Monday, Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tenn.
Free NCAAF Pick: UNDER
Best Line Offered: 5Dimes
The Missouri Tigers have returned to the rankings in their third season under head coach Barry Odom; they lost the 2017 Texas Bowl 33-16 to Texas (+3). The Oklahoma State Cowboys are playing their 14th season and their 13th consecutive bowl game for head coach Mike Gundy. They went 8-4 SU and 7-5 ATS over the previous dozen games. Missouri are 8-point favorites at press time after opening at –10, and the total has risen from 71 to 74.5.
How They Got Here
The Tigers are flying under the radar after doing battle in the very tough SEC East, where they finished in fourth place behind Georgia, Florida and Kentucky – although they did beat the Gators 38-17 in Week 10 as 6.5-point road dogs. The Big 12 Cowboys barely qualified for bowl season with six wins, but they upset Boise State (–2 away), Texas (–2.5 away) and West Virginia (–2 away), and narrowly lost 48-47 to Oklahoma (–21.5 at home) in Week 11.
Why Missouri Can Win/Cover
Missouri comes into the Liberty Bowl as an underappreciated commodity in the SEC. After playing one of the toughest schedules in the FBS, they finished the regular season at No. 13 on the F/+ Combined Ratings at Football Outsiders. Oklahoma State are a couple steps behind at No. 32. The Tigers also have the superior defense and special teams in this matchup by a considerable margin.
The Cowboys did outperform Missouri on offense, checking in at No. 10 on the S/P+ Ratings compared to the Tigers at No. 15. However, Oklahoma State will be without two important players: RB Justice Hill and RG Larry Williams. They’re skipping the Liberty Bowl to focus on the NFL Draft. Hill led the ‘Pokes in rushing, while Williams started all 12 games for OSU. Overall, this could be a let-down game for Oklahoma State, who are just three years removed from playing in the Sugar Bowl.
Why Oklahoma State Can Win/Cover
They may have gone 6-6, but the Cowboys are the best 6-6 team in college football, and the sharps jumped all over them at +10. ESPN’s Football Power Index projects their chances of winning the Liberty Bowl at 34.8 percent, or somewhere around +5.5 for a vig-free point spread. That projection won’t account for Hill and Williams, but freshman RB Chuba Hubbard (5.6 yards per carry) got plenty of touches this year behind Hill (5.9 YPC) and performed nearly as well.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have run into some issues off the field. DE Tre Williams was suspended earlier this month after he was arrested – and later charged – on suspicion of domestic assault. He’ll miss the Liberty Bowl after starting six regular-season games for Mizzou. Inside linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves also was arrested last week after missing a court date over a traffic ticket.
Common Opponent/Series History
These two teams didn’t share a common opponent in 2018; they’ve split their lifetime series at 5-5 SU and ATS (the Tigers were in the Big 12 from 1996 to 2011), but Missouri won their most recent matchup, prevailing 41-31 at the 2013 Cotton Bowl Classic as 3-point underdogs.
The Liberty Bowl is being peddled as an offensive shootout, featuring Missouri QB Drew Lock (35 TDs, eight INTs) on one side and Oklahoma State QB Taylor Cornelius (28 TDs, 11 INTs) on the other. Lock is one season removed from setting the SEC record with 44 TD passes, and Cornelius is thriving after two years as Mason Rudolph’s back-up. However, both teams are more proficient running than passing – especially Missouri – and the Tigers have a particularly good rush defense. Taking Hill and Williams out of the mix, and bumping the total up to 74.5, make the UNDER that much tastier for a New Year’s Eve game in Memphis that will be exposed to the elements.