Two days before the Alamo Bowl, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington announced they were returning for another season with the Cowboys.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, he of the flowing mullet locks, along with Cowboys fans everywhere, were shown all over again Thursday night just why that's so important. All while the rest of the Big 12 watched and took note.

Oh, and Colorado, too, which got a first-hand look at the Oklahoma State offense in a 38-8 whooping by the Cowboys.

"We saw on film they had some good corners," Rudolph said of Colorado. "But we felt like they hadn't been challenged, so we wanted to take some shots."

And did they ever take shots. Rudolph and Washington connected nine times for 171 yards and a score. They would have had more if a deep pass down the sideline didn't bounce right off of Washington's facemask. The only thing that eventually stopped the bleeding of the explosive duo was a dislocated finger for Washington on an incomplete pass in the end zone. Washington was ushered to the locker room and didn't record another stat for the night.

The key to Oklahoma State's passing attack was to have its pass-catchers win in man coverage against a talented secondary that anchored one of the top pass defenses in college football. Even for an offense that excels at throwing the ball down the field, getting separation was going to be a tough task.

"Colorado has six guys on defense who are going to have a chance to be in the NFL," Gundy said. "But I think maybe they underestimated how fast James was."

The Buffaloes were banged up. Defensive backs Chidobe Awuzie (turf toe) and Ahkello Witherspoon (shoulder) played through injuries and weren't nearly as effective as they normally were. Still, coverage was generally solid on deep throws. "Washington, he just made some good plays," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. "And their quarterback [Rudolph] made some great back-shoulder throws."

Washington burned corners time and time again, but it wasn't just a one-man effort. Receiver Jhajuan Seales, tight end Blake Jarwin and a handful of other players got open all night. Rudolph was dropping dimes.

That's a credit to Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, who called aggressive, creative plays that allowed for balance between the pass and the run. For the first time since 2012, the Cowboys had a 1,000-yard rusher in freshman Justice Hill.

"We've settled in on how we want to run the ball," Gundy said. "And No. 27 [Hill] is coming back. We should be more consistent in how we block. I think we can have up to eight linemen next year who can play."

That's a scary thought for Big 12 defenses: that Oklahoma State's most complete offense in years can improve in its depth, blocking and protection. In theory, that should make this offense even better.

Bowl bumps can end up being misleading, but Rudolph (4,091 yards, 28 touchdowns) and Washington (1,380 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns) showed how dangerous they can be when they're clicking. Again -- this was against one of the top passing defenses in the country, though the Buffs were without defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who left for the same job at Oregon. Still, this was an offense that went man-to-man against NFL-caliber defenders and won.

There are a number of weapons returning around Rudolph and Washington, too, including running back Justice Hill, and receivers Jalen McCleskey and Chris Lacy. This offense is going to be loaded in 2017 and the Big 12, which favors offensive-minded teams as champions, should be up for grabs among four or five teams.

If Oklahoma State isn't at the top of that preseason favorites list, it will most certainly be near it. The last time Oklahoma State had a quarterback/receiver this good coming back? That would be 2011,when the Cowboys won the Big 12 and went to the Fiesta Bowl.

"This is going to propel us into the offseason and keep us help keep us motivated to prepare mentally and physically," Rudolph said.

As for Colorado, a tremendous season comes to a devastating end as the Buffaloes have now lost their last two games to end 2016 by a combined score of 79-18.