Oklahoma St.-Arizona Preview

Updated: December 15, 2010, 4:50 PM ET
Associated Press

Oklahoma State and Arizona haven't met for nearly 70 years, but with a bowl matchup and a home-and-home series set to begin next fall, these programs are about to become quite familiar with one another.

To prepare themselves, the Wildcats must get acquainted with Justin Blackmon, Brandon Weeden and the rest of the Cowboys' top-ranked offense.

Oklahoma State looks to cap a memorable year with a school-record 11th victory in San Antonio's Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29 when it squares off against an Arizona team hoping to salvage a win from a disappointing final two months of the season.

The 16th-ranked Cowboys (10-2) were picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 South this season, but ended up tying for the division title and setting a school record with 10 regular-season wins. They lost out on a chance to play in the conference title game, however, by falling to rival Oklahoma 47-41 in their finale.

"I told the team that, as difficult as it is, this needs to be a learning experience," coach Mike Gundy said after that loss.

Although they missed a chance at a BCS berth, the Cowboys are still making a school-record fifth straight bowl appearance.

"We're very excited to represent the Big 12 Conference against a quality Pac-10 Conference opponent," said Gundy, the Big 12 coach of the year.

This will be the second Pac-10 opponent of the season for Oklahoma State, which opened the year with a 65-17 victory over Washington State. Arizona beat the Cougars 24-7 on Oct. 16.

The Cowboys and the Wildcats haven't met since Oklahoma State's 20-6 victory in 1942, and each team has three wins in the series.

The Wildcats (7-5) seemed like they might be headed to a BCS bowl earlier this year, climbing as high as ninth in the rankings, but four straight losses to close the regular season quickly ended those hopes. Arizona is still appearing in a third consecutive bowl game, matching the school's previous best string from 1992-94.

"Our players are excited to be playing in an outstanding bowl against a quality opponent like Oklahoma State," coach Mike Stoops said.

Stoops' team might be excited, but trying to slow down the Cowboys' offense seems daunting.

Oklahoma State leads the FBS in total offense at 537.6 yards per game, ranks third in scoring at 44.9 points and boasts three skill position players named to the all-Big 12 first team.

Blackmon is the conference's player of the year, the Biletnikoff Award winner and a first-team All-American after leading the nation with 151.4 receiving yards per game and 18 touchdown catches. He needs eight yards against Arizona to break the NCAA sophomore receiving yards record of 1,672, set by Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. That shouldn't be a problem, considering Blackmon has tied an NCAA record with 11 straight games of 100 yards receiving with a TD.

Weeden was on the other end of Blackmon's production. The junior was second in the country in yards passing per game (336.4) and fifth in touchdown passes (32).

Neither Blackmon nor Weeden have announced if they will enter the NFL draft, meaning both could return next season when Oklahoma State will host the Wildcats. The schools will meet in Arizona in 2012.

Blackmon was joined on the All-American first team by running back Kendall Hunter. The senior is seventh in the nation with 126.3 rushing yards per game and ran for 16 TDs.

All these offensive threats appear to pose significant problems for Arizona, which concluded the regular season struggling mightily on defense.

The Wildcats wrapped up October ranked 13th in the AP poll with a 7-1 record, led by a defense that was among the top 10 nationally in points and yards allowed.

Arizona didn't play anywhere up to those standards in its final four games. Since the start of November, the Wildcats have allowed an average of 456.0 yards, 20th-worst in the FBS, and an average of 36.0 points, 27th-worst.

The Wildcats haven't played since a stunning 30-29 double-overtime loss to rival Arizona State on Dec. 2, when kicker Alex Zendejas missed two critical extra points.

"We just have to regroup," Stoops said. "The loss is certainly disappointing. It would have been nice to finish better."

While the Wildcats' defense needs to tighten up, the offense heads into the bowl playing some of its best football.

Nick Foles has passed for 1,063 yards with nine touchdowns to just one interception in his last three games. The junior leads the Pac-10 in passing with an average of 291.1 yards and his favorite target, first-team all-conference selection Juron Criner, led the league with 73 receptions and 1,186 yards.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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