SAN ANTONIO -- For Oklahoma State, the runaway offseason hype train officially left the station Thursday night around 10:40 p.m. Central time, when Mason Rudolph burned one of the nation's best defenses one more time.
His perfectly tossed 23-yard touchdown pass to Jhajuan Seales, a throw Colorado had no shot of stopping, put the Cowboys ahead 31-0 with five seconds left in the third quarter and sent Buffaloes fans heading to the exits. Game over.
Year after year, the bowl season reveals a few teams ready for big expectations the next season. Virginia Tech, Miami and Kansas State already made big statements this week. The No. 12 Cowboys made theirs with a thoroughly dominant 38-8 victory over No. 10 Colorado in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
Rudolph and his go-to receiver James Washington announced Tuesday they’re coming back for their senior seasons in 2017. Then they put on a show against a brutally tough Buffaloes defense to finish off their prolific 2016 with coach Mike Gundy's fifth 10-win season in the past seven years.
Rudolph threw for 314 yards and three scores, hitting 69 percent of his throws against a defense that held opponents to 182 passing yards per game this season. Washington accounted for 171 yards and a touchdown on nine catches while facing one of the best secondaries in college football. The Cowboys controlled this bowl from start to finish, and their defense was just as terrific.
The Buffaloes never really got back on track after senior quarterback Sefo Liufau reinjured his right ankle in the second quarter. Liufau ended up coming back in the game and scored late in his Colorado finale but couldn't get much else going against an Oklahoma State D that allowed only 318 total yards and 62 rushing yards.
It's a tough way to go out for a 10-4 Colorado team that played for a Pac-12 title and far exceeded all expectations after winning a combined eight games from 2013 to 2015. Coach Mike MacIntryre praised his seniors for helping the program rise "from the ashes" and said his players have no reason to hang their heads after what they accomplished this season. He's right, no doubt about that.
But this Alamo Bowl romp will be remembered for the unstoppable play of Rudolph and Washington. Perhaps they should've waited a few more days for that draft decision. They're coming back because, after second-place finishes in back-to-back seasons, they want a Big 12 title. They have unfinished business going into 2017, and Gundy's squad could be incredibly loaded on offense next season.
They might have their best cast of receivers in school history led by Washington, a healthy Marcell Ateman, Jalen McCleskey, Chris Lacy and LSU transfer Tyron Johnson. Throw in leading rusher Justice Hill (1,142 yards), who will only be a sophomore, and you've got a terrifying collection of skill talent.
Yes, the Pokes lose more than a dozen key seniors from their 10-3 team. And they don't yet know whether defensive tackle Vincent Taylor, one of the Big 12's best defenders, will return for his senior campaign. And Oklahoma still has Baker Mayfield and plenty more coming back.
But the performance the Cowboys put together against a top-10 foe in the Alamodome should be taken as a fair warning: They're ready for great expectations in 2017.