GAME NOTES: A pair of teams who had hoped to be playing for the BCS National Championship will instead square off in the 2013 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, as the Oregon Ducks do battle with the Kansas State Wildcats on Thursday, Jan. 3.
Both teams went 11-1 during the regular season, but K-State won its conference (Big 12), while Oregon failed to reach its league's title tilt (Pac-12).
Oregon is just the fourth team in history to appear in four or more consecutive BCS bowl games -- USC (2003-09), Ohio State (2006-11) and Miami- Florida (2001-04) being the others. The Ducks, under the tutelage of Chip Kelly, are 2-2 in BCS bowl games, which includes a 38-16 win over Colorado in their only previous trip to the Fiesta Bowl. Overall, UO is 10-15 in bowl games, with 18 of those 25 bouts taking place since 1990.
Kelly has set the bar extremely high since taking the reins in Eugene back in 2009, his teams amassing an impressive 45-7 record, 33-3 in conference. Even with the unprecedented success his teams have achieved, Kelly has the utmost respect and admiration for his counterpart in this contest.
"We're really excited about the matchup with Kansas State," Kelly said after accepting the bid. "Obviously, the job that Bill Snyder has done at Kansas State - his first tour there, now his second tour - he'll go down in history as one of the greatest college football coaches this game has ever seen."
He continued, "He [Snyder] is a model for how to run your program, does an outstanding job. I got a chance to watch their last game. Really for the first time I got a chance to see them all season long. I'm impressed with them in all three phases - offense, defense, and special teams. I think they lead the nation in turnover margin. They're tops in punt returns and kickoff returns. They have one of the best players in college football in Collin Klein at quarterback. It's a big challenge, and we're excited about it."
Snyder led his Wildcats to another highly-successful campaign in 2012, the club dropping just one decision all year, that to Baylor in a 52-24 final in the second-to-last game of the regular season. While clearly disappointed with that outcome, K-State responded by throttling Texas in the finale, 42-24, to punch its ticket to its second-ever BCS bowl game.
Kansas State's first BCS bowl game was also in the Fiesta Bowl back in 2003 after the team won its last, and only other, Big 12 title. Overall, the 'Cats are making their 16th bowl appearance, 14th under Snyder, and they are hoping to even their postseason record with the legendary coach on the sidelines as his bowl record currently stands at 6-7.
KSU star quarterback Collin Klein spoke about the honor of playing in such a well-respected bowl game, and about the challenge of facing an explosive Oregon squad.
"It is a true blessing to be able to play our final game of the year and my final college game in the Fiesta Bowl. The goal all along was to lead this team to a conference championship and a BCS bowl game, and with the unity we showed throughout the season, we were able to accomplish that. Oregon is certainly going to be a tough match-up, but we are looking forward to the challenge they present."
This game represents the first meeting between Oregon and Kansas State on the football field.
The nation's second-highest scoring offense will be on display in this matchup, as Oregon comes in averaging a robust 50.8 ppg, doing so behind 550 total yards per contest (fourth-highest nationally).
The Ducks are led by rookie QB Marcus Mariota, who threw for 2,511 yards, 30 TDs and only 6 interceptions during the regular season en route to being named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. He was also named a First-Team All-Pac-12 selection, marking the first freshman QB to earn that distinction since 1989.
Coach Kelly also has one of the nation's top RBs at his disposal, as Kenjon Barner (First-Team All-Pac-12) brings 1,624 yards and 21 TDs into this affair. Barner's average of 134.1 ypg ranks him second in the conference and fifth nationally. Mariota and De'Anthony Thomas have also proven effective in the run game, with both accounting for nearly 700 yards apiece and combining for 15 scores, 11 of which belong to Thomas who also has a team-high 41 receptions for 385 yards and 4 TDs.
With the offense imposing its will on just about every opponent, the Oregon defense hasn't had to do much in terms of dominating games. However, the unit has performed well in that it ranks in the top half of the league in just about every statistical category, including scoring defense (22.0 ppg, third), rushing defense (146.0 ypg, fourth), pass defense (235.8 ypg, fifth) and total defense (381.8 ypg, sixth).
Both Kansas State and Oregon rank first and third in the country, respectively, in turnover margin, with the Ducks leading the nation with 24 interceptions while tying for first in total turnovers with Kent State (38).
The team's top performers on defense include, Michael Clay with 92 total tackles, Kiko Alonso with 12 TFL and four picks, and Taylor Hart with 8 sacks.
Kansas State's Klein was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy for a reason, as the standout senior became the first signal-caller from a BCS automatic qualifying school to run for 20 TDs and pass for 10 more in two different seasons. In 2012, he threw for 2,490 yards and 15 TDs, while rushing for 890 yards and 22 scores.
Klein, the Big 12's Offensive Player of the Year, isn't the only Wildcat to do damage with his legs, as John Hubert (First-Team All-Big 12) leads the team with 892 rushing yards, and he has found the end zone 15 times. As for KSU's top pass catchers, Chris Harper and Tyler Lockett have a combined 90 grabs for 1,438 yards and seven TDs.
Overall, the 'Cats are averaging 40.7 ppg in churning out 198.3 ypg on the ground and 212.1 ypg through the air -- the former of the two yardage totals ranking the team fourth in the conference, while the latter a distant ninth.
Defensively, Coach Snyder's team held foes to a league-low 21.1 ppg this season, while doing an especially good job against the run (120.4 ypg) to rank second. The pass defense yields 255.3 ypg, but that's due in large part to opponents having to air the ball out in an attempt to battle from behind.
As mentioned, K-State is tops nationally in turnover margin (1.75), and three different players (Allen Chapman, Nigel Malone, Ty Zimmerman) have notched 5 interceptions. In all, the unit has come up with 31 takeaways and as many sacks.
Meshak Williams (Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year) and Adam Davis have 17 sacks between them, and Arthur Brown has a team-high 91 total stops to go along with a pair of picks and a fumble recovery on his way to being named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Don't expect a low-scoring affair between these two high-octane offenses, although both defenses are sure to be up for the challenge. When the dust settles, Mariota and the Ducks will prevail, although Klein and the 'Cats aren't going to make it easy.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oregon 41, Kansas State 35