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Valero Alamo Bowl early look: Oklahoma State vs. Colorado

Former Big 12 foes Colorado, ranked No. 10, and No. 12 Oklahoma State meet in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Here is a look at what to watch in their first matchup since 2009:

How Oklahoma State beats you: The Cowboys spread the wealth on offense. Quarterback Mason Rudolph connected with four receivers for 30 or more catches, and all but Chris Lacy exceeded 500 receiving yards. Lacy had 478, boosted by a big game in the Cowboys' final win of the regular season in Week 13 at TCU. Lacy, Jhajuan Seales, Jalen McCleskey and All-Big 12 wideout James Washington took turns in the spotlight, each topping 100 yards in at least one game. Washington reached triple-digits six times. Oklahoma State also has a dangerous tight end in Blake Jarwin. All of those receivers form a lethal mix largely responsible for a passing attack that ranked ninth nationally in yards per game.

How Colorado beats you: With a relentless, playmaking defense. Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was up for the Broyles Award this season as the nation's top assistant, and it wasn't hard to understand why. He has taken a Colorado defense that was one of the worst in the Pac-12 and made it a fierce unit. The Buffaloes have 26 takeaways this season (seventh-most in FBS), including 15 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. They also forced four red zone turnovers (12th-most in FBS). Through 13 games the Buffaloes' defense has given up only 31 touchdowns (2.4 per game), so the Cowboys -- who have scored 58 touchdowns this season -- could be held to far below their season average.

How to beat Oklahoma State: Well, find a way to get officials to mistakenly award an untimed final down, then heave a Hail Mary-and-lateral touchdown. Too soon to make light of that? OK, Baylor, before its meltdown, and Oklahoma beat the Cowboys with big offensive performances directed by QBs Seth Russell and Baker Mayfield. Mayfield completed just 13 passes in the Bedlam victory, but the Sooners averaged 22.2 yards per catch. Same story with Russell, who averaged 21.5 yards per completion in the Bears' Week 4 win in Waco. An explosive passing game can bury Oklahoma State, which proved susceptible to big plays at inopportune moments in its three defeats, including the Central Michigan mess in Week 2.

How to beat Colorado: Big offensive plays. In the Buffs' 10 wins this season their defense gave up only 98 plays of 10-plus yards (about 10 per game). But in their three losses, that number jumped to 52, or just over 17 per game. Oklahoma State isn't exactly the most explosive offensive team in that regard, accounting for only 75 plays of 10-plus yards against its 11 FBS opponents (just under seven per game), but if the Cowboys can pick up chunk yardage against the Buffs, they'll have a chance to put up points against a very stingy defense.

X factor for the Cowboys: RB Chris Carson. In his second season of Big 12 play, the senior turned a corner just in time to leave his mark at Oklahoma State. Carson displayed a bruising style, gaining 365 yards on the ground to go with five touchdowns over the Cowboys' final four games. He adds a physical element as a complement to elusive freshman Justice Hill.

X factor for the Buffs: RB Phillip Lindsay. The junior finished the season with 1,189 rushing yards and a Pac-12-best 16 rushing touchdowns. Most impressive was the physicality with which he ran. Lindsay accounted for more than half of his total yardage (623 yards) after contact. And while Oklahoma State might've allowed 204.4 rushing yards per game this season, the Cowboys allowed opponents to convert on only 37.1 percent of their third-down rushing attempts (best in the Big 12) and gave up only 1.7 yards per carry after contact. They'll have their hands full with Lindsay, but if the junior does what he has done all season, he could be the difference-maker in a big Colorado win.

Bold predictions: Hill, the true freshman who topped 1,000 yards in the regular season, goes out with a bang in 2016. While Colorado clamps down on the Cowboys' passing game better than any Big 12 foe, it won't have a good answer for Hill, who goes over 150 yards rushing for the third time in five games. -- Mitch Sherman

After a frustrating performance in the Pac-12 title game, Leavitt's defense comes out and holds Oklahoma State to a season low in offensive output. After turning the ball over just 14 times in the regular season, the Cowboys will commit three turnovers, their most since Week 9 against West Virginia. -- Chantel Jennings