Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Colorado Buffaloes, Thursday Dec. 29, 9 p.m. ET
Bowl season always provides us with some intriguing matchups, and this one certainly qualifies on that front. For one, this is a throwback - the teams were longtime Big 8 and Big 12 foes before the Buffaloes migrated to the Pac-12 in 2011. Few around the programs have direct experience with their rivalry, but for conference purists it's a good throwback to simpler days.
More significantly, these two teams have a lot in common this year. Namely, both ended up just one loss short of their conference titles, and before the season few would have expected either to be in that situation. If Oklahoma State had beaten Oklahoma in the Bedlam game they would have won the Big 12. Colorado, in one of the biggest shocks of the whole season, won the Pac-12 South. They weren't quite good enough when it mattered against Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game, though.
So these two teams were almost-Cinderellas - the glass slippers were just a half size too small for them. Which one closes off their season strong with a win in a pretty impressive bowl game?
Alamo Bowl Betting Storylines
The biggest story in this game could be a guy who isn't here. Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt did a remarkable job turning around an ugly defense in his two years at Colorado. He has bolted for the same role at Oregon, though. It might seem like a bit of a lateral move given Oregon's issues lately, but new Oregon head coach Willie Taggart and Leavitt are both part of the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree, so it makes sense. Safeties coach Joe Tumpkin will take over defensive play calling duties for this game. Tumpkin is just the interim DC, but before this Colorado gig he was the defensive coordinator at Central Michigan for five years so he isn't totally in over his head here. He should be fine, and MacIntyre is a defensive coach as well, but I'd still feel better if Leavitt were in charge.
While on the topic of coaches, let's look at the head guys. I'll just say it - I'd take Mike MacIntyre over Mike Gundy every day and twice on Saturdays. It's not even a fair fight in my mind. MacIntyre has won national coaching awards this year for the incredible job he has done fast tracking the rebuilding job in Boulder. And he worked wonders at San Jose State previously, going from 1-12 in 2010 to 10-2 in 2012. He's very impressive. Mike Gundy, meanwhile, excels mostly at treading water. His teams always seem to be about the same -- respectable but never quite good enough when it matters. And 12 years in it sure doesn't feel like his voice is being heard by players like it once was. This is a coaching mismatch.
There is one defining showdown in this game that is most likely to determine how it turns out. Oklahoma State has two excellent receivers in Jalen McCleskey and especially James Washington. They combined for a hair short of 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. QB Mason Rudolph can throw, and these two make his job easy. Colorado's defensive strength, though, is their secondary. Chidobe Awuzie is a great corner, and he's not alone. Oklahoma State simply needs to establish the running game to win here. If they can't find a way to break through against this Colorado defense then they are in trouble. If Colorado can't hold up to this attack, though, then they can't win.
Alamo Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened widely with Colorado favored by three points, and it has remained stable at that level to this point. Oklahoma State has drawn more bets, but only a small majority, so we aren't likely to see dramatic movement. The total has remained stable in early action at 62.5.
The Cowboys are 4-1 ATS in their last five against teams with winning records. They have gone "over" the total in 13 of their last 19 games. The Buffaloes are 11-3 ATS in their last 14 overall and 7-2 ATS in their last nine against teams with winning records, but they are just 2-5-1 in their last eight against Big 12 foes.
Oklahoma State vs. Colorado Alamo Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I believe in this Colorado secondary - even without Leavitt. That is what makes the difference here. Oklahoma State can't win if they can't pass deep, and they are going to struggle to do that. Colorado feels (rightly) that they should be in the Rose Bowl, and that slight will motivate them here as well. Plus, when you give MacIntyre this long to prepare for a game his edge only expands. I think Colorado actually wins this one fairly handily.
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