9:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Colorado -3, Over/Under: 63
If you’re looking for a most entertaining matchup outside of the College Football Playoff, than look no further than the Valero Alamo Bowl where the twelfth-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys clash with the tenth-ranked Colorado Buffaloes at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. In addition to featuring a pair of Top-Twelve teams, this particular matchup owns the distinction of representing a reunion of old Big VIII, and later Big XII rivals, before the latter moved to the Pac-12 in 2010. Colorado leads the all-time series between these teams, owning a 26-19-1 record. On to their eleventh consecutive Bowl Game, Oklahoma State (9-3, 7-2 in Big XII) overcame a pair of early season losses to force their way to the fringes of the Playoff, yet ultimately fell in the Regular Season Finale against bitter rival Oklahoma in a 38-20 defeat. One win away from their fifth ten-win season in seven years, Mike Gundy’s charges stand poised to do so on the strength of one of the most prolific offensive attacks in the country; the Cowboys average 38.7 points (18th Overall) on a healthy 492.3 Total Yards, including 322.8 through the air, with most of that number courtesy of Quarterback Mason Rudolph. The Junior has completed 63.0% of his attempts for 3,770 yards (9.1 Y/A), twenty-five touchdowns and only four interceptions, becoming the only player in the country to throw for over 3,500 yards and fewer than five interceptions. Furthermore, he’s also a subtle threat with his legs, particularly in the Red Zone, where he has managed to score six more times. Simply put, when Rudolph makes plays, this is a very difficult offense to contain. Benefitting from his production are a bevy of lethal receiving threats, none more so than James Washington (62 REC, 1,209 YDS, 9 TD), who looks to be the next in a long line of Cowboys’ Receivers to take their talents to the NFL. However, he’s far from the only target, for three other of their number have surpassed 400 receiving yards, including the likes of Jalen McCleskey (69 REC, 762 YDS, 7 TD), Jhajuan Seales (34 REC, 572 YDS, 3 TD), and Chris Lacy (30 REC, 478 YDS, 3 TD). Needless to say, if you have holes in your Secondary, these guys will find a way to exploit it. However, exploitation oftentimes runs both ways, and for that matter, Oklahoma State has been exploited, and sometimes abused by their opponents; Gundy’s Defense has allowed a staggering 457.0 Total Yards per Game, on a very balanced 252.0 yards versus the pass and 205.0 yards against the run. On four occasions thus far, they’ve relinquished at least 500 yards of Total Offense, and in the Finale against the Sooners they were absolutely torched to the tune of 629 yards, with a ridiculous 341 of that number coming via the run. As we’ve detailed in posts past, such is often life in the Big XII where wide-open offenses rule the land. So with that said, the only way to survive defensively is by forcing turnovers, which is something that this unit has been adept at; Oklahoma State has created twenty-four takeaways, posting multiple takeaways in seven of their twelve contests. Defensive Backs Jordan Sterns (96 TKL, 5.0 TFL, 3 INT, 5 PD) and Ramon Richards (60 TKL, 2.0 TFL, 3 INT, 5 PD) have been playmakers all season, while Defensive Tackle Vincent Taylor (44 TKL, 12.0 TFL, 6.5 SK, 1 PD, 2 FF) has been the most disruptive member of their Front Seven. Ironically, it’s been Special Teams that has helped the Defense most; Punter Zach Sinor is sure to have a future in the Pros, averaging 42.4 yards per punt, placing their opponents at an average starting position of the 23.8-yard line
Meanwhile, it’s been quite a long while for Colorado (10-3, 8-1 in Pac-12), but they have finally returned to the Postseason, playing in their first Bowl Game since 2007. To give you an idea of just how long ago that really was, their trip to the Independence Bowl (a 30-24 loss to Alabama) was against a Crimson Tide team featuring Nick Saban in his first year at Tuscaloosa. Nine years and four National Championships have passed by, and the Buffaloes have grown accustomed to spending this time of year at home. In fact, the 2016 campaign represents the Program’s first winning season since 2005, and is their first ten-win term since 2001. Mike MacIntyre has done a tremendous job cultivating this long dormant program, and has now begun to reap the benefits of a slew of strong recruiting classes. Tailback Phillip Lindsay is just one such recruit, who in his Junior year has emerged as a multidimensional playmaker out of the Backfield, carrying the ball 23o times for 1,189 yards (5.2 Y/C) and sixteen touchdowns, while reeling in another forty-seven passes for 390 yards and a score. Ditto for Quarterback Sefo Liufau, who has seen the entire evolution of this Program transpire in his four years starting under Center. Liufau completed 62.8% of his attempts for 2,171 yards (7.5 Y/A), eleven touchdowns and six interceptions, while emerging a rushing threat more than ever, scampering for a career-high 494 yards and seven scores. He’s accomplished a great many things in his four years in Boulder, claiming a staggering eighty-seven school records, while also earning a the distinction of Polynesian College football Player of the Year Award this month. However, the Senior suffered a sprained ankle early in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Washington, and wound up missing most of the First Half of that battle. MacIntyre has pronounced him good to go though, as he readies to make his final appearance in a Colorado uniform tonight. Defensively, the Buffaloes have slowly become one of the more staunch groups in the conference, allowing just 20.5 points (19th Overall) on a respectable 327.6 Total Yards per game, including 182.0 yards through the air and another 145.6 on the ground. Passing the ball has been especially difficult to do against them, for opposing Quarterbacks are only connecting on 48.2% of their passes. Like their opponent tonight, they’ve proven adept at forcing turnovers, creating twenty-six takeaways, doing so in bunches; Colorado has forced as many as four turnovers on four different occasions this season. Defensive Back Tedric Thompson has been the prime benefactor in the Secondary, picking off seven passes in addition to fifteen deflected ones. Then again, pressure goes so often goes hand in hand with takeaways, and this group has done a good job of that as well, amassing thirty-five sacks, led by Edge Rusher Jimmie Gilbert, who has wrecked havoc in opposing Backfields, totaling fifty-seven tackles, 12.5 for loss, 10.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles. A big proponent of their success was Defensive Coordinator Jim Leavitt, who departed the program back in early December to take a similar position with Oregon’s new Coaching Staff.