The Missouri Tigers came up short in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, but Gary Pinkel and his team have still had an outstanding season. Just last year, Mizzou was 5-7 overall and missed the postseason entirely. Now, they are back on the national stage and ready for a prime bowl game.
Missouri will face its former Big 12 Conference rival, the Oklahoma State Cowboys, in the Cotton Bowl on January 3. And while Missouri will try to hold serve for the mighty SEC, the Tigers also need to play well in this game for a couple of other reasons.
Primarily, this will be another opportunity for Missouri to beat a Top 15 opponent and prove that their 2013 season has been more than the Tigers taking advantage of a fairly weak SEC Eastern Division. Detractors will point out that Missouri did not beat any team ranked higher than 20th (Texas A&M Aggies) in the final Associated Press poll of the regular season.
Secondly, Mizzou can use this game as a stepping stone to next season. The Tigers will lose a number of key players to graduation and/or the NFL, but there is plenty of talent returning next year. If Pinkel can find a way to get backup quarterback Maty Mauk in the game, he will. And Pinkel will also be sure that receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, still just a sophomore, gets the ball early and often.
Pinkel still contends that last year was the exception to the rule, and that Missouri will not fall into that type of situation again. If his team can beat Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl, it will give credence to that message as offseason workouts begin.
Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.