Missouri lands in Liberty Bowl against Oklahoma State

The Tigers will play the Cowboys on New Year’s Eve in a rematch of the 2014 Cotton Bowl, which MU won 31-21.
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock pumps his fist in response to cheers during Tiger Walk before Missouri's eventual 38-0 win over Arkansas on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018 at Faurot Field.

A week’s worth of fruitless speculation is finally over for Missouri football: The Tigers are headed to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl to face Oklahoma State, the team confirmed Sunday afternoon.

The game will take place at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Dec. 31 at 2:45 CST. It will be televised on ESPN.

Missouri (8-4, 4-4 SEC) spent its week at the center of a revolving series of SEC “Pool of Six” projections. College football pundits and prognosticators varied between the Liberty, Music City (Nashville, Tenn.) and Gator (Jacksonville, Fla.) bowls in their picks for Barry Odom’s team.

Contrary to most bowls selecting their competitors in a hierarchical order, the SEC places its own teams throughout the “Pool of Six,” which also includes the Outback, Belk and Texas bowls. Texas A&M has evidently been sent to the Gator Bowl over MU and Auburn was assigned to the Music City Bowl against Purdue, who Missouri already played this season. The Tigers played Texas in the Texas Bowl last season.

None of the six games are technically regarded in higher esteem than the others, but the Liberty Bowl is generally considered the least prestigious option of the three potential MU landing spots.

Missouri won its last four games of the regular season after losing four of its five previous games. The Tigers cracked various rankings for the first time this season in the week leading up to their bowl placement. They checked in at No. 23 in the College Football Playoff rankings on Sunday and debuted in the AP top 25 Sunday morning at No. 24. That makes Missouri the first ranked SEC team to ever go to the Liberty Bowl.

Missouri’s case for a high-profile bowl game included its hot finish and its intense schedule. They were the only team in the SEC to play both No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Georgia, the two teams who played in the national championship last year and became the eventual SEC title game matchup this season. Odom stressed that while making his case for Missouri after a 38-0 win over Arkansas last week.

“If you look at our record of 8-4, at the time two losses were to No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country,” Odom said. “The other two losses were on the last play of the game. We’ve shown toughness and resiliency. We’re playing as good a football as any team in the country. We’ve got a quarterback that I think is the best one. Defensively, [we’re] coming off a shutout. We’ve got a lot of pieces in place to go make a run and make a great showing wherever that bowl ends up.”

This is Missouri’s second straight season reaching a bowl game and its fourth in the last five years. Odom took the Tigers to their first bowl appearance under him in 2017 and lost 33-16 to Texas in the Texas Bowl. Before Odom, Missouri had won its last three bowl games; against North Carolina in the 2011 Independence Bowl; Oklahoma State in the 2014 Cotton Bowl; and Minnesota in the 2015 Citrus Bowl.

This year's Liberty Bowl will be a rematch of that memorable 2014 Cotton Bowl for the Tigers, who clinched a 31-21 win over Oklahoma State when Michael Sam's strip-sack turned into a fumble return touchdown for Missouri.

Last year's Texas Bowl defeat came after a similar surge to end the regular season. Missouri won its last six in 2017 to become bowl eligible after a 1-5 start. Building on its four-game win streak this time around is a goal for MU, especially its seniors.

“This year, again we have gone on another streak,” senior receiver Emanuel Hall said. “You have to finish it out strong.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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