Bowl Picks: Classic Conflict!
By Queen Carioca
Come in and have a seat. Close the tent flap behind you as once again I glance into my crystal ball.
Check out my prophecy for tonight’s Fiesta Bowl:
TOSTITOS FIESTA BOWL
OREGON (11-1) vs KANSAS ST. (11-1): There are contrasts in style. . .then there is this. Where Kansas State averages 64 offensive snaps per game, Oregon averages 82. Where K-State zigs, Oregon zags. Where the Wildcats are physical, the Ducks are fast. Where KSU is methodical, OU is up tempo. Where Bill Snyder is old guard, Chip Kelly is new age. Where one team is silver and white, the other is polychrome.
One thing these two programs do share, however, is a belief that turnovers and takeaways help win football games. Oregon finished the regular season ranked no. 3 nationally in turnover margin (+19) and led the country in takeaways with a gaudy 38, including a national-best 24 interceptions. Kansas State finished the season atop the national turnover margin charts (+21) and led the Big 12 Conference with 31 takeaways.
No matter how many times I look at this matchup, and no matter how many different outcomes I can see, one game keeps creeping into the back of my mind. K-State’s loss at Baylor on November 17th. The nature of that defeat, and the manner in which it played out, does cast some doubt over the Wildcats ability to slow down Oregon enough to beat them. Against Baylor, an up-tempo spread offense with depth at running back, KSU was out of sorts all night, getting shredded for 342 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground. The Wildcats didn’t have an answer for Baylor’s high-octane, balanced attack, ultimately surrendering 580 total yards and 29 first downs. It of course is worth pointing out that with players like QB Nick Florence (4,877 total yards), WR Terrence Williams (1,832 receiving yards) and RB Lache Seastrunk (159 rush yards/game in his final 4 contests), Baylor had one of the most formidable high-speed attacks in college football.
But so does Oregon.
The Ducks boasts the nation’s 5th ranked rusher (Kenjon Barner – 1,624 yards) and 6th most efficient passer (Marcus Mariota – 70%, 30 TDs, 6 Int.) and they average a point scored every 71 seconds. Oregon runs for 323/game (2nd nationally) and a dozen different OU players have caught a touchdown pass. The Ducks have scored 85 TDs – the most in college football – and they’ve churned out 532 or more yards 7 times in 12 games this fall. Like Baylor, Oregon has three bona fide threats to run the football (Barner, De’Anthony Thomas – 686 yards & 11 TDs and Mariota – 690 rush yards) and like the Bears, the Ducks have big play capability (35 plays of 30+ yards).
Kansas State will counter with an offense that compensates with brawn what it lacks in flash. The Wildcats are paced by the steady arm - and legs - of Collin Klein (66% passer & 22 Rushing TDs). Klein is complimented by the unheralded John Hubert , the team’s leading ground gainer with 892 yards (15 TDs). As you might expect from a Snyder-coached team, KSU is a master of the little things. They will drag you down into a slow paced battle of field position then slowly bludgeon you. The Wildcats are the least penalized non-academy school in the nation and they lead the country in both punt return average and kickoff return average. Kansas State is molded perfectly in the form of its head coach. They are a purist’s dream: an old school, punch-you-in-the-mouth, no-nonsense, mistake free football team. If there was a stat for the most glasses of milk consumed they’d probably lead in that too.
Defensively, despite playing in a famously offensive-charged league (home to 6 of the nation’s top 19 scoring attacks), K-State has allowed just 21 points/game. Led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Arthur Brown, D-Coordinator Tom Hayes’ unit boasts playmaking seniors at every turn. Imagining what this group might have in store for a freshman signal caller after a month to prepare is frightening.
But it all comes back to turnovers.
In that critical category, Oregon has been playing the more fundamentally sound football of these two teams recently. The Ducks turned it over just 3 times in their final 5 games down the stretch, while the Wildcats did so 6 times in their final 3 outings – including 5 interceptions thrown by Klein during that span. Imagine how that number might get inflated if Oregon jumps out to an early lead, forcing K-State off script to try and keep up.
The Wildcats have enough fight to prevent the Ducks from running away with it, but in the end Oregon will simply create more opportunities for itself than KSU does. Kansas State (6th nationally in 3rd down offense – 50.4%) will move the chains and try to play keep away, but a costly turnover (or two) will derail that plan. But that isn’t what will ultimately be K-State’s undoing. Missed opportunities will be the culprit. The Wildcats convert 63% of their red zone chances into touchdowns. A pretty impressive number until you hold it up against Oregon’s 83%. Klein and company will trade one too many field goals for touchdowns, and that will be the difference. Oregon 38, Kansas State 34