Fiesta Bowl Preview: Stanford Cardinal vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIJanuary 2, 2012

Fiesta Bowl Preview: Stanford Cardinal vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Prior to the BCS National Championship Game, there is no better matchup than the Fiesta Bowl. Being played in the same venue that will host next week’s championship game, the Fiesta Bowl features the Stanford Cardinal versus the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

    The game will be played on Dec. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET in Glendale, Ariz. at University of Phoenix Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.

    Note: Rankings used are from my National Top 25 rankings.

Stanford Cardinal

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    Ranking in my National Top 25: No. 5

    Record: 11-1 (8-1 Pac-12)

    Biggest win: at No. 7 USC, 56-48 (3OT), Oct. 29

    Worst loss: vs. No. 4 Oregon, 53-30, Nov. 12

    For the second consecutive season, only one team defeated the Stanford Cardinal in the regular season. For the second consecutive season, that team was the Oregon Ducks.

    As a result of these losses, the Cardinal play second fiddle for the second consecutive season in the Pac-12, but for the second year in a row, they will play in a BCS bowl game.

    The Cardinal have had a great season with only one loss, but they lack a signature victory. They have no victories over teams currently ranked within the BCS Top 25. They did beat the USC Trojans, who are currently ranked seventh in the National Top 25, but it took them three overtimes and a USC fumble in the end zone to accomplish that victory.

    Leading the way for the Cardinal is quarterback Andrew Luck, a superstar who is a virtual lock to be the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. Luck is the reason why Stanford has transformed from a struggling program to one of the nation’s best teams over the past two seasons, and with Luck leading the way, the Cardinal always have a chance to win.

    The Cardinal rank 11th nationally in total offense and 25th nationally in total defense.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Ranking in my National Top 25: No. 3

    Record: 11-1 (8-1 Big 12)

    Biggest win: vs. No. 20 Oklahoma, 44-10, Dec. 3

    Worst loss: at Iowa State, 31-37 (2OT), Nov. 18

    For all the devastating losses teams have suffered this season, none was more heartbreaking than Oklahoma State’s loss at Iowa State.

    The Cowboys went into that game with a 10-0 record and the No. 2 ranking in the nation, two games away from an undefeated season and a chance to play in the BCS National Championship Game. However, tragedy struck Oklahoma State athletics on the morning before that game, with the deaths of Ohio State women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna. This likely affected the Cowboys’ focus on this game, but unfortunately, a defeat against an unranked team was a quick ending to their championship chances.

    That said, the Cowboys, many of their fans and many college football fans around the nation believe that Oklahoma State should be playing in the national championship game. The Cowboys certainly had an argument, with three wins against teams that are currently ranked and eight wins over bowl-eligible teams.

    The Cowboys rank second nationally, behind only Houston, in passing offense and scoring offense, and rank third nationally in total offense. Defensively, the story is different, ranking 106th nationally in total defense, but their games tend to play as high-yardage, high-scoring, offensive shootouts.

Players to Watch

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    Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Junior

    NFL Draft Grade: No. 1 Overall Pick

    Andrew Luck will look to have one final big moment at Stanford and lead the Cardinal to their second consecutive BCS bowl victory before he becomes the first player drafted in the 2012 NFL draft.

    Luck has the sixth-best passer rating in the nation, along with 3,170 passing yards, a 70 percent completion rate and a 35-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio. That said, Luck cannot be measured up in statistical comparisons.

    While many quarterbacks are passing for more yards by throwing short passes in spread offenses, Luck is making NFL-quality throws in a pro-style offense, and looking terrific while doing so. Luck has all the tools coveted in a star quarterback. He is accurate, has a strong arm, has great pocket presence, is a natural leader, is intelligent, is a great decision-maker, is athletic and makes big plays when the game is on the line.

    Stanford’s success revolves around its star and leader, and he should be expected to play very well in the Fiesta Bowl.

    Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden, Senior

    NFL Draft Grade: Round 4

    While most of the pre-game hype will be focused on Andrew Luck, and with good reason, Oklahoma State has a terrific quarterback of its own in Brandon Weeden.

    Weeden has had a tremendous senior season, leading the way to Oklahoma State having one of the nation’s elite offenses. He ranks third nationally in passing yards per game, with a tremendous completion rate of 72.6 percent. And although the Cowboys do run a passer-friendly spread system, Weeden’s passing repertoire consists of more downfield passing than of other prominent spread teams such as Houston and Texas Tech.

    Weeden has good size, accuracy, athleticism and a strong arm, but he is already 28 years old, which seriously decreases his draft value. That said, he should make a good backup quarterback at the next level and would be worth a fourth-round draft choice.

    If the Cowboys are to outscore the Cardinal, much of that will come by Weeden’s ability to pass the ball.

    Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon, Junior

    NFL Draft Grade: Top 15

    Weeden has done a great job passing the ball, and he has the tremendous asset of being able to throw to one of the nation’s best wide receivers, Justin Blackmon.

    Blackmon is a deep threat with strength, athleticism and great hands. Blackmon’s numbers went down from his sophomore to his junior season, but he still ranks fourth nationally with 113 receptions, seventh nationally in receiving yards per game and tied for fourth nationally with 15 receiving touchdowns.

    Blackmon is the Cowboys’ big-play receiver and a true game-changer when the Cowboys are on the field. He does not quite have the size and speed combination as the two receivers who went in the top six of the 2011 NFL draft, A.J. Green and Julio Jones, so he is not as great of a prospect as they were, but he remains a potential top-10 selection in the 2012 NFL draft.

    Oklahoma State CB Brodrick Brown, Junior

    NFL Draft Grade: Round 2-3

    The Cowboys’ defense gives up a lot of yardage, but they do have a few great talents. The most prominent defensive playmaker is cornerback Brodrick Brown.

    Brown is a terrific cover corner with great athleticism and terrific ball skills. Brown ranks second nationally with 20 passes defended, five of which were interceptions. Brown has a real skill for making plays on the ball.

    Brown lacks height and strength, which hurts his stock for the NFL draft, but he is still a very good pro prospect who should at least be able to excel as a nickelback.

    Brown will be working against Stanford’s best receiver, Chris Owusu, in this game. Brown will look to take him out of the game, but Brown’s biggest chance to make an impact is if he can cause a turnover. Watch out for Brown to make a big play to turn the tables in the Fiesta Bowl.

    Stanford OLB Chase Thomas, Junior

    NFL Draft Grade: Round 4

    Chase Thomas has proven to be a great fit as an outside linebacker in Stanford’s 3-4 defense.

    Thomas has the size to be a collegiate defensive end, but is also a quality athlete. Thomas is a sound tackler and very instinctive, while possessing quickness and pass-rushing skill. This makes him one of top 3-4 outside linebackers both in college football and projecting to the next level.

    Thomas ranks 14th nationally with 17.5 tackles for loss. He also leads the team with 8.5 sacks and has forced five fumbles this season.

Comparing the Two Teams

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    Common opponent: Arizona

    Stanford: Road win, 37-10, Sept. 17

    Oklahoma State: Home win, 37-14, Sept. 8

    Wins vs. currently ranked teams: Oklahoma State 3, Stanford 2

    Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams: Oklahoma State 8, Stanford 5

    Stanford’s scoring offense: Seventh in nation, 43.6 points per game

    Oklahoma State’s scoring defense: 60th in nation, 25.8 points allowed per game

    Oklahoma State’s scoring offense: Second in nation, 49.3 points per game

    Stanford’s scoring defense: 23rd in nation, 20.3 points allowed per game

    Stanford’s passing offense: 26th in nation, 273.0 yards per game

    Oklahoma State’s passing defense: 103rd in nation, 265.6 yards allowed per game

    Oklahoma State’s passing offense: Second in nation, 386.3 yards per game

    Stanford’s passing defense: 79th in nation, 241.1 yards allowed per game

Prediction Analysis

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    For fans of great quarterback play and downfield passing, the Fiesta Bowl could be the best game of the bowl season. With two of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden taking the field, it will be a great offensive show.

    Oklahoma State is known to put up many yards and points, but also give up yards and points, so against a very potent Stanford offense, expect this game to be an offensive shootout.

    Luck is as good of a quarterback to be coming out of the college ranks as there has been in quite some time, but while he may be the better of the two passers on the field, he lacks the weapons Weeden has to work with in Justin Blackmon and fellow wide receiver Josh Cooper.

    I believe Oklahoma State’s offensive playmakers will prove too much for the Stanford defense to handle. Additionally, while the Cowboys’ defense gives up yardage, it does lead the nation in takeaways, with 42. I think the Cardinal will be able to keep pace offensively, but the Cowboys will be able to come up with a big play on defense and eventually put this game away with big offensive plays.

    Final Score Prediction: Oklahoma State 45, Stanford 34