixth in the SEC East. Before 2007, Missouri hadn’t won nine or more games or lost three or fewer games since 1969.

The 2007 team finished 12-2 with its Cotton Bowl victory. If Missouri can beat No.13 Oklahoma State, it will finalize its season in the same manner, tying its 2007 counterpart for most wins in school history.

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