Posted by Jerry Hinnen as part of the blog's Bowl Bonanza series. For tonight's Poinsettia Bowl preview, click here .
The Basics: Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5), Dec. 29, 9:15 EST
Why You Should Watch: Because it's the Alamo Bowl, silly, the same game that gave us Texas Tech's stirring comeback against Michigan State last year, that saw Northwestern just miss out on their first bowl win since 19-dickety-two against Missouri in overtime, that unleashed this madness on us at the end of Michigan-Nebraska ... all in the past five years. And this year, we've got maybe the bowl season's best matchup of wide receivers in Justin Blackmon vs. Juron Criner, the carnival-worthy facial calisthenics of Mike Stoops, and one final chance to see Dana Holgorsen's flying circus at Oklahoma State before he takes his act to Morgantown. That ought to be enough.
Keys to Victory for Oklahoma State: More than maybe any school in the country other than Michigan, the Cowboys win by simply outscoring their opposition. With Holgorsen's unit ranked No. 1-with-a-bullet in the FBS total offense (and a robust third in scoring) but the Poke defense coming in 90th (and yielding a combined 98 points in their two losses), the pressure is permanently on the Cowboy attack to put points on the board. Anything less than 30-35 points, and the Cowboys will be cutting it awfully close.
The good news is that with arguably the best running back-wide receiver combo in the country in All-Americans Kendall Hunter and Blackmon (not to mention revelatory quarterback Brandon Weeden and his 32-to-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio), even the well-coached Wildcats may not be able to stop from Oklahoma State from hitting that mark. The bad news is that with as much time to prepare as Stoops and his staff will have, it seems unlikely the Cowboys will manage a 40- or 50-point explosion, either. That means the Cowboys will have to come up with at least a few stops, and that starts up front with a run defense that actually finished an impressive 27th in the country in yards-per-carry allowed at 3.57. Leading that charge was first team All-Big 12 senior linebacker Orie Lemon, who led the team in tackles and tackles-for-loss, but he was helped by an experienced (three senior starters) and deep defensive line that had four different members record at least 4 tackles-for-loss.
The front seven will have to be at its best to keep the pressure off of a secondary that ranked 115th in the country in defending the pass, but if the Cowboys can force just a handful of third-and-longs,even their defensive backs (particularly senior corner Andrew McGee) should be able to make enough plays to let Weeden, Hunter, and Blackmon win the game.
Keys to Victory for Arizona: On paper, the Wildcats don't have a whole lot going for them in this game. They come in riding a four-game losing streak that dropped them to 7-5, with the Cowboys at a stout 10-2; they have further to travel and will do so with dramatically less fan support; their last bowl "effort" was the 33-0 debacle against Nebraska in last year's Holiday Bowl.
But they do have Criner, a 6'4", 210-pound beast who quietly racked up 1,197 yards to finish as the nation's seventh-leading receiver. They also have Nick Foles, who equally quietly led the Pac-10 in passing yardage at 291 yards per-game, completed 67 percent of his passes, and finished in the national top 30 in both yards per-attempt and QB rating. And there's plenty more targets where Criner came from; eight different Wildcats finished with 20 or more receptions. Given the weakness of the Cowboy secondary, a huge night from Foles, Criner, and the rest of the 'Cat passing game could allow Arizona to keep up with an offense even as explosive as the Pokes.
And defying the West Coast stereotype, the Wildcats are also perfectly competent on defense, finishing as one of only 27 teams to allow fewer than 5 yards per-play. The triumvirate of Ricky Elmore, Brooks Reed, and Justin Washington (23.5 combined sacks, 33 tackles-for-loss) give them a dynamic defensive line that should be capable of slowing Hunter's interior running. If they can do that, a well-prepared back seven plays over their heads against Blackmon and Weeden, and Foles goes off, the Wildcats could very well pull off the upset.
The Alamo Bowl is like: the onslaught at the Alamo itself, at least when either offense is on the field; the overmatched and outmanned secondaries are going to come under a hail of football fire from their better-armed opponents, and will hope to simply survive until their compatriots on the offensive side of the ball can come to their rescue. If the quarterbacks and receivers play up to their capabilities, this year's Alamo Bowl will -- like its namesake -- definitely be something to remember.