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December 28, 2010
Alamo Bowl: Arizona vs. Oklahoma State
A pair of upstart programs and two of the country's most prolific passing offenses vie in a potential shootout in Wednesday night's Alamo Bowl in the Alamodome.
High-scoring Oklahoma State exceeded 40 points eight times this season, including three times in the last four games. Arizona also has the ability to score in bunches, but the Wildcats have to shore up a defense that had its problems in a four-game losing streak to close the regular season.
Oklahoma State (10-2) never has won 11 games in a season. The Cowboys are aiming a school-record fifth consecutive postseason appearance.
This is the seventh meeting of these schools in history but the first since 1942. The teams are scheduled to meet in the regular season in 2011 and '12.
WHO GETS THE EDGE?
Arizona rush offense vs. Oklahoma State rush defense: Although Arizona has a couple of solid tailbacks in Keola Antolin (667 yards) and Nic Grigsby (474), the Wildcats have had a lackluster running game. The Wildcats did not rush for more than 125 yards in any of their last three regular-season games. But the Wildcats did run for 180 against Stanford and 234 against Washington, so the potential for a strong ground output is there. Led by star MLB Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State has been respectable against the run. The Cowboys allow an average of 137.3 rushing yards per game and held four of their past five opponents to fewer than 150 rushing yards. Edge: Oklahoma State.
Arizona pass offense vs. Oklahoma State pass defense: Nick Foles may be the most underappreciated passer in the country. In a conference with Stanford's Andrew Luck, Oregon's Darron Thomas, USC's Matt Barkley and Washington's Jake Locker, he tends to get overlooked. But he averages 291.0 passing yards per game to rank eighth in the nation. Foles had some injury issues at midseason, but in the final four games, he averaged 327.8 passing yards and threw 10 touchdown passes. He has three receivers with more than 40 catches, and the home-run threat is junior WR Juron Criner, who averages 16.2 yards on 73 receptions and has 10 touchdowns. Protection can be an issue, though. Arizona's offensive line has allowed 27 sacks. Oklahoma State's pass defense has been abysmal, especially against bowl teams. The Cowboys have surrendered more than 200 yards to seven of the eight bowl teams they've faced. Oklahoma and Texas A&M had more than 400 passing yards and Nebraska had five touchdown passes. On the positive side, Oklahoma State has 16 interceptions. Edge: Arizona.
Oklahoma State rush offense vs. Arizona rush defense: Kendall Hunter leads Oklahoma State with 1,516 rushing yards, which ranks seventh in the nation. Backup Joseph Randle has produced another 450 yards. The Cowboys rushed for 225 yards against Texas Tech, 212 vs. Nebraska and 213 vs. Kansas State, but were held to 122 by Oklahoma. Arizona is 39th in the nation in rushing defense, but struggled in the last month of the season. Three of the Wildcats' past four opponents rushed for more than 200 yards. Edge: Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State pass offense s. Arizona pass defense: Junior QB Brandon Weeden has a big arm and he has received big results with it. He's thrown for 4,037 yards and 32 touchdowns. He's thrown for more than 200 yards in every game and for more than 300 yards in seven games. His favorite receiver is Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon, a game-breaker who has 102 catches for 1,662 yards and 18 touchdowns. Three other Oklahoma State players have more than 35 catches. Weeden has received excellent protection, too, as the Cowboys' offensive line has allowed just 10 sacks. Arizona has been inconsistent in pass defense. The Wildcats give up over 200 yards per game and have allowed 16 touchdown passes. They allowed 267 passing yards to Arizona State in the regular-season finale. FS Adam Hall is a big hitter, but CB Trevin Wade has had a disappointing season. The Wildcats have a strong pass rush that has produced 33 sacks; Es Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed combined for 17.5 of them. Edge: Oklahoma State.
Arizona special teams vs. Oklahoma State special teams: Kick coverage may be the only advantage Arizona has in this area. K Alex Zendejas has hit 13-of-16 field-goal attempts, but a missed extra point was key in a loss to Arizona State in the regular-season finale. P Keenyn Crier averages 40.4 yards. Travis Cobb is dangerous on kickoff returns. The Cowboys are loaded here. K Dan Bailey won the Groza Award after converting 24 of 28 field-goal attempts, including a 52-yarder. P Quinn Sharp averages 46.2 yards and killed 16 inside the 20. Josh Cooper averages 9.9 yards on punt returns and Justin Gilbert averages 28.0 yards on kickoff returns. The Cowboys could do a better job in coverage. Edge: Oklahoma State.
Arizona coaches vs. Oklahoma State coaches: Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State and Mike Stoops at Arizona have had quite similar runs in their jobs. Gundy is 46-29 in six seasons in Stillwater, but has 28 victories in the past three seasons. Stoops is in his seventh season in Tucson where he took over a massive rebuilding project. He has a 40-44 record overall, but has 25 wins in the past three seasons. The primary difference is in the staffs. This is the final game for Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who already has been hired by West Virginia as offensive coordinator and will become coach in 2012. Defensive coordinator Bill Young is solid. Arizona has co-coordinators on both sides of the ball who are in the first year in those positions. Co-offensive coordinators Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell used to be on the Texas Tech staff along with Holgorsen. Edge: Oklahoma State.
X-factor: Which Arizona team is going to show up? Arizona entered November with a chance to win the Pac-10 championship, but lost four in a row to close the regular season. Will that slide affect the Wildcats' intensity for the bowl game? We'll see. On the other side, Holgorsen's negotiations with West Virginia figures to have distracted the Cowboys' offensive players to some degree.
Oklahoma State will win if: The Cowboys need to get Hunter moving on the ground. That will force Arizona's defense to play the run, would slow down the pass rush and open up the passing game for Weeden and Blackmon. Defensively, the Cowboys have to key on Criner and limit big plays.
Arizona will win if: Foles must have a big performance. He's thrown three touchdown passes in each of the past three games and may need at least that many to keep up with Oklahoma State's high-scoring offense. The defense must pressure Weeden and keep Blackmon from making big plays.
Olin Buchanan: Oklahoma State 34, Arizona 28
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.