Pac-12: BCS-bowl-overview-2012

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
8:47
PM ET
Oregon Ducks (11-1) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (11-1)

Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET, Glendale, Ariz. (ESPN)

Oregon take by Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: Oregon began the season as the perceived second fiddle to USC. It finished as the second fiddle to Stanford, after the Cardinal handed the Ducks their only defeat, a 17-14 overtime loss. Still, another top-five ranking and a fourth consecutive BCS bowl game makes it difficult to call the season less than a success.

The big question entering the season was replacing quarterback Darron Thomas, who made an ill-fated decision to leave early for the NFL draft. One of the theories on why Thomas left early was that his two backups were better than him. Well, based on the way redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota played, it's easy to see why Thomas might have thought that.

Mariota ranked sixth in the nation in passing efficiency this season, with 30 TD passes and just six interceptions. He completed 70 percent of his throws. He also rushed for 690 yards and four touchdowns. So quarterback questions were answered emphatically.

The Ducks blew through an easy early schedule. There was no marquee nonconference matchup to provide a test, and the early Pac-12 foes didn't offer much resistance, either. Arizona was supposed to offer a challenge, but it went down 49-0. Same with Washington (59-21) and Arizona State (43-21). The Nov. 3 game with USC was supposed to be a marquee showdown, but the Trojans didn't cooperate, arriving at the game with two losses, including a defeat the weekend before at Arizona. The Ducks rolled past the Trojans 62-51, despite numerous injuries on defense.

The dominance against solid, if non-elite foes, made Ducks look like a national title contender. By Week 12, they were ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings behind Kansas State. That looked like the potential national title matchup. But things changed for both.

After dusting California, the Ducks played host to Stanford, a team they had dominated the previous two seasons. Yet the Cardinal found its mojo on defense and shut down Chip Kelly's offense like few had before. Even with an impressive 48-24 win at Oregon State the next weekend, the Ducks couldn't get into the Pac-12 title game, because Stanford won the North, due to the head-to-head victory.

This Oregon team is strong on both sides of the ball. The defense faltered a bit late because of injuries, but it should be fairly healthy after a few weeks of rest.

The final question for Oregon fans heading into the bowl game: Will this be Kelly's last game leading the program? Many have already projected he will take an NFL job this offseason.




Kansas State take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Kansas State can celebrate its first Big 12 title since 2003 with a trip to Glendale, Ariz., for the Fiesta Bowl, the Big 12’s traditional tie-in for its champion. The Wildcats’ loss to Baylor in their 11th game of the season kept them out of the national title game, but they rebounded to beat Texas in the finale and earn the Big 12’s automatic BCS bid, and face Oregon.

Just like he’s done so many times this season, the focus for Bill Snyder and his Wildcats will be slowing down an offense that loves to move fast, fast, fast. Even the fastest Big 12 teams might not move as quickly as Oregon, which has the nation’s fastest running backs and an offense that prides itself on pace. Kansas State’s offense is plenty effective, but will take its time at the line of scrimmage. Heisman candidate Collin Klein will face a worthy adversary in Oregon freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, who received a little bit of Heisman hype himself. However, Kansas State’s defense, led by speedy, sure-tackling linebacker Arthur Brown, will try to contain Oregon’s duo of Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, who also spent some time on Heisman watch lists during the season. Expect two potent, but different, running games to go head to head. Whoever wins the line of scrimmage will win this one, but Kansas State will try to get back to its efficient self. The Wildcats lead the nation in turnover margin and starting field position, and they have committed the third-fewest penalties in FBS games, with just 42 in 10 games. That’s a recipe for success, and it’s exactly how the Wildcats won the Big 12 title and reached their first BCS game since 2003, the last time it won the league.

Like Oklahoma State last season, Kansas State successfully bounced back after a painful upset loss on the road ruined hopes of a national title and a Heisman Trophy. Can the Wildcats beat a solid Pac-12 opponent in Oregon like Oklahoma State did with Stanford a year ago?

This wasn’t the ending to the season Kansas State would have liked after reaching 10-0, but with a month between games, it’ll realize by then that reaching this point is no small accomplishment, and winning this game will be important in improving the way this season is remembered. Kansas State won the Fiesta Bowl back in 1997, but lost in 2003. Can this be another BCS notch on the belt of the Cats’ legendary coach?
Wisconsin Badgers (8-5) vs. Stanford Cardinal (11-2)

Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET, Pasadena, Calif. (ESPN)

Wisconsin take from Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett: In its 98 previous installments, the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio has never had a team quite like Wisconsin. The Badgers will be the first five-loss team to play in the Grandaddy, and they finished only third in their own division with a 4-4 Big Ten record.

Yet this isn't some fluky, out-of-nowhere program, as Wisconsin is playing in its third straight Rose Bowl and its fifth since 1999. While this year's team underachieved by going 7-5, it lost three games in overtime and two others by a field goal. The Badgers saved their best game for last, blowing the doors off Nebraska with a 70-31 rout in the Big Ten championship game.

The Badgers might have gotten to that title game only because of the NCAA probation at Ohio State and Penn State, but they seized the opportunity by running for 539 yards against the Huskers. With an offensive line that has steadily improved after some early-season struggles, the most prolific scoring running back in FBS history in Montee Ball and an underrated defense, Wisconsin is as dangerous a five-loss team as you'll ever see.

Bret Bielema will seek to capture his first Rose Bowl after falling short each of the past two years, and Stanford -- which plays a similar rugged style -- could prove a more favorable matchup than TCU or Oregon were. The Badgers are already a unique kind of Rose Bowl team; they might just end up being the strangest Rose Bowl champs.




Stanford take by Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell: Jim Harbaugh bolted for the San Francisco 49ers and Stanford was supposed to take a step back. It didn't. Andrew Luck graduated -- along with high draft picks Coby Fleener, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin -- and Stanford was supposed to take a step back. It didn't.

Now, here the Cardinal are, back in a BCS bowl game for the third straight year and playing some of the best football in the country.

The Rose Bowl matchup with Wisconsin feels very much like a Big Ten-Big Ten showdown, because the Cardinal don't play stereotypical Pac-12 football. Stanford will pound away on the ground, take the occasional calculated risk downfield, and has no reservations sending its defense back on the field to get the ball back.

As has been the case the past few years, it starts with defense for the Cardinal -- who are first in the country in tackles for loss, first in the country in sacks and third nationally against the run. And those numbers include games against four of the top 27 rushing offenses in the country (Oregon, Arizona, UCLA and Notre Dame). Linebackers Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas, along with defensive end Ben Gardner, are among the best in the country at getting penetration and tackles for loss. Safety Ed Reynolds ranks in the top 10 nationally with six interceptions.

But the boost Stanford needed on offense came in November when head coach David Shaw (two-time Pac-12 coach of the year) swapped out redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan at quarterback for the struggling and inconsistent Josh Nunes. Since taking over, Hogan is 4-0 as a starter -- including wins at Oregon and at UCLA.

But Stanford's offense is built on the power running game of Stepfan Taylor. He's a three-time 1,000-yard rusher and has totaled 1,442 yards on the ground and 12 touchdowns. Look for him to continue to be a major contributor in the passing game as well. He has caught 38 balls for 270 yards and two scores.

The Cardinal are going to the postseason for the fourth consecutive year -- a first in school history. Stanford lost in the Sun Bowl in 2009, won the Orange Bowl in 2010 and fell in the Fiesta in 2011. This is Stanford's first appearance in the Rose Bowl since 1999.

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