Bowl Breakdown: Cotton
Ole Miss and Oklahoma State were both considered preseason BCS contenders
Like their teams, neither Jevan Snead nor Zac Robinson matched the hype
Tailbacks Dexter McCluster and Keith Toston will carry the offensive loads
Ole Miss (8-4) vs. No. 21 Oklahoma State (9-3)
Reason to watch: SI thought Ole Miss and Oklahoma State had the firepower to shake up the BCS back in August. Unfortunately for both teams, BCS dreams were dashed early and the Cotton Bowl ended up being a pleasant landing spot after both got blitzed in their season-ending rivalry games. Though the squads are looking to salvage somewhat disappointing seasons, this is still the best of the five Jan. 2 bowl games.
Keep an eye on: Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster. When the Rebels started feeding this monster late in the season, good things happened. In his last five games, McCluster averaged over 20 touches and 220 total yards, including a mind-blowing 324-yard effort against Tennessee. Oklahoma State's defense ranks sixth nationally against the run, but defensive coordinator Bill Young knows his unit is in for a challenge: "McCluster as the ability to evade the tackle," Young said. "He can jump sideways as fast as he can move forward."
Did you know: Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy both played quarterback at Oklahoma State. Nutt played at OSU in the 1979-80 season, and Gundy from 1986-89, during which time Nutt served as wide receivers coach in Stillwater.
Final analysis: Ole Miss is 8-1 over the last two years when Jevan Snead does not throw an interception. Unfortunately for the Rebs, Snead has thrown 30 during that span. The Rebels will try to pound McCluster, pick their spots with Snead and rely on a defense that was No. 17 in points allowed. Meanwhile, for most of the season the Cowboys were without two of their top skill position players, wide receiver Dez Bryant (suspended after three games) and running back Kendall Hunter (five missed games due to ankle injury). OSU's passing game suffered, but Keith Toston came to the rescue on the ground with 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. QB Zac Robinson did not play well late in the year, so expect Toston to be featured heavily. Given Snead's penchant for the big mistake, look for the Cowboys to win the first Cotton Bowl not held at the Cotton Bowl.
The pick: Oklahoma State 31, Ole Miss 24.
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