STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State will be walking in Memphis this New Year’s Eve.
The Cowboy football team accepted the invitation to play former Big 12 Conference foe Missouri in the Liberty Bowl, which will be held Dec. 31 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee.
This will be OSU’s first trip to the Liberty Bowl, which has only been affiliated with the Big 12 since 2014 – with Iowa State becoming the first league opponent to get a win in the bowl a year ago with a 21-20 victory over Memphis. It’s the 60th year for the Liberty Bowl, making it the seventh-oldest bowl.
“I’ve been to Memphis a lot – my boys play baseball over there … so we’ve stayed in the Memphis area,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said in a teleconference. “My wife’s brother played minor league baseball for the Memphis Chicks back in the day. So we’ve spent quite a bit of time there, and we like the food there.
“It’s a cool city, so I know the players, and the families, will enjoy the week.”
The Cowboys finished tied seventh in the Big 12 standings, with losses to Kansas State and Texas Tech – which it tied with holding a 3-6 conference record – but leaped over the Texas Christian Horned Frogs, who beat OSU, for the Liberty Bowl bid likely because TCU played in the bowl just two years ago.
OSU and Missouri last faced each other in the Cotton Bowl at the end of the 2013 season, with the Tigers picking up a 41-31 victory over the Pokes. That win gave Missouri a 29-23 advantage in the all-time series and snapped a three-game winning streak by the Cowboys against the Tigers.
“We had a lot of good times back in the old Big 8 days, and then even in the Big 12,” Gundy said. “I’ve made that pretty obvious that I hated to see when that league broke up with Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M (as well as Colorado) departing.
“I think it’s pretty cool that we get to play a team that we’d been accustomed to playing for a long, long time.”
The Tigers (8-4) were ranked No. 23 in the final College Football Playoff Ranking, which might bode well for the Cowboys (6-6). OSU went 3-1 this season against ranked opponents, with the one loss being by one point on the road at Oklahoma – which is in the College Football Playoff. Three of Missouri’s losses were to top 15 teams in the final CFP – No. 1 Alabama, No. 5 Georgia and No. 14 Kentucky – while it also has a 38-17 blowout victory over No. 10 Florida on its resume.
Beyond the ties back to the Big 12, there is also a family tie between the two programs. Missouri head coach Barry Odom is the uncle of Oklahoma State's Baron Odom, a backup Cowboy Back on the OSU offense.
“We did look at him coming out of high school,” the Missouri coach said in a teleconference. “… We’ll see where the family ties lie as we get closer to the game. We’ll see how important I am on the list where that stacks up.”
Missouri’s head man also has ties to the Cowboy coaching staff.
Odom was on the Missouri coaching staff at the same time as OSU offensive line coach Josh Henson.
Odom was the safeties coach under former Missouri coach Gary Pinkel from 2009-11 and was the defensive coordinator in 2015. Henson served as Missouri’s co-offensive line coach from 2009-12, and was Pinkel’s offensive coordinator from 2013-15.
“I’ve known Josh a long time, and he’s a tremendous coach,” Odom said. “The places he’s been – here, LSU and then at Oklahoma State – I know he’ll have those guys ready to go play. He understands the habits and the fundamentals that it takes to play at a high level, and I’ve got a lot of respect for the job that he does.”
Other ties between the old conference rivals include current players.
Oklahoma State starting offensive lineman Shane Richards also attended junior college with Missouri defensive end Nathaniel Anderson at New Mexico Military Institute.
It’s been a week shy of a month since OSU starting running back Justice Hill went down with an injury during the Bedlam game in Norman, and missed the last two games of the season.
According to Gundy on Sunday, there is no new update on Hill’s status for the bowl game.
“I haven’t seen those guys. Everybody is going to start coming back in (Monday) because they’ve had a break,” Gundy said. “So I’m sure we’ll get all that information (Monday).”
Despite missing two and a half games at the end of the season, Hill was still voted as a first-team All-Big 12 selection by the league’s coaches. Hill finished fourth in the league in rushing yards per game (93) and his 930 yards rushing ranks fifth in the league despite playing in one or two fewer games than those tailbacks ahead of him.