We may be a bit biased but it's pretty hard to argue that tonight's Alamo Bowl isn't the most highly anticipated matchup of this bowl season so far. The offensive units for both the No. 10 Colorado Buffaloes (10-3, 8-2 Pac-12) and No. 12 Oklahoma State Cowboys (9-3, 7-2 Big 12) are ranked in the top 30 in the country.
Both teams play in conferences known for moving the ball down the field and playing against less successful defenses. For Colorado, quarterback Sefo Liufau has led the Buffaloes to a 10-3 record with quality Pac-12 wins. On the other side, Mason Rudolph has kept the Cowboys amongst Big 12 elite throughout the entire season. Early season losses to Central Michigan and Baylor before a seven-game winning streak is the story of OSU’s year thus far.
The only thin that kept the Cowboys from an eight-game streak was in-state rival Oklahoma and Heisman finalist Baker Mayfield.
Here’s how the two teams compare going into the bowl game.
Before the season, there were questions about who would be the starting quarterback for the Buffaloes. Liufau suffered a broken foot to end the 2015 season and his status was unknown going into spring ball. Former Texas Tech graduate transfer Davis Webb verbally committed to transferring to Colorado and seemed poised to take over the starting job until he changed direction and ended up signing with California.
After suffering an ankle injury against Michigan, Liufau was sidelined and replaced by Steven Montez. The redshirt freshman from El Paso, Texas became the first player in CU history to throw for 300 yards and run for 100 yards in the game at Oregon.
Colorado has taken a huge step forward with Liufau, who grew from a passer that made ill-advised decisions that often led to interceptions two years ago to a proficient leader of the offense. Co-offensive coordinators Brian Lindgren and Darrin Chiaverini have directed the Buffs in a better direction that allows Liufau to stretch the field. He has thrown for 2,171 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.
With both Liufau and Montez, the Buffaloes have options at the quarterback position with two capable passers.
The success of the Buffaloes offense hinges on a deep rotation of receivers. A majority of passes have gone to Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross, who lead the Buffs with a total of 2,133 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns. Wide recevier Jay MacIntyre erased the label of being the "coaches son" by playing a complementary role along with Phillip Lindsay out of the backfield.
The stout front is made up by a majority of upperclassmen with the exception of freshman Tim Lynott. In his first season, Lynott was named to USA Today’s All-Freshman team and is expected to anchor the line for years to come. Center Alex Kelley is one of the most experienced members of the Buffs and is joined by Jonathan Huckins, Jeromy Irwin, Sam Kronshage and Aaron Haigler.
A disadvantage of running a fast-paced offense is giving up sacks and it's a weakness for CU’s O-line, allowing 28 sacks on the season for an average of over two per game.
When the Buffs have needed tough yards, they has come from Phillip Lindsay out of the backfield. He averages 5.2 yards per carry this season for a total of 1,189 yards and 16 touchdowns. How important is Lindsay to CU’s offense? He has accounted for 30% of the Buffaloes total offense and doubles as a blocking back.
Oklahoma State’s Offense
Mason Rudolph made the announcement this week that he would return to Stillwater for his senior season and for good reason. He was projected to be a mid to late round pick in the NFL Draft. Even though Rudolph’s numbers are fairly good, there’s room for improvement going into next season. He’s thrown for an average of 315 yards per game to go along with 25 touchdowns to four interceptions. Good for second in the Big 12 and eighth in the nation.
Like Rudolph, James Washington made the decision to return to OSU to build off his success this year. He leads all Cowboys’ receivers with 1209 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 19.5 yards per catch. A remarkable 17 players have caught a pass this season for OSU and three of them besides Washington have made an impact. Jalen McCleskey Jhajuan Seales and Chris Lacy have a combined 1,812 yards receiving with 13 touchdowns
When Greg Adkins left the NFL last year to be a part of Mike Gundy’s staff as the offensive line coach there was mixed feeling about how the transition would go. In his first season, Adkins made tremendous strides. According to OSU, the offensive line contributed to rank seventh nationally in passing offense, 14th nationally in scoring offense, 17th nationally in yards per completion and ninth nationally in red zone offense.
As a freshman, Justice Hill leads the Pokes with 1,042 rushing yards, despite being fourth among rushers for touchdowns with five on the season. He’s joined by Chris Carson and Rennie Childs, who’ve split a majority of carries this season. As a whole, OSU’s rushing attack has accounted for 2,032 yards and 30 touchdowns, ranking 82nd in the nation.
The biggest question going into the Alamo Bowl will be how the Buffs defense will do without recently departed defensive coordinator, Jim Leavitt. Secondary coach Joe Tumpkin has been given the play calling duties and has spent a great deal of time preparing for the Cowboys’ offense.
Leavitt might have been the face of the defense for the past two seasons and his accomplishments have been noticed, but Tumpkin has contributed a great deal to the success of the defense by having the best secondary in the Pac-12. For Tumpkin, this game will be a "working interview" for the potential of taking over the defense full-time next season.
CU’s hybrid 3-4 base scheme could be disruptive for Oklahoma State’s offense, especially with the strong secondary of Tedric Thompson, Chidobe Awuzie, and Akhello Witherspoon.
Oklahoma State’s Defense
Unlike Colorado, OSU, ranked 106th in the nation, has struggled on defense, giving up an average if 457 yards and 28.1 points per contest. Bad defense is nothing new for OSU, who hasn’t been ranked above 50th for total defense since 2009. The Cowboys are much better against the run than in pass coverage. A good base of linebackers led by All-Big 12 selection Devante Averette has OSU 40th in the nation for QB sacks.
Odds and Ends
Colorado is favored by three points according to most Las Vegas sports books. This game marks the first Bowl appearance in nine years for the Buffaloes and the Cowboys’ increase their streak over the past decade.
It's the first ever meeting between head coaches Mike MacIntyre and Mike Gundy and the game has a record payout of $3.825 million. Ralphie V makes her first bowl trip out-of-state for the 949 mile venture to San Antonio.
Colorado meets Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29 with kickoff scheduled at 7 p.m. MT/ 9 p.m. MT on ESPN.