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Cactus Bowl Preview and Prediction: Washington vs. Oklahoma State

Washington Huskies

Washington Huskies

Technically, this is the 26th annual TicketCity Cactus Bowl. 

Formerly known as the Copper Bowl (1989-96), the Insight Bowl (1997-2011) and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (2012-13)

Washington will represent the Pac-12, which has the highest winning percentage in bowl history with seven wins in eight tries (87.5%). Oklahoma State will represent the Big 12, which has the most wins (10) and appearances in the Cactus Bowl (15).

The Huskies and Cowboys have played twice in history, splitting a home-and-home in 1980 (Stillwater) and 1985 (Seattle) with, strangely enough, the home team losing both times. 

The Cowboys won their only appearance in the game in 2007 over Indiana, while Washington has never been to Tempe for this game.

After seven years of missing the postseason, Chris Petersen has kept alive a now five-game bowl streak in his first year at Washington. This season marks the ninth consecutive bowl game for Mike Gundy in 10 years at the helm in Stillwater. 

Washington vs. Oklahoma State

Kickoff: 10:15 p.m. ET (Jan. 2)

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TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Washington -5.5

Washington’s Key to Victory: Win the line of scrimmage

On defense, a dominant Washington frontline must protect a young secondary, while an elite set of linebackers wreak havoc around the line of scrimmage. On offense, the Huskies must continue their second-half surge on the ground. Washington topped 200 yards rushing in four of their last five games and posted 188 in the easy win over Washington State. Dwayne Washington has been the spearhead for the improvement, topping 100 yards in three straight and reaching paydirt in four straight. If Washington can win the battle up front on both sides of the ball, it could be a long day for the Cowboys.

Oklahoma State's Key to Victory: Keep Mason Rudolph upright and efficient

Oklahoma State's freshman signal-caller Mason Rudolph is one of the big reasons the Pokes ended 2014 with a flurry instead of disappointment. Rudolph had his issues getting acclimated to big-time college football — 53.3% completion rate, three INTs in two starts — but has been productive as well. On the road against two of the Big 12's best (Baylor and Oklahoma), he threw for 554 yards and four touchdowns. Against a Huskies defense that led the Pac-12 in takeaways (27) and is third nationally in sacks (49), keeping Rudolph upright and protected is the only way Oklahoma State can get the win. That's a tall order considering OSU allowed the most sacks of any team in the Big 12.

Final Analysis

Both teams capped a bumpy season with a critical victory in their respective rivalry games, adding some energy to the postseason meeting. But the Cowboys are genuinely lucky to still be playing, as this is one of the weaker OSU teams Gundy has coached since arriving in Stillwater. There is hope in the form of Rudolph, but the Cowboys are overmatched from a talent perspective and will be without its top offensive weapon after Tyreek Hill was dismissed from the team. The UW defense could dominate the line of scrimmage, so if the offense can produce just an average performance, the Huskies should get a ninth win this year.

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Prediction: Washington 27, Oklahoma State 17