DALLAS — With the long break between the end of the regular season and an early January bowl game, several players, matchups and storylines from the Cotton Bowl contest between Oklahoma State and Missouri have already been mentioned — and dissected.
Justin Gilbert vs. Dorial Green-Beckham.
The final bows for senior quarterbacks Clint Chelf and James Franklin.
The rapid rise of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam.
A 1,000-yard back in Henry Josey facing the middle of the OSU defense that includes tackle Calvin Barnett and linebacker Caleb Lavey.
But here are five under-the-radar Cowboys and Tigers who could have a big impact in the Cotton Bowl.
1. Daytawion Lowe, strong safety, OSU
It's pretty stunning how a three-year starter who ranks second on the team in tackles (80) still tends to get overlooked.
But Lowe's versatility to play the run and pass will be needed against a balanced Missouri attack that ranks in the top 20 in the nation in scoring offense (39 points per game) and total offense (492.9 yards per game).
Lowe will assist in trying to stop Josey, who's averaging 6.6 yards per carry, and will also be needed plenty in coverage against a big, physical Tiger receiving corps.
2. E.J. Gaines, cornerback, Missouri
Gilbert isn't the only dynamic playmaker at cornerback in this contest.
Gaines, an All-SEC selection, has tallied a team-high four interceptions, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery this season to go with 68 tackles (four for loss). His finest performance came against Texas A&M, where he limited All-American Mike Evans to four catches for eight yards.
Gaines could match up with Charlie Moore, Jhajuan Seales or Tracy Moore on the outside.
3. Jhajuan Seales, wide receiver, OSU
Seales has shown flashes of promise during his debut season, ranking third on the team in catches (36) and receiving yards (529) while adding two touchdowns.
He could go 1-on-1 with Gaines. Or he could become the top receiving option because Gaines is covering another Cowboy.
Either way, Seales has the speed and big-play ability to stretch the field for OSU. A strong Cotton Bowl performance could also help propel Seales into next season, where he is expected to become the Cowboys' go-to outside receiver.
4. Markus Golden, defensive end, Missouri
Sam's monster season — 10.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors — has gotten plenty of attention. And rightfully so.
Kony Ely, another All-SEC performer who lines up at the opposite defensive end spot, has also gotten lots of praise.
But what about Markus Golden?
He not only rotates in at end to keep Ely fresh. He's become his own force, picking up 13 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and seven quarterback hurries to go with 51 total tackles, one interception returned 70 yards for a touchdown, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
In short, OSU's tackles are going to be busy Friday.
5. Ben Grogan, kicker, OSU
Grogan's true freshman season has, of course, been rocky.
But, quietly, he's made nine of his last 12 attempts, including four in a row.
Two of those consecutive makes came from 41 yards. One of those 41-yarders came during an earthquake.
Still, Grogan has, really, only been asked to attempt one clutch kick all season — when he clanked that 23-yarder off the upright in Morgantown. He did, however, make an important 28-yarder against Kansas State that pushed the Cowboys' lead to four with less than three minutes left.
If the game is close down the stretch, it will be interesting to see how the coaches manage Grogan. And how Grogan handles that type of situation in a big-time, pressure-filled environment.