Preview: The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Oregon returns to the desert for a shot at another BCS bowl win in a Fiesta Bowl matchup with Kansas State. The same matchup could have happened this season in a previously scheduled game that was canceled, or in the national championship game before both teams suffered their sole loss of the season on Nov. 17. Either way, the two top 10 teams are ready to roll in one of the most anticipated bowls of the season and are set to play in a game featuring two very contrasting styles of football. If you're looking for some excitement under a dome, look no further than the Ducks and the Wildcats going at it in what promises to be a good one.

 

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The Rundown

Who: Oregon (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) vs. Kansas State (11-1, 8-1 Big 12)
What: The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
What Tositos is: "The must-have chips—the ultimate salsa and dip delivery system"
When: Tuesday, Jan. 3, 5:30 p.m. PT
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Where to watch: ESPN with Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge (analyst) and Holly Rowe (sideline)
Where to listen: ESPN Radio, Oregon IMG Radio Network and SIRIUS/XM satellite radio (Channel 84)

 

The Series

The Fiesta Bowl will be the first-ever meeting between the Oregon Ducks and Kansas State Wildcats.

 

Stat matchup

Rushing offense
Oregon: 323.25 ypg (2nd in NCAA) Kansas State: 199.17 ypg (33rd)

Passing offense
Oregon: 226.83 ypg (66th) Kansas State: 212.08 ypg (83rd)

Scoring offense
Oregon: 50.83 ppg (2nd) Kansas State: 40.67 ppg (9th)

Rushing defense
Oregon: 146 ypg (44th) Kansas State: 119.17 ypg (17th)

Scoring defense
Oregon: 22 ppg (26th) Kansas State: 21.08 ppg (24th)

 

[Related video: Chip Kelly addresses the media in advance of the Fiesta Bowl]

 

How they got here

Oregon

No team has sustained success despite losing high-profile players quite like Oregon has over the years, and the 2012 Ducks were no exception coming off three straight BCS games. In came redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota with a number of other starters, and the team continued their high-flying ways from the start with a 57-34 win over Arkansas State. Blowouts over Fresno State and Tennessee Tech moved the team to 3-0 before the start of conference play - a 49-0 win over Arizona that saw the defense bend but certainly not break.

A 51-26 win in a road trip to Washington State was followed by a 52-21 win over Washington. The Ducks headed not too far from where they will play at the Fiesta Bowl during the middle point of the season when they handled Arizona State, 43-21. De'Anthony Thomas provided one of the special teams plays of the year when he weaved in and out of traffic during a 70-14 rout of Colorado before the team headed into a showdown with USC that turned into quite the shootout. The Ducks won the game, 62-51, behind Kenjon Barner's school-record performance for rushing yards in a game (321) and moved on to a nice win against Cal the next time out.

Things got a little tougher as Stanford came to town - mistakes plus a lack of big plays did Oregon in as they fell, 17-14, in overtime to knock them out of the national and Pac-12 championship hunt. The team rebounded nicely with a big Civil War win the next week.

Kansas State

The Big 12 season began with plenty of talk about teams not named Kansas State, but the Wildcats had the last laugh at season's end. An easy romp over Missouri State was a warm-up act before throttling Miami, 52-13. A close home win over North Texas followed before K-State headed to Oklahoma and became the first ranked team to beat Bob Stoops in Norman, instantly thrusting them into the conference and national title race.

Wins big and small followed against Kansas and Iowa State before they took Big 12 newcomer West Virginia to the woodshed, 55-14. Kansas State beat Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Baylor to keep their record perfect before they visited Waco in a game where just about everything went wrong and the Wildcats dropped their first - and so far only - loss of the year, 52-24. A win over Texas gave the team the Big 12 championship and a berth in the BCS.

 

Coaching matchup

There may not be more polar opposites in the coaching world than Chip Kelly and Bill Snyder. The fast-paced, offensive-minded Kelly has developed a reputation as a mad genius and is well known as the man behind college football's fastest-paced offense. Snyder is a future Hall of Fame coach who also has an offensive background but slows the pace down to a crawl and speaks much differently than his New England-born counterpart. Snyder has turned around one of the worst programs in the country - twice - and is enjoying one of his best teams ever this season.

 

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Key players

Oregon

Running back Kenjon Barner – He waited his turn behind LaMichael James and it paid off in the form of a great season in 2012. Lightning fast, he's a threat to score any time he touches the ball.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota – The Hawaii native has taken control of the office and has been one of the best signal callers in the country, setting the Pac-12 freshman record for touchdown passes along the way. He can take off using his legs or stay in the pocket and beat you with his arm, making him a difficult dual-threat to contain.

Linebacker Michael Clay – The senior is a tackling machine and lets hardly anything get past him on the Ducks' attacking defense.

Kansas State

Quarterback Collin Klein – The Heisman finalist was terrific once again this season as he set a host of school records in nearly leading the Wildcats to a perfect season. Built like a tank, he can run you over or beat you over the top with his arm.

Running back John Hubert – The unsung back is a big part of the offense and racks up the yards after contact. He is a threat out of the backfield in the passing game and surprisingly shifty as a counterpart to Klein.

Linebacker Arthur Brown – A transfer who has thrived under Snyder at Kansas State, the hard-hitter makes teams try to run away from him. Equally adept at dropping into coverage as he is blitzing, Brown has to be accounted for every snap.

 

Stat pack

- Oregon has 45 plays of 25 yards or longer this season, 17 of which have gone for touchdowns. Of Oregon's 80 drives resulting in touchdowns this season, 44 have lasted less than two minutes and 22 have taken 60 seconds or less.

- Oregon is 5-3 against the AP top 10 under Chip Kelly, and the Ducks have won 15 straight road games, which leads the country.

- Marcus Mariota is the first freshman to start at quarterback since 1991 and, completing 69.9 percent of his passes, he is on pace to break former Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford's FBS record for highest completion percentage by a freshman (69.5% in 2007).

- Oregon is just the fourth program to play in four or more consecutive BCS bowl games, doing so in 2010-2013.

 

Keys to the game

This game should feature plenty of offense with two top 10 scoring teams, so naturally the winner will very likely be the one who plays the best defense - not necessarily by getting the most stops, but by creating turnovers and staying disruptive all night. Oregon is an experienced BCS team that could have been in Miami playing for the national title, but when they have lost, it's typically because of turnovers on offense. Most don't give the Ducks much credit on defense, but that has been the one consistent unit over the years and must remain as such in 2013 against a very good one-loss Kansas State team.

Klein wasn't 100 percent when the Wildcats lost this season, but figures to be in top shape and looking to deliver an elusive BCS win for his coach and program. Their offense can get you out of whack defensively if you commit too much to stopping the run or the pass, so the key is playing sound defense and keeping everything in front. The defense is used to wide-open offenses, but they haven't quite seen a team that runs like Oregon, so getting big plays and putting pressure on the offense to score quickly is going to be the time-tested strategy for Chip Kelly's team. It should be a close, thrilling game either way.

 

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