ALAMO BOWL: OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS VS. COLORADO BUFFALOES (-3, O/U 63), Thur., 9 p.m. ET
A compelling stylistic contrast will be the backdrop of the Alamo Bowl between Colorado and Oklahoma State as both clubs look to end outstanding seasons on a high note.
The Buffaloes (10-3) were one of the better stories of the college football season, as they emerged from a longstanding hold on the Pac-12 cellar to win their division and compete for the conference title.
Long known as a finesse team that lacked the muscle to compete with the upper-tier of the conference, Colorado reversed course and saw its breakout season rely on a defense that emerged as the best in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the country.
The Cowboys (9-3) also their profile evolve, as the late development of a strong running game, led by explosive freshman Justice Hill, added balance to the big-play passing game authored by quarterback Mason Rudolph.
They also saw their often-leaky defense improve to the point where they could get off the field at key junctures, which played a big role in their seven-game winning streak.
Both clubs saw their razor-thin playoff hopes dashed in the last week of the regular season as Colorado was routed by Washington in the Pac-12 title game and Oklahoma State was blown out by rival Oklahoma.
JOSH NAGEL'S TAKE
Colorado is ranked in the top 20 in most major categories on defense, while Oklahoma State, predictably under Mike Gundy, has the same accolades on the offensive side.
The Buffaloes consistently showed a strong pass rush and disciplined approach that allowed them get off the field on third down. Aside from Oregon and Washington, they held all other Pac-12 opponents to 24 points or fewer.
They were solid but unspectacular on offense, led by four-year starter Sefo Liufau at quarterback and a running game led by Phillip Lindsay, who gained 1,189 yards and had 16 TDs.
But Liufau was injured and turnover-prone down the stretch. He returned from injury in the Pac-12 title game to throw a pair of devastating interceptions that sealed the Buffaloes? fate.
Meanwhile, Gundy's club lived up to its reputation for glossy, finesse offense as Rudolph passed for 3,777 yards and 25 TDs against just four interceptions.
Even so, the Cowboys quietly improved on defense, at least by Big 12 standards, as they allowed more than 40 points just once in Big 12 play, in a 45-44 win over Texas Tech. They held TCU and West Virginia to 26 combined points.
This spread opened almost universally at Colorado -2.5, before moving to the key number of -3. Many outlets offered -3.5 for a short time, but it has settled in at a flat field goal at most outlets. The action has been even on both sides thus far, according to the Covers consensus.
The total opened at 62.5 and remains there at some shops, while others have pushed it up a tick to 63. Books have seen slightly more action on the Over to this point.
SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh has a strong lean on the total in this game. Get his and all other SportsLine expert picks by clicking here.
In my Pac-12 title game preview, I mentioned my perspective on Colorado is one that includes respect and admiration for how far the program has come under coach Mike MacIntyre, along with some perspective on some of the breaks it has received this year.
The Buffaloes benefitted from a handful of traditional powers such as Oregon, Stanford and UCLA having down years, and also got three of its last four regular-season games at home.
They have three losses -- to Michigan, USC and Washington -- all of which have come when they faced an opponent a step ahead of the mediocre Pac-12 core.
The Cowboys also have three losses, but one came on a controversial final play against Central Michigan, and their loss to Baylor was a bit on the fluky side as multiple red-zone turnovers killed their chance to win. They have been outplayed just once, against the high-powered Sooners to end the season.
The Pac-12 title game showed Colorado is vulnerable against a varied and explosive offense and, with a banged-up Liufau performing below par, the Buffaloes are in trouble here. Oklahoma State is my selection.