Fiesta Bowl 2013: 5 Oregon Starters Better Than Kansas State Counterparts
The really great thing about the 2013 Fiesta Bowl featuring the Oregon Ducks and the Kansas State Wildcats is that fans of both teams are totally justified in eating as many Tostitos as they want to during the run-up to the big game.
After all, without Tostitos' sponsorship, college football fans across America would be stuck with only Alabama vs. Notre Dame. The fun game will be the Ducks vs. the Wildcats on January 3.
I recently ran into some very nice Kansas State fans while hiking, and we discussed the relative merits of each team. As soon as we were out of earshot, the Duck fans chortled "This game will be a walk in the park for Oregon."
But will it? How do the Ducks match up with the Wildcats? After careful study, Oregon appears to have Kansas State beat at several key matchups.
See if you agree.
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Kansas State's running back, junior John Hubert, is an accomplished RB. He cannot, however, hold a candle to Oregon's All-American RB Kenjon Barner.
Barner finished fifth in the nation with 1,624 yards and a 135.3 per game average. In the same number of games (12), Hubert finished No. 76 nationally with 892 yards and a 74.3 average.
With 21 rushing touchdowns, Barner leads Hubert's 15 TDs.
I can hear you Kansas State fans screaming: "But our QB has 890 yards rushing and Hubert doesn't need to do as much in our offense!"
True, and more on that QB later.
However, this is a head-to-head comparison, and if Collin Klein and Marcus Mariota are somehow contained in this game, the RBs become crucial.
Oregon wins this starting matchup by a landslide.
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I love Collin Klein. He embodies everything that is right in college football in America. He deserved to be on the stage at the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York.
But the senior Klein is about to be embarrassed by a redshirt freshman on the national stage. Oregon's Marcus Mariota is better than his Kansas State counterpart.
Don't believe me? You know that stats don't lie, and here they come.
Mariota finished No. 6 nationally in passing efficiency with a 165.3 overall rating. Klein is No. 16 with a 156.1 rating.
Mariota's pass completion percentage is 69.87; Klein's is 66.18. Mariota had six interceptions on the year and Klein had seven.
Mariota enters the Fiesta Bowl with 30 passing touchdowns to Klein's 15.
Yes, there is another side to this argument, and that's Klein's importance to K-State's rushing game. Klein had 890 rushing yards to Mariota's 690. Credit Klein with 22 rushing TDs to Mariota's five, and factor in Klein's total yards on the season at 3,380 compared to Mariota's 3,201.
But as the field general, the buck stops for a quarterback at how many points his TEAM ultimately puts up. Oregon finished fourth in the country, averaging 550.08 yards per game. Klein's team closes at No. 55 nationally with a 410.42 yards per game.
The Ducks had 6,601 total yards compared to the Wildcats' 4,925. Mariota is not only great at running his team's offense, he's fast: The Ducks ran 989 plays to Kansas State's 771.
Head-to-head, Mariota is a better starter for his team than Klein.
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Oregon's about-to-be-in-the-NFL senior defensive end, Dion Jordan, will be the class on the field at this position.
While Kansas State's Meshak Williams has had a terrific senior year, if I had to pick between him and Jordan as my starting DE, I'd take Jordan in a heartbeat. Williams may have made ESPN's All-Big 12 defensive team, but he would have finished second, at best, in the Pac-12.
The stats comparing these two players are skewed because Jordan played in one less game due to injury. But even with that disparity, Jordan had 44 total tackles on the season compared to Williams 36.
Williams doesn't like quarterbacks any more than Jordan, but Jordan steps up in big games with star QBs. Collin Klein will meet Mr. Jordan before the night is over.
Take it to the bank.
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Thinking back to last summer, Oregon fans would have to say that the play of sophomore cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has been one of the more pleasant surprises of this season.
IEO has been outstanding, game in and game out. His stats are comparable to Kansas State's senior cornerback Allen Chapman, but Ekpre-Olomu is peaking at just the right time.
IEO has 58 tackles this season, compared to Chapman's 55. Chapman has one more interception than Ekpre-Olomu with five total. Both CBs have one touchdown.
Where I really like Ekpre-Olomu compared to Chapman is in the passes broken up category. IEO has 15 to Chapman's five. Both cornerbacks have faced excellent opposing quarterbacks and receivers all year, but IEO has played his best against the best competition.
Expect Ekpre-Olomu to outplay Chapman when it really counts.
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Both Kansas State and Oregon have good talent and experience at the linebacker positions. The two best LBs on the field will probably be the Ducks' Michael Clay and Kansas State's Arthur Brown.
Both players are seniors and both will have a shot at the NFL.
Brown played in all 12 games for the Wildcats, while Clay missed one game because of injury. Clay had 92 tackles on the year; Brown 91. Clay's tackles-for-loss stat is 8.0, compared to 6.0 for Brown.
Clay has recorded two sacks against one for Brown.
If Clay is 100 percent healthy for the Fiesta Bowl, you have to like his heart, talent and leadership as a starting linebacker.
What It Comes Down To
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It's fun to compare positions for opposing teams. The thin line between winning and losing is often one player making one play at the right time.
If the Fiesta Bowl is close, I like these five Oregon players to make the one play that matters.
If you're an Oregon fan, just hope it doesn't come down to a field goal.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.