Valero Alamo Bowl Colorado Buffaloes vs. Texas Longhorns 12/29/20, 8pm CT/7pm MT Alamodome - San Antonio, TX Line: Texas -7.0
Four years and three head coaches later, the University of Colorado Buffaloes have returned to postseason play in the first year of the Karl Dorrell era with a berth in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio against the University of Texas. This marks CU’s first bowl appearance since the magical season of 2016 when the Buffs won 10 games and its first-ever Pac-12 South title before crushing losses to Washington in the Pac-12 Championship and Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.
The Buffaloes come into this one after a strange and disappointing ending to the regular season. After a stunning 4-0 start to the year, a 38-21 loss to Utah at home on national television put a damper on the campaign and ended any arguments for Colorado to have their shot at a Pac-12 Championship berth. The Buffs then had their final game against Oregon canceled when Washington withdrew from the title game against USC, promoting the Ducks to play the Trojans (eventually winning the conference) and leaving CU without an opponent.
Meanwhile, the Longhorns have had a disappointing season under their embattled head coach. With the Big 12 beginning its season on time, Texas played a nine-game slate and finished 6-3 with losses to TCU, Iowa State and heated rival Oklahoma. Now four years into his tenure in Austin, head coach Tom Herman has so far failed to live up to the lofty expectations attached to his arrival. Herman is 1-4 against Oklahoma and has just one appearance in the Big 12 championship. Despite these shortcomings, Herman’s Longhorns have gone 3-0 in bowl berths including a memorable Sugar Bowl win over Georgia and a victory in last year’s Alamo Bowl over CU’s conference foe, Utah.
A breakout 2020 season for Colorado has come with a few impressive performances across the board. Along with the Pac-12 Coach of the Year honor being bestowed on Dorrell, sophomore running back Jarek Broussard earned himself the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year award after gaining 813 rushing yards on 6.3 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, fifth-year senior but first-year starting quarterback Sam Noyer proved to be efficient most of the year with a 126.9 passer rating. However, the Beaverton, Oregon native saw some cracks creep into his game later on, with less than stellar outings against San Diego State, Arizona and Utah. Despite some of his later shortcomings, he still was named second-team All-Pac-12 at quarterback behind USC’s Kedon Slovis.
On the defensive side of the ball, Colorado looked to be improving until the devastating injury to star senior linebacker Nate Landman. Colorado will see rotation on the linebacker front as the Buffs try to replace the extremely efficient Landman. Landman’s roommate and junior outside linebacker Carson Wells will need to regroup the defensive troops to stop a dangerous Texas team.
For the Horns, its offense revolves around starting senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger who was a second-team All-Big 12 at quarterback. However, he will not have his top target in the passing game, as junior wide receiver Brennan Eagles will sit out to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. On the offensive line, left tackle Samuel Cosmi (opt-out for NFL Draft) and center Derek Kerstetter (injury) will be absent on Tuesday night.
The Longhorns will also see gaps on the defense front that will need addressing as well. The opt-outs of star defensive end Joseph Ossai, defensive back Chris Brown and Caden Sterns will also put serious pressure on the Texas depth charts going into the contest. Defensive coordinator and former Rutgers head coach Chris Ash will need to be creative and flexible to replace the losses.
Keys to the Game
Does Texas have the depth to make up for lost production?
The number of opt-outs for the Longhorns will put the pure depth of its roster to the test. Losing Eagles means that underperforming receivers such as Jordan Wittingham and Jake Smith or recent safety-to-receiver convert Montrell Estell will have to step up to make up for the loss of Eagles’ production in the passing game. With two starters out on the offensive line, the Horns will have to figure out its exact configurations on that front as well. Center Jake Majors and left tackle Andrej Karic will likely take the place of Kerstetter and Cosmi, but will their inexperience leave Texas weak on the strong side of the line? On the flip side, Ossai’s absence leaves a hole that isn’t clearly filled. No Brown or Sterns in the secondary at safety will force the Horns to turn to B.J. Foster and Jalen Green. Can the Longhorns perform as a cohesive unit for 60 minutes with all these changes?
Can Sam Noyer finish strong?
Noyer’s second-half mistakes cost the Buffs against Utah and he has not seemed to be the same quarterback since his stellar outings against UCLA and Stanford to start the season. With CU landing Tennessee QB J.T. Shrout from the transfer portal, it could put some heat on Noyer if he plans on using his extra year of eligibility in 2021.
Will Tom Herman continue his bowl game success?
For all the heat thrown at Herman for his failure to bring Texas “back” to relevance in the college football landscape, it is hard to argue that he hasn’t gotten his teams ready to play in their bowl appearances. The Longhorns have made the postseason in all of Herman’s past three years, going 3-1 with wins in the Texas, Sugar and Alamo Bowls. The 2018 Sugar Bowl, in particular, was impressive, beating a Georgia Bulldogs team that was one half away from going to the College Football Playoff out of the SEC. The high number of opt-outs will leave the Longhorns at a disadvantage, but will they tap into their clutch streak once again?
Do you believe in life after Landman?
It had seemed like the Buffs’ defense had turned the corner after two poor performances to begin the year, allowing only a single solitary offensive touchdown between the San Diego State and Arizona games. Then the Utah game happened, and the Colorado defense surrendered 28 second-half points to the Utes. The X-factor that undoubtedly helped to contribute to this was the season-ending injury suffered by Landman near the end of the first half. The loss puts CU in a position where they will have to rely on junior Quinn Perry and Jonathan Van Diest along with freshman Marvin Ham II to fill the massive gap left by Landman. The linebacking corps and defensive coordinator Tyson Summers will have a tall task handed to them as they take the field in San Antonio.
The CU Independent sports section gives condolences to Ty Jordan’s family and the entire Utah football program. Utah’s star freshman running back passed away on Friday at the age of 19. Jordan’s final performance against the Buffaloes on Dec. 12 earned him Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week Honors. We keep him and his loved ones in our thoughts during this holiday season.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Thomas Gahan at firstname.lastname@example.org.