Colorado and Oklahoma State tangled 44 times as conference mates in the Big 8 and Big 12 between 1960 through 2009. This year’s Alamo Bowl, however, is the first time the two programs have faced off on the gridiron since the Buffaloes lit out for the Pac-12 in 2011.
Colorado now plays a decidedly non-Big 12 brand of football under reclamation artist Mike MacIntyre. MacIntyre and now-departed coordinator Jim Leavitt built their squad around a rugged defense that ranked 11th in Defensive S&P+, a measure of efficiency.
Oklahoma State will pose one of the toughest challenges yet for that D. The Cowboys boast a well-rounded offensive attack that became even more lethal in the second half of the season as their running game grew even more potent.
And for the record, these two programs have played each other 46 times previously (first meeting was way back in 1920) with Colorado leading the series 26-19-1.
Alamo Bowl: Colorado vs. Oklahoma State (San Antonio)
Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 29 at 9:00 p.m. ET
Where: Alamodome (San Antonio)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Colorado -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Motivation - Who Has It?
It’s the first question that has to be asked in any bowl game. Ole Miss spanked Oklahoma State last year in the Sugar Bowl. Are the Cowboys still smarting from that beatdown? And how will this team respond after losing its last game, a 38-20 defeat to archrival Oklahoma?
Colorado’s last bowl appearance came at the end of the 2007 season. That’s a long time to wait, especially when you consider how many times the veteran Buffaloes have had their lunch money taken in their careers. And they could still be smarting from the 41-10 shellacking they got from Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Recent losses aside, Colorado has been waiting a little longer for this moment and this team has been determined on writing a new script this season. Advantage Buffaloes.
2. Oklahoma State’s Running Game
Colorado’s defense is solid, but the teams that have had success moving the ball against the Buffs started on the ground. Makes sense, seeing as CU’s secondary is one of the best in the country.
Entering this game, Colorado ranks 40th in the nation in rushing defense at 145.9 yards per game allowed. In their three losses (Michigan, USC, Washington), the Buffaloes gave up an average of 207.7 rushing yards per game and five of the 12 touchdowns they surrendered on the ground.
Oklahoma State found its ground groove over the last month of the season, averaging more than 6.3 yards per rushing attempt in the final three games. Justice Hill (7.6 ypc over last three games) and Chris Carson (7.9, 4 TDs) should expect plenty of work in this matchup.
3. Colorado Shouldn’t Settle for Field Goals
You could say this about every team, but the Buffaloes really need to make the most of any scoring opportunities they are presented with, and that means punching it into the end zone. Colorado has employed four different kickers on field goal attempts this season. Chris Graham, Davis Price, Diego Gonzalez and punter Alex Kinney are a combined 17-for-25 on field goals and also have missed three PATs (50-for-53).
Oklahoma State certainly has the firepower (top 20 in the FBS in both total and scoring offense) to punish the Buffs for empty possessions.
Colorado enters this game as a small favorite, which seems to capture the general consensus about the quality of the two teams’ opponents this year. The Buffaloes look a little more battle-tested after winning the Pac-12 South and competing in a deeper league in 2016. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, survived a series of close scrapes in a weak edition of the Big 12.
Colorado will put a fitting end on its comeback season if the Buffs can shut down OSU’s rushing attack, rendering the Cowboys one-dimensional. Aside from running the ball effectively, OSU needs quarterback Mason Rudolph to shake off the erraticism that has plagued him in two years as a starter. CU’s defensive backs will take advantage of the mistakes he has been prone to making.
Don’t be surprised if CU turns a couple OSU turnovers into short fields or defensive scores. That will make the difference in the final score.
Prediction: Colorado 35, Oklahoma State 27
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.