A former Big 12 series renews in San Antonio
When members of the old Southwest Conference joined the former Big 8 in 1996, Colorado and Texas became charter members of the newly formed Big 12 Conference. The two programs, which first met in 1940, played most years during their 14 shared in the league, including in two Big 12 Championship Games.
The Alamo Bowl marks their first meeting since 2009, two years before Colorado moving to the Pac-12. Much has changed in that time, with Texas undergoing head-coaching changes: Mack Brown to Charlie Strong and now Tom Herman. Colorado parted ways with Dan Hawkins upon leaving the Big 12, employed Jon Embree for just two years -- twice as long as 2019 head coach Mel Tucker was in Boulder -- with Mike MacIntyre (2013-18) having the longest tenure between.
Karl Dorrell's first year at Colorado brought with it Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors and national coaching award nominations. Defeating a former Big 12 nemesis to cap the season would be quite a punctuation on the unexpected breakout performance from the Buffaloes in Dorrell's debut.
Valero Alamo Bowl: No. 20 Texas (6-3) vs. Colorado (4-1)
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. ET
Where: Alamodome (San Antonio)
Spread: Colorado -9.5
When Texas Has the Ball
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger's Texas career is an exercise in the influence expectations have on perception. Ehlinger was never seriously in this year's Heisman Trophy conversation despite having offseason Heisman hype at various points in his career -- most notably following the 2019 Sugar Bowl, when Ehlinger made the declaration that Texas was "back" after almost a decade out of national title contention.
Ehlinger produced a quietly impressive 25 touchdowns against just five interceptions this season and surpassed 2,400 yards. He embarks on the Alamo Bowl with the lingering question about his future, having not yet made a public declaration of his 2021 intentions. Finishing a disappointing 2020 for the Longhorns on a high note takes precedent.
Texas will have to replace the production of leading wide receiver Brennan Eagles, who opted out of the Alamo Bowl. Eagles caught 20 percent of Ehlinger's touchdown passes during the regular season. Ehlinger will also have to navigate a talented Colorado secondary, which produced an interception in every game this season but one, and only allowed seven touchdown passes on the year -- four of which came in the season opener.
Ehlinger also will be without two starters up front with left tackle Samuel Cosmi opting out earlier this season to focus on the 2021 NFL Draft and senior Derek Kerstetter out because of a dislocated left ankle. There's also some uncertainty regarding right guard Denzel Okafor, who could reportedly miss this game due to COVID-19 protocols. Even if Okafor is cleared in time to play, Texas will likely start two true freshmen up front.
Colorado is down the star of its defense, linebacker Nate Landman. A key to the Buffs' ability to create takeaways due to his pass-rushing ability, Landman is out due to an injury he sustained late in the regular season. Fellow linebacker Carson Wells picks up the slack.
When Colorado Has the Ball
Highlighting Colorado's surprising 2020 season was the unexpected emergence of running back Jarek Broussard. The sophomore surpassed 800 rushing yards in just five games and averaged 6.3 yards per carry en route to winning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Broussard's breakout set the tone for the nation's 16th-most productive rushing offense. The Buffaloes come into the Alamo Bowl averaging better than 218 yards per game on the ground, employing a combination of Broussard and dual-threat quarterback Sam Noyer. Noyer led the Buffs with five rushing touchdowns.
The Texas defense comes in ranked 30th nationally against the run, a trend the Longhorns must continue in San Antonio. Noyer's passing has been up-and-down this season, with the former safety having thrown five interceptions to six touchdowns and completing 58 percent of his attempts. Slowing the Buffs' rushing production to force Colorado to the air is essential, but Texas will be without star defensive end/outside linebacker Joseph Ossai, who has shifted his focus to the draft.
Projecting bowl games outside of the New Year's Six can be a precarious exercise. Player opt-outs factor in, as well as motivation. Last year's Alamo Bowl was an instructive example of the latter, with a Utah team that had designs on a College Football Playoff spot before the Pac-12 Championship Game getting snubbed for the New Year's Six, then coming out listless in a blowout loss to Texas.
The roles could be reversed for the Longhorns after a disappointing finish in the Big 12, while Colorado has an opportunity to put an exclamation point on its surprising season.
Prediction: Colorado 34, Texas 27
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— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.