GAME NOTES: A pair of explosive offenses will be on display in San Antonio when the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Arizona Wildcats face off in the 18th installment of the Alamo Bowl.
Oklahoma State finished the regular season with an outstanding 10-2 record, but managed to finish in a three-way tie atop the Big 12 South at 6-2 and lost out on a chance to play for the Big 12 Championship by way of a tiebreaker through the BCS standings. The Cowboys controlled their own destiny heading into the regular-season finale against bitter rival Oklahoma but came out on the short end of a 47-41 final in a Bedlam Battle classic in Stillwater November 27th.
The Cowboys had the nation's No. 1 ranked offense this season, averaging an eye-popping 537.6 yards per game, and boast the country's top-ranked passing offense as well. OSU's offense set single-season school records for points (539), total offensive yards (6,451), passing yards (4,256) and touchdown passes (34) in 2010. Oklahoma State's other loss came to Nebraska back on October 23 in another shootout, losing 51-41 in Stillwater. This will be the Cowboys' third appearance in the Alamo Bowl having lost both previous matchups with Ohio State in 2004 and to Purdue in 1997. OSU has also lost in its last two bowl appearances overall. Big 12 Coach of the Year Mike Gundy saw his Cowboys beaten by Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl at the end of last season and Oregon in the 2008 Holiday Bowl. Oklahoma State's overall bowl record stands at 12-8.
Arizona will be making its third straight bowl appearance under head coach Mike Stoops after a 7-5 regular season. The Wildcats were ranked 13th in the nation following an impressive 7-1 start to the year before a deflating 42-17 loss to then No. 10 Stanford on November 6th triggered a four-game losing streak to end their schedule. The 'Cats wound up 4-5 in the Pac-10 standings, tied for fifth place. The regular season ended on an especially heart-breaking note, falling to rival Arizona State in Tucson when Alex Zendejas' extra point was blocked in double overtime to hand the Sun Devils a 30-29 win. Arizona was blanked in a 33-0 shellacking by Nebraska in last year's Holiday Bowl and will be making its first-ever appearance at the Alamo Bowl. The Wildcats' overall bowl record stands at 6-8-1.
This will be the first meeting between Oklahoma State and Arizona on the gridiron since 1942. The all-time series is even at 3-3 with Arizona having won three of the last four games. The matchup will also serve as a preview to a home-and-home series between the two schools starting in Stillwater next season. This is the first year the Alamo Bowl will feature both the Pac-10 and Big 12 Conferences. For the past 15 years, the game has pitted the Big 12 against Big Ten competition.
"It's great to be the first league team to play in this first year of the new Alamo Bowl affiliation with the conference. Our players are excited to be playing in an outstanding bowl against a quality opponent like Oklahoma State," Stoops said in anticipation of the matchup.
At the head of OSU's offensive juggernaut is junior quarterback Brandon Weeden and 2010 Biletnikoff Award winner and unanimous All-American sophomore Justin Blackmon. Blackmon caught 102 passes for 1,665 yards and 18 touchdowns in just 11 games en route to being named the nation's top wide receiver. The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year also added a pair of scores with a 69-yard run and a blocked punt return and ranked first in the country in receiving yards per game (151.36), receptions per game (9.27) and finished ninth in all- purpose yards per game (159). Blackmon tied the NCAA record with his 11th consecutive game of at least 100 receiving yards and a score versus Oklahoma and needs only eight yards to break Larry Fitzgerald's NCAA record for receiving yards by a sophomore.
Weeden broke OSU's single-season record for passing touchdowns with 32 and became the first Cowboy quarterback to pass for over 4,000 yards in a season (4,037). He completed 67.4 percent of his passes, had 13 interceptions and ended the year with a 105.2 passer rating. In addition to Blackmon, Weeden developed a nice rapport with junior wideout Josh Cooper, who caught 61 passes for 683 yards and five touchdowns.
"I think before the year started, we knew we had a chance to be special. We knew we had guys that could make some plays, but to be at this magnitude, maybe not. But we knew we had a chance to be here. We fulfilled our expectation, but we also exceeded it as well," Weeden said of OSU's chance to post an 11-win season.
Not to be forgotten is an effective ground game led by senior Kendall Hunter, who racked up 1,516 rushing yards to lead the Big 12 and tied for the conference lead with 16 touchdowns this season. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry and 126.3 yards per game on 261 totes. Dan Bailey, the 2010 Lou Groza Award winner as the nation's top placekicker, could be the x-factor in a tight game. Oklahoma State's all-time leading scorer was 24-for-28 on field goals this year including a pair of strikes from 52 yards.
The category where the Cowboys lack when compared to Arizona is defense. The squad finished ranked 91st in the nation and eighth in their own conference. OSU's moniker is usually to outscore the opponent, not stop them, as was evidenced by its giving up an average of 412.8 yards and 27.8 points per game. A startling number is the 110 fourth-quarter points allowed this season, although, the Cowboys do feature a handful of players capable of making a difference. Senior cornerback Andrew McGee had five of the team's 16 interceptions, a total which had OSU tied for 21st in the country. Standout senior linebacker Orie Lemon led the team with 119 tackles. His nine tackles for a loss also paced the Cowboys and 93 of his stops were of the solo variety. Linebacker Shaun Lewis was named the Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year for 2010, racking up 55 tackles, including seven for a loss, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Junior defensive end Jamie Blatnick led OSU with five sacks on the year.
Like Oklahoma State, Arizona is led by a high-powered passing attack that finished ninth in the nation and first in Pac-10 play and will counter with its own 1-2 punch in juniors quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Juron Criner. Foles completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 2,911 yards with 19 touchdowns against seven interceptions in just 10 games this season. The passing game averaged 310 yards per game with a bulk of that yardage credited to the first-team All-Pac 10 selection and second-team All-American Criner, who totaled 1,186 yards and 10 touchdowns on 73 receptions while averaging 16.2 yards per reception. Criner's yardage and reception totals were both tops in the conference.
Fellow juniors David Douglas and David Roberts provide depth as secondary options in the 'Cats air attack. Douglas was second on the team with 46 catches and five touchdowns while racking up 424 yards. Roberts finished second to Criner with 468 receiving yards on 42 grabs with a pair of scores. The Wildcats ended the regular season with the nation's 24th-ranked offense overall, and the rushing game features a pair of capable backs in junior Keola Antolin and senior Nic Grigsby. While neither player stood out in terms of yardage, the two combined for 15 of the team's 20 rushing scores. Antolin led the team with 667 rushing yards and his 4.7 yards per carry, while Grigsby averaged an equally solid 4.6 yards per tote with 474 yards and a team-high eight scores.
A strong defensive unit for Arizona was overshadowed by its disappointing end to the year. It ranked 36th in the nation in total defense and 32nd in scoring defense, allowing 21.6 points per game. Junior linebacker Paul Vassallo was the team's leading tackler and finished seventh in the Pac-10 with 94 stops, 73 of those solo. Senior defensive end Ricky Elmore gave opposing quarterbacks fits all season with his 11 sacks to lead the Pac-10. His 13 tackles for a loss also paced the Wildcats and was good for fourth in league play. Arizona ended second in the conference with 33 sacks with fellow senior end Brooks Reed getting 6 1/2 of those and standout redshirt freshman tackle Justin Washington six. Washington was second on the team with 10 1/2 tackles for a loss.
"I think they do a good job of putting pressure on the quarterback. The quarterback is a very good player and the receiver and two running backs make some plays. They played very well the first two or three months of the season and didn't play as well as they wanted to in the last month," Gundy said of matching up with the Wildcats.
Expect the defenses to take a back seat to two of the nation's most exciting offenses. Oklahoma State certainly has the credentials to be favored but don't sleep on the Wildcats, who will be looking to right the wrongs of a forgettable final two months of the year. It may just come down to who has the ball last in this one, but the Cowboys get the edge with the outstanding playmaking duo of Blackmon and Weeden.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oklahoma State 38, Arizona 34
Wednesday, December 29, 9:00 p.m. (et)