Big 12: Oregon Ducks

Considering its long history of Polynesian influence, it should come as no surprise that the Pac-12 led the way with 15 players named to the preseason watch list for the inaugural Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award.

Headlining the list is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, USC safety Su'a Cravens, Oregon State center Isaac Seumalo, Washington linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha and BYU linebacker Alani Fua.

The award was established by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class of members in January. That group of seven included Kurt Gouveia (BYU), Olin Kreutz (Washington), Kevin Mawae (LSU), Junior Seau (USC), Jack Thompson (Washington State), Herman Wedemeyer (Saint Mary's College) and Ken Niumatalolo (Navy/Hawaii).

The full breakdown of players on the watch list by conference is as follows: Pac-12 (15), Mountain West (12), Independents (4), American Athletic (1), Big 12 (1) and Sun Belt (1).

Here is the complete list (34 total):
Five finalists will be announced on Nov. 20 with the winner set to be named on Dec. 9.

Stats to know: Baylor & Oregon are amazing

November, 7, 2013
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Icon SMIMarcus Mariota and Bryce Petty have racked up points and stats all season.
Oregon and Baylor will each try to remain undefeated on Thursday night. Below are 15 need-to-know stats in preparation for their games.

1-- Baylor is averaging an FBS-high 63.9 points and 718.4 yards per game. The Bears are on pace to break the FBS records for points (56.0) and yards (624.9) per game that were set by Army in 1944 and Houston in 1989, respectively

2-- Oregon has scored at least 42 points in each of its first eight games this season. The Ducks are the fourth team in the last 100 years to start a season with at least 42 points in eight straight games.

3-- Baylor has scored 22 touchdowns in drives lasting one minute or less, eight more than any other FBS team this season. In the last 10 seasons, there have only been six teams that have scored more than 22 touchdowns in one minute or less in an entire season.
4-- Oregon has an FBS-high 59 offensive touchdowns, including 41 in two minutes or less. The Ducks’ 41 touchdown drives in two minutes or less is four fewer than all of last season when they led the FBS with 45 such touchdowns.

5-- Baylor is averaging more points in the first half (42.1) than 115 FBS teams average for a game. In the first half, the Bears average a FBS-low 15.9 seconds per play and their average touchdown drive lasts 1 minute, 19 seconds.

6-- Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has thrown an FBS-high 225 pass attempts without an interception this season. Dating back to last season, Mariota has thrown a Pac-12-record 293 passes without an interception.

7-- Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty is averaging 13.9 yards per pass attempt, on pace to be the highest rate for a qualified quarterback in the last 10 seasons. The deep ball has been key for Petty. He has 19 completions and 10 touchdowns (both the most of anyone in an automatic-qualifier conference) on passes thrown 25 yards or longer.

8-- Oregon averages an AQ-high 7.5 yards per rush on zone-read plays, including 5.2 yards before first contact. On such plays, Mariota is averaging 13.7 yards per rush and has six touchdowns.

9--Petty leads the FBS with a 95.3 opponent-adjusted QBR. The leader in opponent-adjusted QBR in three of the last six seasons went on to win the Heisman, including Johnny Manziel last year.

10-- Oregon is the only team in the FBS that ranks in the top five in ESPN’s new offensive and defensive efficiency. The Ducks have ranked in the top five in offensive efficiency each of the last three seasons.

11-- Baylor is on pace to have the highest offensive efficiency in the last 10 years. Offensive efficiency measures an offense’s contributions to its team’s opponent-adjusted scoring margin per game.

Through seven games, Baylor’s offense is adding about seven more expected points towards its net scoring margin, more than any other offense has for an entire season since 2004 (as far back as our data goes).

12-- Oregon quarterback Mariota has posted a Total QBR of 90 or higher in six of his eight games, tied with Petty for the most such games in the FBS.

13-- Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk is averaging 9.1 yards per rush, second in the FBS behind Mariota. Seastrunk has made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage before first contact on 39 percent of his rushes, the highest percentage among AQ running backs with at least 75 carries.

14-- Oregon has forced 23 turnovers and scored 100 points off of its opponents’ turnovers this season. Since the start of last season, Oregon leads the FBS with 63 takeaways and ranks second with 288 points off turnovers.

15-- Baylor has had an average in-game win probability of 86 percent across all of its plays this season, best in the FBS. Oregon ranks third with an 83 percent average in-game win probability.

Winston, Florida State among best of week

October, 22, 2013
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Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports
Jameis Winston threw for a career-high 444 yards in Florida State's blowout win over Clemson.
Week 8 featured upsets and surprises as nine ranked teams lost, including five at the hands of an unranked opponent. Louisville, Texas A&M and Georgia all had more than a 90 percent chance of winning midway through the third quarter before blowing double-digit leads. Conversely, Clemson, LSU, UCLA and Florida never held a lead Saturday.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the Week 8 action.

Best individual performances
Marcus Mariota had a 97.4 opponent-adjusted QBR in Oregon’s 63-28 win against Washington State. He completed 10-of-12 passes and ran for a touchdown in the first quarter. As a result, his Total QBR never fell below 95 in the game. Mariota leads the nation with a 96.6 opponent-adjusted Total QBR this season.

Jameis Winston posted a 97.0 opponent-adjusted QBR after throwing for a career-high 444 pass yards and accounting for four touchdowns in Florida State’s 51-14 win at Clemson. Entering the game, Clemson’s opponents had a Total QBR of 27, ninth-best in the FBS. Winston is the first player in the last 10 seasons to throw for at least 300 pass yards and three touchdowns in each of his first four conference games.

Bryce Petty had a 96.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Baylor’s 71-7 win against Iowa State. He has posted an opponent-adjusted Total QBR of 75 or higher in all of his games this season. No other player in the FBS can make that claim (minimum five games played).

AJ McCarron posted a season-high 95.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Alabama’s 52-0 rout of Arkansas. McCarron completed 71 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and his Total QBR never dipped below 85 in the game.

Explaining Jordan Lynch’s Total QBR:
Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch set the FBS single-game record for rush yards by a quarterback (316), but his Total QBR was ONLY a 85.5. Why? QBR is a rate stat, meaning it measures efficiency.

Lynch gained 471 yards of total offense, but he was involved in 62 passing or rushing plays (7.6 yards per play).

To put that into perspective, Mariota, the nation’s leader in opponent-adjusted QBR, is averaging 10.3 yards per play this season. Furthermore, Lynch threw a costly interception from the Central Michigan 15-yard line with the score tied. That interception decreased Northern Illinois’ win probability by 12 percentage points and took 3.5 expected points off the board.

For a full list of Total QBR leaders for the season and Week 8, click here.

Best team performances
Offense-- Florida State gained 565 yards of total offense and scored 51 points Saturday against Clemson. The Seminoles’ offense added 25.3 expected points in the game, meaning they contributed about 26 net points towards their 37-point victory. Adjusted for the strength of Clemson’s defense, which had allowed 16.2 points per game entering Saturday, Florida State had the highest opponent-adjusted offensive EPA of Week 8.

Defense—Baylor’s average margin of victory this season is a ridiculous 48.5 points per game, and both its offense and defense deserves credit. On Saturday, Baylor held Iowa State to seven points and 174 total yards (2.9 yards per play). As a result, its defense added 27.5 expected points, the most for any defense in Week 8. Overall, the Bears lead the nation in both offensive and defensive expected points added this season.

Special Teams—Alabama blocked a field goal and forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half of its 52-0 win against Arkansas. The Tide’s special teams unit contributed 12.1 expected points, the most of any team in Week 8. Alabama is averaging 5.8 expected points added per game on special teams this season, most of any team in the FBS.

Looking ahead to Week 9

Oregon hosts UCLA (7 PM ET, ESPN) on Saturday in a game that will feature one of the top offenses in the nation looking to continue its success against one of the Pac-12’s best defensive units.

Oregon has scored at least 45 points in each of its first seven games of the season. They are the first major college football program to do that since Harvard in 1887. UCLA, which has the second-best scoring defense in the Pac-12 (19.2 PPG), hasn’t allowed more than 27 points in a game this season.

Tune in on Saturday to see of the Bruins can slow the Ducks offensive pace and jump back into the BCS discussion.

Oregon gives the Pac-12 a final 4-4 bowl record, though that record now includes victories in a pair of BCS bowl games.

Here's how we see it following the Ducks' 35-17 victory over Kansas State.

It was over when: Oregon owned the third quarter, making a game that looked competitive at halftime into a tension-free fourth quarter. The Ducks outscored the Wildcats 10-0 and outgained them 166-51 in the frame. They also scored a one-point safety on an blocked PAT, meaning we all saw something we likely never had seen before.

Turning point: Oregon jumped ahead 15-0, but Kansas State came back in the second quarter. Down 15-7, but moving the ball well, the Wildcats faced a fourth-and-1 from the Oregon 18. Instead of trying for the yard, they tried a freeze play. Instead of getting the Ducks to jump, it was the Wildcats who got a false start. They backed it up five yards and then missed the field goal. Oregon, which had been struggling on offense, took the ball and went 77 yards in five plays and just 46 seconds, making it 22-10 at the break. The Wildcats never really mounted a threat thereafter.

Game ball goes to: While De'Anthony Thomas was spectacular with a 94-yard kickoff return for a TD and a brilliant 23-yard run on a screen pass, it was QB Marcus Mariota who earned game MVP honors. The redshirt freshman complete 12 of 24 passes for 166 yards with two TDs and no interceptions, and he rushed for 62 yards on eight carries, a number of them critical third-down conversion dashes.

Notable number: Both teams entered the game among the nation's leaders in turnover margin, and Kansas State had only yielded 10 turnovers the entire year. Oregon won the turnover battle 2-0.

Unsung hero: Senior running back Kenjon Barner had 23 yards on seven carries at halftime, but he finished with 143 yards on 31 carries. And most of those were tough yards.

Unsung hero II: The Ducks' defense may finally get credit for how good it is -- and has been. Kansas State ranked ninth in the nation in scoring this year at 40.67 points per game. It also averaged 411 yards. It gained just 283 yards against the Ducks, and was shut down completely in the critical third quarter.

What it means for Oregon: That Oregon wins a second consecutive BCS bowl game and finishes ranked in the top-five for a third consecutive year. Of course, this might be the last game under coach Chip Kelly, who led the Ducks to unprecedented heights, but he would leave behind a team that should contend for a national title in 2013.

What it means for Kansas State: It was a dream season for Kansas State in Year 4 of Bill Snyder Take 2. The Wildcats have improved every year since Snyder came back in 2009. The next step is winning a bowl game, which they haven't done since 2002. The Fiesta Bowl loss is a bummer, but the Wildcats are back atop the Big 12. That's big.

Video: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl pregame

January, 3, 2013
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David Ubben and Ted Miller talk Chip Kelly's future; K-State and Oregon distractions; and a possible upset for the Wildcats from the field at University of Phoenix Stadium before tonight's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Pregame: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

January, 3, 2013
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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.
Marcus Mariota and Collin KleinUSA TODAY SportsWith quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein, the Fiesta Bowl won't be lacking in star power.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night? Forget the corn chips; this matchup is about something else.

It's the Regret Bowl. The What Might Have Been Bowl. It's the Can the Mayans Make the Apocalypse Take Out Only Nov. 17 Bowl.

If Nov. 17, when No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Kansas State both lost their only game of the season, were wiped away, this Ducks-Wildcats showdown likely would have been for the national title.

So, yes, when the Ducks and Wildcats turned on ESPN during the past month or so and watched reports on Alabama and Notre Dame, they often were nicked by a pang of regret, no matter how philosophical a pose their respective coaches tried to establish in the locker room.

Regrets? Yeah, both teams have a few.

"Yeah, a little bit, I'm going to be honest with you," Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "It's one of those things you have to learn from. We lost at the wrong time."

Of course, denial can come in handy. Alabama-Notre Dame? Who are they?

"I think this is the best two teams in the nation in this game right here," said Kansas State receiver Chris Harper, who transferred from Oregon. "I know Notre Dame and Alabama have their game, but I think this is the best matchup."

It's certainly a good matchup. No other bowls -- other than that aforementioned matchup in South Florida -- matches top-five teams. You have plenty of star power, with Kansas State QB Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, both All-Americans. Then there's celebrated Ducks redshirt freshman quarterback Mariota, who was first-team All-Pac-12 and will be near the top of many 2013 preseason Heisman lists.

And then there are the coaches. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, the septuagenarian program builder, and Oregon's Chip Kelly, the wise-cracking mad scientist of offense, both would make just about everyone's top-10 list of college football coaches. An added dimension of intrigue is the possibility that Kelly may be coaching his last game as a Duck, as he's being eyeballed by a number of NFL teams.

Said Kelly, "I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game [Thursday] night, and I'm going to be there."

Kelly's crew is playing in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game. It lost its first two, including here to Auburn in the national title game after the 2010 season, but beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year. Kansas State is playing in its first BCS bowl game since 2003, and it has lost its past two bowl games.

So there doesn't seem to be much question about how hungry the Wildcats are to end their season with a victory.

"It would be huge," said Klein, who is 21-4 over the past two seasons. "We talk about finishing all the time. We haven't been able to finish the last two years. To be able to do that is very important to us."

Part of Kelly's coaching philosophy is that every game is the same -- a Super Bowl! -- because your preparation should always be your best. Yet the Ducks want to maintain their perch among college football's elite. A Fiesta Bowl victory likely would cement a 2013 preseason top-five ranking because the Ducks have a lot of talent coming back next fall.

"We have to make a statement to the rest of the country," Ducks offensive lineman Kyle Long said.

As for keys, you hear the usual from both coaches: turnovers, tackling, special teams, etc. But turnovers seem to be even more notable than usual in this one, at least based on the teams' performances this season.

Kansas State has the third-fewest turnovers (10) in the FBS this season and has forced the eighth-most (31). Oregon is tied for first in turnovers forced with 38, including 24 interceptions. The Ducks turned the ball over 19 times, second-fewest in the Pac-12.

Klein had three interceptions in the Wildcats' 52-24 loss to Baylor.

"When we've turned it over, we've struggled," Snyder said. "When we haven't, we've played reasonably well."

Sure, both teams wish they were playing for a national title. But the winner of this game will finish ranked in the top four. So that's better than 116 other FBS teams. Not too shabby, even if it includes a dose of what might have been.

Kelly was asked what he'd learned after playing in four consecutive bowl games.

"I think you learn really how hard it is to get there," he said. "That's the one thing I think as a team, as a staff, as a group of players, to not take it for granted. It's a truly special thing to be able to play in a BCS game."

Of course, it's more special to win one.

Instant analysis: Baylor 49, UCLA 26

December, 28, 2012
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It was billed as a potentially high-scoring, exciting Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. Baylor got the memo. UCLA didn't. The Bears dominated, making an early statement for the Big 12 in the battle with the Pac-12 for the title of "second best conference."

UCLA was gifted a TD at the end they didn't actually score. The final score should have been 49-19.

It was over when: It was 35-10 at halftime, so there wasn't much tension at any point. Baylor dominated in every way from gun-to-gun, on both sides of the ball. That the Bears' offense was explosive wasn't a surprise. That the Bears' defense crushed UCLA, well, that was.

Turning point: UCLA wanted to blitz and pressure Baylor's offense. It seemed like a good idea. But in the second quarter, on third-and-9 from the Baylor 45, the Bruins blitzed Bears QB Nick Florence, and he connected on a 55-yard TD pass to Tevin Reese. It was a beautiful pass and catch. It made the score 21-zip, and it firmly established the direction of this game.

Baylor game ball goes to: Coordinator Phil Bennett and the Baylor defense. There was this guy who kept calling Baylor's defense "horrible" and "terrible" and "awful." He doesn't feel very smart at this moment. Of course, that was the take on Baylor's defense just about all season from everyone. Still, just as Baylor transformed after a 3-4 start, the defense posted its best game in its final outing of 2012.

UCLA game ball goes to: Let's hear it for the special teams! Bruins kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn was 2-for-2 on field goals, and punter Jeff Locke was his usual outstanding self. Shaquelle Evans had a 43-yard punt return, and Steven Manfro had a 51-yard kick return.

Unsung hero: Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk, who announced his Heisman Trophy candidacy before the game, had a nice performance with 16 carries for 138 yards. But backup running back Glasco Martin had 98 yards and three TDs.

Stat of the game: UCLA was 1-of-17 on third down. That's just horrible. The Bruins were also 3-of-8 on fourth down. Credit to Baylor. Discredit to UCLA.

Stat of the game II: Baylor outrushed UCLA 306 yards to 33. One word: dominant.

What it means: This was the first of three bowl games putting Big 12 and Pac-12 teams. Those conferences are competing for the mythical title of Second Best Conference. This was a decisive win for the Big 12, as a team that went 7-5 overall and 4-5 in Big 12 play whipped a Pac-12 team that went 9-4 overall and 6-3 in conference play. While it's probably silly to read too much into one bowl game, which can be fluid and surprising, the pressure certainly is now on Oregon State in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Texas and Oregon in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State.

Take 3: Pac-12 vs. Big 12

December, 26, 2012
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The Pac-12 and Big 12 have three bowl games coming up -- including a BCS showdown in the Fiesta Bowl between a pair of top-five teams. David Ubben of the Big 12 blog and Ted Miller and Kevin Gemmell of the Pac-12 blog break down which of the three they are most looking forward to.

Ted Miller: It's not just that the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl matches top-five teams. And it's not just Oregon's and Kansas State's star power, with Wildcats QB Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and All American LB Arthur Brown on one side, and Ducks All-American RB Kenjon Barner and QB Marcus Mariota, a future Heisman finalist, on the other. Nor is it just the two coaches, old school Bill Snyder and new old school Chip Kelly, who many feel is headed to the NFL after this game.

Nor is it only that Pac-12 vs. Big 12 bragging rights hang heavily in the balance.

It's that you've got to love a game that has karmic significance.

Oregon and Kansas State were supposed to play this year. They had a home-and-home game contract. But then Oregon had a chance to play LSU to open the 2011 season and, well, then folks go all interpretive. Oregon fans see Kansas State as the Fraidy Cats, who took an opportunity to run away from a series instead of re-working it. Kansas State folks see logistical complications that forced their hand and, heck, it was the Ducks that first asked for an adjustment anyway.

Oregon is more than a touchdown favorite. You look at the two rosters, and it's not difficult to see a Ducks victory. And yet … who does karma favor?

Will the trash talk -- who me? -- between the fan bases come back to haunt Oregon? Will the Wildcats be vindicated? Let's just say the winner will provide more than the usual raspberries toward the other after the game.

And that is great fun.

David Ubben: I don’t know how you boys do it on the West Coast, but here in Big 12 country, we love offense. I didn’t put West Virginia 70, Baylor 63 on my best games of the year on accident. The last time Baylor got together with a Pac-12 team, I seem to remember all kinds of awesome stuff happening.

When Baylor and UCLA tangle in the Holiday Bowl, we can expect some similar fireworks, and some of them will even come courtesy of a player Pac-12 folks are surely familiar with: Lache Seastrunk. Baylor committed to him as its featured back down the stretch and he looked the part of the Big 12’s best back over the last month of the season, rushing for 693 yards and five touchdowns in his last five games. Everybody knows about Nick Florence (the nation’s leader in total offense) and Terrance Williams (the nation’s leading receiver), but this game may very well be about Seastrunk breaking out on a national scale. I’d like to see that. With apologies to offensive lineman Cyril Richardson, Seastrunk’s probably going to beat out receiver Tevin Reese as the best returning piece of this powerful offense.

Baylor doesn’t have a Heisman winner like RG3 who joined Terrance Ganaway in running away with that memorable Alamo Bowl win over Washington, but Seastrunk says he’s going to win it in 2013. I’m not going to be the one who says he can’t. UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin and Brett Hundley will be pretty fantastic foes for the Bears, but I can’t wait to see this showcase of offense.

Kevin Gemmell: Yes, David, we love our offense too. In fact, so much so that one of the most prominent offenses in football is named after the West Coast (which several Pac-12 teams run). But we can also play defense. And that is going to be the difference when Oregon State and Texas square off in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

The "Who's Going to Play Quarterback Bowl" finally has its starters -- Cody Vaz for the Beavers and David Ash for the Longhorns. But despite the fact that Oregon State has one of the most explosive wide receiver duos in the country in Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks -- I believe it's going to be the defense that carries the day for the Beavers. We know that Ash has had his troubles. And a struggling quarterback against an Oregon State secondary that ranks sixth nationally in interceptions doesn't bode well. Cornerback Jordan Poyer leads the way with seven picks this year -- that's second nationally.

Only two teams allowed more tackles for a loss this year than Texas and Oregon State is allowing opponents to convert third downs at just 29 percent. Say bonjour to Scott Crichton and Michael Doctor.

Yes, these two other games will be very offensive-centric. And that's going to make for a heck of a lot of holiday fun. This game will likely lack the offensive sizzle of the other two. There are no Heisman Trophy finalists (or players declaring they are going to win the Heisman next year). And that's OK, because there are those of us on the West Coast who still enjoy and appreciate a little bit of defense. And Oregon State's is nasty.

Video: Fiesta Bowl preview

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
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The BCS Selection Show looks ahead to Oregon's matchup with Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl on January 3rd, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Video: Potential BCS matchups

November, 18, 2012
11/18/12
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Lou Holtz, Mark May discuss the upsets of top-ranked Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon, and look forward to some potential BCS Championship matchups.

Video: Saturday's BCS implications

November, 18, 2012
11/18/12
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Kirk Herbstreit discusses the implications of losses by No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon on Saturday.

Irish could be No. 1 for 1st time since 1993

November, 18, 2012
11/18/12
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Thanks to upset victories by Baylor and Stanford, Notre Dame is in position to become No. 1 in the BCS standings for the first time ever.

The Fighting Irish haven’t been No. 1 in the Associated Press poll since November 1993.

Within minutes of each other, Baylor finished off its upset over No. 1 Kansas State and Stanford won in overtime over No. 2 Oregon.

This is the first time since 2007 that the team atop the BCS standings has lost in consecutive weeks.

That week, LSU lost to Arkansas on Nov. 23 and Missouri lost to Oklahoma on Dec. 1.

This is the third time in BCS history that the top two teams both lost on the same weekend.

Both previous instances happened in 2007. Missouri and West Virginia lost on Dec. 1 after LSU and Kansas lost the previous weekend (LSU lost on Friday, Kansas on Saturday on Thanksgiving weekend).

Kansas State's 28-point loss at Baylor is tied for the largest loss by a team ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings. Oklahoma lost to Kansas State by 28 points in 2003.

Kansas State is the fifth team ranked No. 1 in the BCS to lose to an unranked opponent. The Wildcats are the first BCS No. 1 to lose to a team with a losing record heading into the game.

How did Kansas State lose?

The Wildcats allowed 16 rushes of at least 10 yards against Baylor and three touchdowns on those rushes. Entering Saturday's game, Kansas State had not allowed more than six rushes of at least 10 yards in a single game and had not allowed a touchdown on rushes of at least 10 yards all season.

How did Oregon lose?

Oregon scored just 14 points against Stanford, its fewest points in a game since Sept. 3, 2009 against Boise State (lost 19-8).

Outside of Marcus Mariota’s 77-yard scramble in the first half, Stanford was able to limit Oregon on the ground. The Ducks had four rushes that gained 10 or more yards and did not make it past the line of scrimmage on 10 of their 43 rushes. It was the second straight game that the Ducks did not gain 200 yards after averaging 341.2 rushing yards per game in their first nine games.
Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.

Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?

Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?

It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.

So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.

Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.

Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.

After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.

The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.

Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.

Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.

We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?

The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.

The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.

Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.

But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.

That might say something about playing better defense.

Fiesta Bowl tones down the party

December, 26, 2011
12/26/11
1:00
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VIP strip club outings, illegal campaign contributions, expense claims that qualified as only slightly less than stealing: The Fiesta Bowl organization sounded like it was inspired by "The Sopranos" in a series of stories written by the Arizona Republic from 2009-10. When the U.S. Attorney's Office, FBI and IRS began investigations, the resemblance was even more striking.

Former Fiesta Bowl COO Natalie Wisneski was indicted in Arizona federal court on nine criminal counts on Nov. 16, and among the seven felony counts were conspiracy and filing false tax records. More indictments could follow, including for former bowl CEO John Junker, who was forced out in March. Junker, according reports on the investigations, piled up nearly $5 million in expenses on the company's credit card over a 10-year period. Along the way, he allegedly paid for a $1,200 strip club visit and held a $33,000 birthday party for himself at Pebble Beach.

Bowl games already were catching heat in the media, and not just because of fans wanting a playoff instead of the BCS. More than a few news reports had questioned the bowl games' tax-exempt status. Tales of the lavish ways of the Fiesta Bowl certainly didn't help the public perception.

[+] EnlargeRobert Shelton
AP Photo/Darryl WebbRobert Shelton was hired to help repair the Fiesta Bowl's image.
Fiesta, indeed.

Into this swirling mess stepped Robert Shelton: an academic, a physicist, a former president of the University of Arizona. But his taking over the top spot at the Fiesta Bowl wasn't a moment for relativity. The bowl organization's issues were philosophic as much as anything. And Shelton's focus after taking over were existential. A branding group from Dallas was brought aboard to study the simple idea of why the Fiesta Bowl existed and what it should aspire to be.

"If we disappeared tomorrow, what would be better or what would be worse in the world?" Shelton said. "The answer is pretty simple in the end. The answer isn't bowl games. We exist to bring economic value to the state of Arizona, to be a window to the state of Arizona, a source of pride. That people outside the state of Arizona will come to see Arizona. We exist for philanthropic purposes. So that's why we are here."

And then he added: "If we keep that in mind, then we can say, 'How do we do this?'"

If the Fiesta Bowl -- the game itself -- isn't the end, but the means to an end, then the Fiesta Bowl's prime directive is to serve its community, though probably not at the local strip clubs and through backdoor routes to political coffers.

There have been changes, starting with a turnover of about one third of the bowl's 35 full-time employees. Even before Shelton arrived, the bowl adopted a new set of bylaws that included a far stricter set of checks and balances on how money is spent. There's a new "authorization matrix," which lists who can approve what expenditures at what levels and what kind of sign-offs you must have for purchases. Large expenditures require multiple sign-offs. The bowl now uses bowl-owned purchasing cards, instead of allowing employees to use their own credit cards for expenses, expecting reimbursement, which helps the bowl get a concrete idea of expenses. Further, all employees and volunteers undergo background checks, and all employees and board members sign a code of conduct.

And the old, infamous "Fiesta Bowl Frolic," which was basically a big party for college administrators, is now the "Fiesta Bowl Summit." It will include panels on important subjects, such as concussions in college football.

The Fiesta Bowl's problems were about the corrupt actions of individuals, but they also were about the bowl's culture. Both had to change.

"There were a handful of individuals alleged to have misbehaved," Shelton said. "But they were enabled by an atmosphere that was created over many, many years. Not through any evil intent but an atmosphere that wasn't cautious and reviewing or as informed as it should be."

Shelton was hired in June, but the months before he came aboard were precarious. Existential thoughts? The Fiesta Bowl, first played in 1971, was facing potential extermination. It could have been kicked out of the BCS, for one. And it could have lost its bowl licenses from the NCAA, which includes its oversight of the Insight Bowl. In the end, the BCS fined the bowl $1 million but retained the Fiesta Bowl, and the NCAA Postseason Bowl Licensing Subcommittee put the bowl on one-year probation.

Shelton believes the bowl game is back on firm ground, though he said it wasn't yet time for the bowl to be "sanguine."

"I think there is a sense we've done the right things, and the BCS and NCAA value what we bring to the bowls and postseason play," he said.

The bowl's mission as a charitable organization also has been reviewed. When asked how much the bowl gave to charity in past years, Shelton admitted it was "relatively low in the past."

That $1 million fine from the BCS has been paid out to charity, and the Fiesta Bowl has decided to give out another $400,000 to charitable causes. It's also adopted a more systematic fashion of giving, holding publicized general calls for charitable requests.

Of course, there's another apparent conflict of interest that Shelton must face leading up to this year's Fiesta Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma State on Jan. 2.

Shelton is a Stanford graduate.

"I am completely neutral," he said. "I shall be dressed in neutral colors. I can't talk for my wife or kids who are also Stanford alumni."

It's a great matchup, arguably even better than the national title game between LSU and Alabama, considering that is a rematch. But while both teams have sold out their ticket allotments, the bowl is not yet a sellout.

It's possible that in a sagging local economy, the locals won't immediately re-embrace a bowl game that let its community down.

But Shelton is hoping, after an existential crisis, that the bowl finds a mythic ending.

"We could use the Fiesta Bowl's tragic events to come out even better," he said. "That's the nature of the word 'Phoenix.'"

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