BY GINA MIZELL, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
STILLWATER — Leading up to Oklahoma State's Cotton Bowl matchup against Missouri, Cowboy coach Mike Gundy continues to mention how similar this Tiger team is to the one OSU faced in Columbia two years ago.
And he's largely right. Same coach in Gary Pinkel. Same quarterback in James Franklin. Same running back in Henry Josey. Same general schemes on offense and defense.
But where is this Mizzou squad different? Or, rather, where are the Tigers most improved, allowing them to rise from a middle-of-the-road Big 12 team in 2011 to a contender in the SEC and nationally this season?
Here are three key areas:
Franklin clearly had ability as a sophomore in 2011, but lacked experience in a league that featured Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill, Landry Jones and Collin Klein.
This season, the dual-threat signal-caller belongs in the group of upper-echelon quarterbacks in the SEC, which features NFL prospects like Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, Johnny Manziel and A.J. McCarron. Franklin has completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 2,255 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions in 10 games, while adding 474 rushing yards and four scores.
Franklin anchors a Mizzou offense that features Josey as a fourth-year junior, along with two seniors and one redshirt junior on the offensive line.
OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer drew a comparison between the Mizzou offense and the Cowboy defense.
“All their great players — the linemen, the quarterback, the running back — they were all young then, just like we had a bunch of sophomores and redshirt freshmen playing,” Spencer said. “Then everybody sticks around and they get better every year. They've had great success.