Thursday, January 3, 2013
Pregame: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
By Ted Miller
Oregon (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) vs. Kansas State (11-1, 8-1 Big 12)
Who to watch: The Fiesta Bowl features two of the nation's best quarterbacks, Kansas State's Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, who was first-team All-Pac-12 as a redshirt freshman. They are the QBs for high-powered, though very different, offenses. Klein carries far more of the load for the Wildcats than Mariota does for the Ducks, but if one of them turns in an uncharacteristically mediocre or sloppy game, it probably will cost his team the win. And that's not too far out of the realm of possibility. While both teams protect the ball well, both also rank among the nation's leaders in forcing turnovers. It will be interesting to see what happens if things are still in doubt in the fourth quarter, as most expect. Mariota played only one close game this season, and the Ducks lost that one to Stanford.
What to watch: Tackling. Klein is the Wildcats' best runner, and he thrives at getting yards after contact, especially when he smells the end zone. He has 40 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons and is one of four Football Bowl Subdivision players with more than 200 rushing yards in the red zone this season. He gained 35.7 percent of his red zone yards after contact. Running back John Hubert isn't big but runs hard, so the Ducks need to make their first hit count. Oregon is all about speed. If Mariota, Kenjon Barner, Josh Huff or De'Anthony Thomas make the first defender miss, the odds are good they'll go yard, or at least gain a big chunk of yards. Tackling will be interesting to watch early and late. Early because both teams are dealing with a long layoff (just over a month), and late because that's when fatigue -- and pressure -- sets in.
Why watch: This is the only bowl game that matches top-five teams other than the national title game between Alabama and Notre Dame. It features well-coached teams with plenty of star power and sets up to be highly competitive. It's a nice Pac-12 versus Big 12 showdown, a conference pairing the Big 12 has dominated this bowl season. And it could be Chip Kelly's final game as the Ducks coach before he takes an NFL job.
Predictions: Ted Miller says Oregon 33, Kansas State 24. Kevin Gemmell says Oregon 49, Kansas State 38. David Ubben says Oregon 38, Kansas State 31. For full predictions from the Pac-12's Miller and Gemmell, click here. For Ubben's full prediction on the Big 12 blog, click here.