Of all the bowl games that won't determine this year's national champion, the Fiesta Bowl is probably the most intriguing.
Pitting the Oregon Ducks against the Kansas State Wildcats, this year's showdown in Glendale will feature two teams that, at one time, seemed destined to play for the crystal football. Rather, these are two teams that, at the same time, seemed destined to play for the crystal football.
Both teams are similar in style and efficiency, but only one can come up the victor. If Kansas State wants to be that team, they'll need to be extra assiduous in shutting down the following three players:
RB Kenjon Barner
This is, admittedly, not the boldest statement I've ever made, but Kansas State needs to find a way to stop Kenjon Barner.
The shifty senior tailback ran for 321 yards against USC, 201 against Fresno State and over 100 on five other occasions this season. He finished the year with 1,624 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, good for seventh and fifth in the nation, respectively.
But he's been stopped before. In the Ducks' sole loss against Stanford, he was held to 66 yards on 21 carries—a season-low average of 3.1 yards per carry. The week before, Cal held him to a similar 65 yards on 20 carries.
Kansas State would be wise to study as much film as possible from those two games, comparing what the Cardinal and Bears did that every other team in the country didn't. Because if they can't replicate that success, it''ll be a long night in Glendale.
QB Marcus Mariota
OK. This isn't the boldest prediction, either. But what can I say? You can't beat the Ducks without shutting down Barner, and you're equally as screwed if you don't contain Mariota.
The freshman signal-caller from Honolulu has exceeded lofty expectations this season, completing 70 percent of his passes for 2,511 yards, 30 touchdowns and—perhaps most impressively—six interceptions.
most all Chip Kelly quarterbacks, he's been equally as efficient on the ground, where he's rushed for 690 yards on 98 carries.
Stopping him on the ground won't be an unfamiliar task for the Wildcats; they get to face a similar option-read system in practice every day. But the threat Mariota poses through the air is a little different, faster, than Kansas State is used to defending.
If they let Mariota get comfortable, they might be blown out of the water.
DE Dion Jordan
How do I put this gently? The Ducks aren't, how you say, a defensive powerhouse.
The numbers aren't that bad—they only allow 22 points per game, 26th-best in the country—but anyone who watched the debacle at USC knows that this unit, much like girls, is not to be trusted.
But Dion Jordan can wipe his hands clean of culpability. The 6'7'' senior, and projected first-round pick in the upcoming draft, has been a force off the edge this year, racking up five sacks and countless hurries.
He'll be a pivotal part of Oregon's attempts to shut down Collin Klein, especially on the read option. Unlike almost every player in college football, he's got both the size and speed requisite for giving Klein problems.
If Kansas State doesn't do an adequate job blocking him, he could throw a wrench in the Wildcats' offensive game plan.