On Thursday night, the Colorado football team will end a nine-year bowl game drought. The Buffaloes' opponent in the Valero Alamo Bowl, on the other hand, is no stranger to the postseason.
Oklahoma State (9-3) is making its 11th consecutive bowl game appearance, all under head coach Mike Gundy. While the Cowboys haven't grabbed the spotlight the way other programs have — such as Alabama, Clemson, Florida State and Oklahoma — over the years, they've been one of the nation's most consistent teams.
BuffZone.com caught up with Kyle Fredrickson, who covers the Cowboys for The Oklahoman, to get his thoughts on the team and this week's matchup.
BuffZone: How do you feel the Cowboys have bounced back mentally from the loss to Oklahoma in the finale?
Fredrickson: Players and coaches will tell you that game is but a distant memory, but there are plenty of legitimate concerns that stem from that 38-20 loss. Quarterback Mason Rudolph had his worst performance of the year, the Cowboy defense was burned for big play after big play and coach Mike Gundy went ultra conservative in offensive strategy when OSU needed a spark. However, this is an experienced and confident group. Win or lose in the Alamo Bowl, I'm not sure we'll look back at Bedlam as the reason why.
BuffZone: Oklahoma State is used to having successful seasons under coach Mike Gundy. Why has this program been so good and so consistent under his direction?
Fredrickson: Two big reasons: Quality assistants and player development. OSU has been a coaching carousel in terms of position coaches over the years with several landing head coaching gigs (Larry Fedora, Todd Monken, Dana Holgorsen, etc.). Gundy has an eye for talent and finds coaches who fit well in this system. OSU has also flourished with mostly 3-star recruits who develop into all-Big 12 talent. Gundy will tell you that has a lot to do with strength and conditioning coach Rob Glass, widely regarded among the best in his role across the nation.
BuffZone: Quarterback Mason Rudolph has had a fantastic season. Can you describe his strengths and weaknesses?
Fredrickson: The strengths are obvious. His 6-foot-5, 235-pound base provides plenty of power on deep balls and is difficult for opponents to drag down once he's outside the pocket. Rudolph is a natural leader, too, whose accuracy on intermediate routes has improved this year. However, Rudolph has been known to sail balls high at times and inexplicably lose grip and fumble in the pocket. He hasn't been at his best in the past two games at OU and TCU, but will still go down as possibly the greatest quarterback in program history as he announced Tuesday he will return for his senior season.
BuffZone: Aside from Rudolph, which players on offense do you anticipate making a big impact on this game?
Fredrickson: I'll go with tailback Justice Hill and receiver Jalen McCleskey. Hill is the Cowboys' phenom freshman, the Big 12's Newcomer of the Year, who has revived a proud rushing tradition behind a much improved offensive line. The more effective he is on Thursday, the less pressure is on Rudolph to make plays downfield. McCleskey, OSU's shifty sophomore slot receiver, should be targeted plenty in the passing game as it's anticipated CU will try to take away the deep ball from big-play threats like James Washington. Both will need big days for an OSU win.
BuffZone: Defensively, the Cowboys have given up a lot of yards and points this season. What can Colorado do to give them trouble?
Fredrickson: OSU's biggest weakness defensively this season has been giving up big plays, especially over the top of the secondary. The Cowboys have also struggled defending running quarterbacks. Those two factors could mean trouble for an up-and-down unit that played its best at TCU and flopped one week later at OU.
BuffZone: How do you see this game playing out?
Fredrickson: Outside the College Football Playoff games, I think this is among the best matchups of bowl season given it's so difficult to predict the outcome. I think it comes down to OSU's offense vs. CU's defense. If OSU stays turnover free and is effective and balanced, the Cowboys win. If CU's secondary shuts down the Cowboys' passing attack, the Buffs win. My prediction in The Oklahoman? CU 41, OSU 38.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.