Oklahoma State and Purdue will play the first college football game of 2013 when they meet at 11 a.m. New Year's Day for the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Neither team has played in nearly a month and plenty has changed for both squads in the coaching ranks. Cowboy fans were vocal in their disappointment regarding their bowl placement and the Pokes will have an opportunity on Tuesday to show they deserved better after two-consecutive losses to end the regular season.
Here are five matchups to keep an eye on as the Cowboys take on the Boilermakers.
1) Purdue QB Robert Marve vs. OSU secondary
To say the Oklahoma State secondary has been disappointing this season would register as an understatement. The Cowboys allowed passing yards in bulk and were especially exposed in back-to-back losses against Oklahoma and Baylor, where the defense couldn't stop third down conversions in passing situations. Robert Marve has led Purdue to three-straight victories entering the game, despite playing the majority of the season on a torn ACL. Marve, a sixth-year senior, is confident in the pocket and ended the regular season with a 20-for-29, 348-yard and four-touchdown performance against Indiana. To avoid the threat of an upset, OSU has to be stronger in the defensive backfield against Purdue and it starts with making Marve's life a little more difficult finding open receivers. Another drawback for the Pokes here is that with Marve under center, Purdue thrives on short, dink-and-dunk routes – something OSU has fared poorly against this season.
2) OSU RB Joseph Randle vs. Purdue front seven
Joseph Randle is a different breed of running back than the Boilermakers are familiar with coming out of the big-back oriented Big Ten. Randle finished 20th in the country with 1,351 yards on the ground and had 14 touchdowns. When he is at his best, so is the Cowboys' offense. His production running out of the Pokes' spread offense will go a long way toward determining OSU's fortunes on Tuesday morning. Purdue enters the game ranked 79th nationally in rushing defense at 179.75 yards per game but, again, Randle presents a unique challenge.
3) OSU QB Clint Chelf vs. Purdue pass rush
The Cowboys elected to go with the steady, veteran leadership of Clint Chelf at quarterback for the Heart of Dallas Bowl and that should prove to be the safest option against Purdue's No. 50 pass defense. It is a point of strength for the Boilermakers, who also intercepted 14 passes, and Chelf is the least likely to have costly miscues from the position. Chelf struggled against Baylor with 30-of-51 passing and two interceptions against a poor passing defense. With offensive coordinator Todd Monken now at Southern Miss, the responsibilities will fall even more on Chelf's shoulders to make necessary adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
4) OSU coaching vs. Purdue coaching
Speaking of losing Todd Monken, the OSU offensive staff will call plays by committee against Purdue. It will be interesting to see how much of a lull, if any, exists before the Cowboys can find a rhythm. Purdue has a big, strong defense and the Cowboys can't afford to be too conservative in the early going, allowing Purdue to gain confidence. On the other side of the coin, Purdue has undergone a complete coaching change. Purdue's former head coach Danny Hope was fired after the season and new head coach Darrell Hazell has yet to join to team, electing instead to stay with Kent State through the bowl season. Interim offensive coordinator Patrick Higgins was handed a second interim title as interim head coach for the Heart of Dallas bowl before the regime change takes full effect. As a result, neither team will be rolling into Dallas with the same leadership structure it became accustomed to during the season. How the teams adapt will certainly play a role in the outcome.
5) Purdue rushing attack vs. OSU front seven
If Oklahoma State showed improvement defensively in any area this season it was undoubtedly in stopping the run. The interior duo of James Castleman and Calvin Barnett on the line coupled with a deep linebacking corps helped the Pokes to a No. 36 finish in run defense. However, the Pokes slipped all the way from No. 25 in just their last two games. OSU surrendered 319 rushing yards in the season finale against Baylor on 5.8 yards per carry. Purdue relies on the solid Akeem-tandem of Akeem Shavers (778 yards, 6 TDs) and Akeem Hunt (335 yards, 2 TDs), ranking 59th in the country in rushing as a team. OSU's best defensive option is to make the Boilermakers one dimensional and that starts with shutting down Purdue's ground game – something OSU is more than capable of doing.
OSU is better than Purdue on paper but the Boilermakers enter the game with confidence after three-straight wins to end the season, albeit against Big Ten cellar-dwellers Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. OSU, on the other hand, has been left questioning what might have been after disappointing losses on the road to finish the regular season 7-5. Despite its 6-6 record, Purdue has put a scare in plenty of high-caliber teams this season. No. 1 Notre Dame survived 20-17 and undefeated Ohio State needed overtime to dispatch the Boilermakers in Columbus. The Cowboys can't have a hangover from a disappointing finish in this one. That said, OSU's offense is on another level from what Purdue has faced this season and the Pokes' ability to stop the run gives OSU the edge in this matchup. If OSU's offense can get things going, the Pokes should kick off 2013 in the win column.
Score: OSU 31, Purdue 20