Sunday, December 4, 2011
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
By By Kevin Gemmell and David Ubben
Stanford Cardinal (11-1) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-1)
Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Stanford take by Stanford blogger Kevin Gemmell: Welcome back to the BCS. The Cardinal return after smoking Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl last season -- many thinking it was the final game for coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck.
Harbaugh left, Luck stayed. And he turned in a Heisman-worthy season, throwing 35 touchdowns to nine interceptions, including a perfect 26-0 touchdown-interception ratio in the red zone.
With a trio of top-flight tight ends -- headlined by Coby Fleener -- Luck has proved why he's considered the No. 1 NFL prospect. But he's not the only top draft pick on the team. Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin is considered one of the two best left tackles in college football and guard David DeCastro is the best interior lineman in the country.
The tight ends -- Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo -- have accounted for more than half of Luck's 35 passing touchdowns on the season.
But what makes Stanford go is its balance. Stepfan Taylor had his second straight 1,000-yard season, and he did it platooning with Tyler Gaffney, Jeremy Stewart and Anthony Wilkerson.
Defensively, Chase Thomas leads a front seven that is one of the best in college football. The loss of inside linebacker Shayne Skov in the third game of the season was a blow to the defense, but youngsters Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley have filled the void nicely -- steadily improving every week.
Oklahoma State take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Cowboys are best known for their offense, and for good reason. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are one of the nation's best pass-catch combos, and between Blackmon's physical nature and Weeden's accuracy, they're a nightmare for defenses.
Making matters more difficult is Joseph Randle, who has quietly had one of the best seasons of any running back in the Big 12. He's racked up 1,193 rushing yards with 23 (!) rushing touchdowns. Only three players in college football have more TDs. The first-year starter might be the Cowboys' secret weapon.
Defensively, the raw numbers aren't great for the Cowboys, but those rumors you've heard? They're true. The defense is a lot better than most give it credit. The Cowboys have an efficient defense that plays well when it counts, and ranks second nationally with a plus-20 turnover margin. Tough to beat that.
Quinn Sharp and Justin Gilbert make things interesting on special teams, too. Sharp leads the nation in touchbacks, is one of the Big 12's best place-kickers, and would be one of the nation's best in punting average -- if he had enough attempts. Gilbert is a dangerous return man who already has four touchdown returns in his first two seasons.