No. 16 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5)Dec. 29, 9:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: Powered by one of the nation's most potent offenses, Oklahoma State was this close to finally breaking through to a coveted BCS bowl. Receiver Justin Blackmon, running back Kendall Hunter and quarterback Brandon Weeden combined to lead the nation in total offense, piling up yards and points through the air and on the ground however you wanted it. Cowboys offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen is coaching the bowl game before departing for West Virginia, where he has been named head coach-in-waiting. But if we're playing the motivation game, consider that heading into November Arizona had a BCS bowl in its sights, too. After losing four straight, it's fair to wonder what kind of mindset Mike Stoops' Wildcats might have heading into this one.
Keep an eye on: Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Blackmon, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound sophomore, is the latest dominant receiver at a school building a reputation for big-play pass-catchers (Dez Bryant, Rashaun Woods). Blackmon had at least 100 receiving yards in all 11 games he played this season. He was severely limited by an ankle injury in the Cowboys' season-ending loss to Oklahoma (and still had eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown), but the word is Blackmon is healthy again. Afterward, the third-year player will have a decision: stay in school or go pro? If he puts on a show in the Alamodome, it might be an easy call.
Did you know: Arizona and Oklahoma State, which haven't played since 1942, are set to begin a two-game series next September. But Cowboys fans are familiar with Coach Stoops -- and they do not like him. It makes sense, considering the younger brother of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was once the Sooners' defensive coordinator, but there's more. Even though Mike's been in Tucson for seven years, Cowboys fans haven't forgotten (or forgiven) his gestures at the Cowboys sideline in the final moments of Oklahoma's blowout win in 2003. Never mind that then-Oklahoma State coach Les Miles started it a few days earlier with some snarky comments; it's Mike Stoops' gesture that lingers.
Final analysis: Arizona's late-season slide wasn't completely unexpected; the schedule was backloaded, and the Wildcats played road games at Stanford and Oregon in November and also faced USC. This is a talented bunch with a very good offense. Arizona's best hope is to keep Oklahoma State's potent offense off the field. Even given Oklahoma State's ordinary defense, that might be problematic. Nick Foles is a capable quarterback, and though Juron Criner isn't as well known as Blackmon, he's a big-play receiver. But the Wildcats' spread offense is ill-equipped to grind and drain clock. While it's unknown what effect Holgorsen's departure might have on the Cowboys, he's still calling the plays in San Antonio -- and he's got the same explosive trio making plays, too.
The pick: Oklahoma State 38, Arizona 27
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline shares his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
Oklahoma State: WR Justin Blackmon* -- Blackmon picked up where former Cowboys star Dez Bryant left off and has been the dominant force in Oklahoma State's aerial attack this season. He possesses all the skills necessary to be a No. 1 receiver on the NFL level: the power to win the tough receptions, the speed to beat defenders in a foot race and the hands to make all the catches. The belief is that the red-shirt sophomore will enter the draft after the bowl game. Grade: First-round prospect.
Arizona: WR Juron Criner* -- Criner is one of the more reliable receivers in the nation and has been stamped as a first-round player by West Coast scouts. He has the size to dominate opponents and the smarts to get open on the field. Criner is awaiting his draft projection from the NFL Advisory Committee and will make a final decision on where he'll be playing football next season after the bowl game. Grade: Second-round prospect.
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