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Why this bowl season will provide some serious southern exposure for OU and OSU

Bowl season in our state will have a decidedly southern feel.

It's not just that both major-college programs are headed south for bowl games, Oklahoma to the national semifinal at the Orange Bowl in Miami and Oklahoma State to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The Sooners and the Cowboys will clash with opponents from the Southeastern Conference, too.

OU vs. Alabama.

OSU vs. Missouri.

On a day when bowl invitations were announced, neither Sooners nor Cowboys knew where they were headed. Would OU make the College Football Playoff or be left outside the top four settling for the Sugar Bowl? Might OSU make the Texas Bowl, fall to the Liberty Bowl or maybe go lower?

The first answer came a little before noon Sunday — the playoff selection committee ranked the Sooners fourth and set up a Dec. 29 showdown with the top-ranked Crimson Tide.

"We feel we have a team that can go make a run," OU coach Lincoln Riley said in an interview during ESPN's selection show. "The most exciting thing for us is that we feel like our best ball is still ahead of us."

There may be evidence to back up that assertion. While the Sooner offense has rolled along all season at a historic clip, the defense has sputtered and stalled. But in OU's last two games, the defense has shown signs of life, scoring two touchdowns in a win at West Virginia, then turning in its best overall performance against Texas in the Big 12 title game.

That conference crown might have ultimately swayed the selection committee to the Sooners.

Rob Mullens, Oregon athletic director and selection committee chairman, said the committee members had little discussion about Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame holding the top three slots. But they had a "deep, detailed and occasionally contentious" debate about whether OU, Georgia or Ohio State should be the No. 4 team.

"Oklahoma was ranked No. 4 because they're a one-loss conference champion with a dynamic offense," Mullens said, "and their one loss was a close game to a ranked team at a neutral site."

Some outrage in the college football world followed the announcement, but most of the focus was on what is to be instead of what wasn't.

Alabama-OU pits two of the sport's most powerful and successful programs. They have played five times with the Sooners holding a 3-1-1 lead, including a 45-31 stunner in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.

"We'll be looking forward to the challenge," Riley said on ESPN. "That's what these games should be like — different champions from across the country, great programs that have a strong history going against each other, great individual matchups."

There will be no better individual matchup this bowl season than Kyler Murray vs. Tua Tagovialoa. Both quarterbacks are expected to be announced as Heisman Trophy finalists Monday.

OSU's bowl game also promises a good offensive matchup. Wide receiver Tylan Wallace headlines the Cowboy offense and may win the Biletnikoff Award later this week. Quarterback Drew Lock is the engine driving the Tigers, who averaged 39.8 points in winning their final four games of the season.

"We're playing our best football right now," said Missouri coach Barry Odom, who was born in Lawton and graduated high school from Ada.

The Liberty Bowl will be a matchup for former Big 12 foes. Missouri left for the SEC in 2012 after being in the same league as OSU since 1960.

Missouri leads the all-time series 29-23-0, though OSU has won three of the last four games.

The Liberty Bowl will be a match-up for former Big 12 foes. Missouri left for the SEC in 2012 after being in the same league as OSU since 1960.

Missouri leads the all-time series 29-23-0.

“I think it's pretty neat,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said of playing a former league opponent. “I think we had a lot of good times.”

Related Photos
<p>Kyler Murray</p>

Kyler Murray

<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Kyler Murray " title=" Kyler Murray "><figcaption> Kyler Murray </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Tua Tagovailoa " title=" Tua Tagovailoa "><figcaption> Tua Tagovailoa </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Lincoln Riley " title=" Lincoln Riley "><figcaption> Lincoln Riley </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Nick Saban " title=" Nick Saban "><figcaption> Nick Saban </figcaption></figure>
Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›