COLUMBIA - M-I-Z. S-E-C?
That's been a familiar message surrounding the Missouri football team.
No. 8 Missouri (11-2) isn't just playing No. 13 Oklahoma State (10-2) in the Cotton Bowl on Friday in Arlington, Texas. The Tigers are representing the Southeastern Conference. In a highly regarded contest. Against a team from Missouri's old league.
"I think there always is (conference pride at stake)," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. "... Now we're in the SEC, you not only play for your school but you play for your conference. As it goes on they start logging (the bowl games). What league has won the most? There's a lot of pride. We had the same pride that we took when we were in the Big 12. We took that same kind of attitude. That's certainly part of it. That's just the responsibility you have when you're a member of a league. And certainly us for the SEC."
There's quite a bit of history between Missouri and Oklahoma State, dating back to their days in the old Big 8 Conference and then the Big 12. Missouri holds a 28-23 advantage all-time, including winning 5-of-9 match ups during Big 12 play (1996-2011). Oklahoma State, on the other hand, has won three straight meetings between the schools, including a 45-24 decision during the 2011 season in Columbia that serves as the last meeting between the schools.
"I think they know us a little bit, and we know them," Pinkel said. "That's just normal. We know a little about each other for those reasons. We just went through two years of playing teams we've hardly ever played before. We went to new places and everything was entirely different. It's a good fit, and they're a good football team. It's going to be a great challenge for us."
While playing an old rival in the Cotton Bowl may not mean a whole lot to some of the younger players on Missouri's roster, don't tell that to the upperclassmen.
"We got out of the (Big 12) conference and moved to the SEC," Missouri senior wide receiver Marcus Lucas said. "It's known as the strongest conference in the nation. We just want to show that we belong. I think we did, we made a good stand this year getting into the championship. We just want to go back and show how much we've improved. We do have a lot of Big 12 recruits. My class is almost the last one, I think the one behind us was still a Big 12 one. We want to show how we've elevated our game and we'll show it against them."
Then you have the ever-thoughtful Max Copeland, the senior left guard for the Tigers: "It's a team with 11 dudes. I understand why that's fun to think, "Oh, old conference.' I don't care. It's a team with 11 dudes and they're good. We're good. It will be fun. It will be dudes in different-colored jerseys that we try to hit.
"I think the players have different views on rivalries. I think there's an element on whoever you're playing you hate them. You hate everybody. If they're not on your team you hate them. There is an element to that. There's history in it, and you can't discredit the history. But at the same time don't think too many of those rivalry thoughts because anything that distracts you from your process can be detrimental."
There's certainly some history that sides with the SEC as well. Missouri's new league has won nine of the last 10 Cotton Bowls against the Big 12. The only Big 12 win in that stretch? Missouri's 38-7 win against Arkansas in 2008.
And now Missouri can make it 10 out of 11.
"They know it's a great bowl game, it's highly respected," Pinkel said. "We're playing a good football team. I haven't heard anything one way or the other in terms of playing a former Big 12 team. That really doesn't matter."
What does matter to Missouri is coming away with a victory in the final game of the season.
"It's going to be important to us," Pinkel said. "We're going to work hard and try to play our best."