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Colorado Buffaloes vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys: Alamo Bowl advanced stat preview

Here’s how the numbers predict the Alamo Bowl will play out.

NCAA Football: Utah at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Remember bowl games? No, not the Independence Bowl with Cody Hawkins and a .500 team, real bowl games? I sure don’t. The 2005 team is the last one that I remember, and even that is fuzzy because I was in elementary school. Not to date myself too much, but I can’t remember the last big CU bowl game, or CU bowl win. So it should go without saying that I’m pretty excited for this one.

It’s a good thing that I have waited a while to deep dive into the football team and the Alamo Bowl. The disappointment surrounding the Pac-12 Championship game was palpable and heavy for about a week, and even more pronounced by the CFB Playoff Committee deciding to make CU the only Power 5 conference championship participant that has not made a New Year’s Six Bowl in the Playoff era. Let me repeat that. CU is THE ONLY POWER 5 CONFERENCE CHAMP PARTICIPANT THAT DID NOT MAKE A NEW YEAR’S SIX BOWL. sigh. They were looking for any reason to get USC into the Rose Bowl, and they found it in the drubbing by Washington. Nevermind the fact that CU had the privilege of getting blown out by Washington by finishing AHEAD of USC in the Pac-12 South standings and USC got a three-spot rankings bump by sitting at home and watching teams that accomplished more than they did. USC is one of the best teams in the country right now, and they will handle Penn State well. But enough about my USC hate and the stupid Committee and the stupid Rose Bowl. Time to move forward to the Alamo Bowl. It’ll be a good one, folks.

Oklahoma State will be a fun team to play against. At 9-3 (should be 10-2, but the refs against CMU got in the way), OSU has won a lot of games against some good teams this year, and the Cowboys will prove a worthy matchup for the Buffs. I don’t want to get in the way of Bill Connelly’s pretty and meaningful numbers, so here is a fancy new table that shows some head-to-head stat matchups between offensive and defensive units. Here are the raw stat profiles for Oklahoma State and Colorado.

Oklahoma State- Colorado Stats Comparison

Matchup Stat Colorado (Ranking) Matchup Stat Oklahoma State (Ranking)
Matchup Stat Colorado (Ranking) Matchup Stat Oklahoma State (Ranking)
Defensive S+P 11 Offensive S+P 13
Offensive S+P 43 Defensive S+P 81
Defensive Effeciency (Success Rate Allowed) 15 Offensive Effeciency (Success Rate Acheived) 25
Offensive Effeciency (Success Rate Acheived) 48 Defensive Effeciency (Success Rate Allowed) 84
Average Field Position (Offense) 85 Average Field Position (Defense) 1
Finishing Drives (Pts. Per Trip Inside 40) D 9 Finishing Drives (Pts. Per Trip Inside 40) O 32
Passing S+P (Defense) 6 Passing S+P (Offense) 32
Passing S+P (Offense) 20 Passing S+P (Defense) 78
DB Havoc Rate (Positive Plays Made by DB) 1 DB Havoc Rate (Positive Plays Made by DB) 104
Important head-to-head matchups between OSU-CU position groups

Lots of things to digest in the table, but let me mention the things that I omitted from the table because I didn’t find them interesting enough:

Number one, the rushing offenses and defenses are surprisingly similar. Both offenses are average, according to S+P, with Colorado gaining less explosive plays per game. On the other side, Oklahoma State is one of the worst teams in the country at allowing explosive rushing plays, while the Buffs are the 25th ranked rushing defense, according to overall S+P (OSU is 77th). That last stat is the biggest difference, and CU will have to rein in Justice Hill to win the game. There is opportunity for Phillip Lindsay to break out on the other side, however.

Number two, the explosiveness of both teams are similar. They give up an above-average number of explosive plays per game, but Oklahoma State is more explosive on offense.

Number three, the pace was not different enough for me to put it in the table. CU is a top-10 fast offense, and their no-huddle is lethal when it gets rolling. Oklahoma State also employs no-huddle, but a more measured version, with Mason Rudolph reading the defense.

Ok, to the table!

This game is not about strength vs. strength, but rather who’s weakness is worse. The first matchup you see, CU’s defense vs. OSU’s offense, is the strength of both teams. The Buffs’ D has been downright dominant near the end of the year, but with Jim Leavitt leaving Oregon, the defense will be a partial question mark. Oklahoma State mirrors the Big 12 as a whole in that their offense is great and their defense is...not.

Meanwhile, CU’s offense can be infuriatingly mediocre. Their offense is ranked a respectable 43, and OSU’s D sits at 81st. For reference, WSU is about 20 spots higher than OSU on the defensive S+P ranking. This is good news for the Buffs. When CU loses, it is because the other team shuts down the line of scrimmage and keeps the offense one-dimensional. I don’t think that will happen with the Cowboys, at least not to the level that Washington, USC, or Michigan dominated CU. Phillip Lindsay will gash some plays and the swing passes will get some extra room. So, if we consider OSU’s offense and CU’s defense a wash, then the CU offense will need to beat the OSU defense, and the stats point to that being probable.

One way OSU can hurt the Buffs is in special teams. The Cowboys are an overall excellent team in the third phase of football. However, the most striking difference is in field position. CU starts out at about the 30 yard line, good for 85th in the country. Not terrible. OSU allows teams to start their drives at the 25, which is as good as a touchback and 1st in the country. CU has let their special teams make games more interesting than they’d like (Utah) and you could argue that the Michigan game was lost by special teams. They have been better as the year goes on, but Oklahoma State has the ability to blow up the Buffs if they aren’t careful.

Finally, I think that this game will largely come down to one stat. Finishing drives. The team that doesn’t settle for field goals wins this game. Fortunately, CU is one of the best in the country at forcing field goals or no points once the going gets tough. The Buffs stop teams once they reach the scary side of the field, and it’s hard to find a better red-zone defense. Oklahoma State has a good red-zone offense, but not crazy, and if CU can stop their runs on the short field, they will stop their offense. This secondary is just too good to let Rudolph throw too many touchdowns, so if the Buffs can stop Justice Hill, especially in the red-zone, they’ll win the game.

There are your keys for the Buffs. The offense has to move the ball against a pretty soft D, the special teams has to keep the game clean, and the Cowboys can’t run over the Buffs in the red-zone. They succeed in those things, they win the game. Or, because it’s football, chaos reigns and anything can happen!