Fiesta Bowl 2013: 10 Things You Need to Know for Oregon vs. Kansas State
Christmas is a fun time. Lots of nice presents. Plenty of alcohol, sugar and carbs. Fun times with family and friends.
Thank God that's over.
Now we can get on to what's really important: bowl week for the Oregon Ducks and Kansas Wildcats. But you can't just plop down at 5:15pm Thursday in your favorite chair (if you're lucky in University of Phoenix stadium) or bar stool and start watching. You must be prepared. Your enjoyment of the game will be greatly enhanced if you are an informed viewer.
Following are 10 things that you need to know to get the most out of the 2013 Fiesta Bowl. If you already know them, Mr. Smartypants, just humor me, OK?
10. Collin Klein Is Really Good
College football players don't get invited to the Heisman Trophy presentation unless they are pretty good.
The Oregon Ducks have faced some terrific quarterbacks this season, several of whom rank higher in total offense than Klein: Arizona's Matt Scott, Fresno State's Derek Carr, Arkansas State's Ryan Aplin and USC's surfer dude Matt Barkley.
The difference between Klein and the aforementioned quarterbacks is that Klein is a true dual-threat QB, who racked up 890 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns in the process. Compare that to Matt Barkley, who had 35 yards rushing. If you are a Duck defender, you must first consider Klein running the ball.
While Klein is certainly not a one-man team, he has the potential to single-handedly hurt the Ducks with both his legs and arm. If you are an Oregon fan, you would prefer that the Ducks keep him off the field as much as possible.
9. Stop Kenjon Barner If You Want to Stop the Ducks
If you are a Kansas State fan, you need to know that if Kenjon Barner can run wild on the Wildcats' defense, the Ducks will win this game.
While Collin Klein is one of the best quarterbacks the Ducks will face, Barner is THE best running back Kansas State has seen this year. He is smart, elusive, very fast and difficult to bring down in space.
Against the USC Trojans, Barner racked up five touchdowns and 321 yards rushing. In one game. On the road. In as hostile an environment as you will ever find in college football.
The Ducks' offensive line and Barner work seamlessly together. At times, it seems like it's almost one brain being shared between Barner and his blockers.
Number 24 keeps the Ducks' offense on the field, which is very, very bad for Kansas State.
8. Oregon's O-Line vs. K-State's D-Line
My wonderful hometown newspaper, The Oregonian, has been running, along with the Wichita Eagle K-State beat reporter, a terrific series comparing positions and units between the Ducks and the Wildcats.
Until today's piece comparing Oregon's O-line to Kansas State's D-line, I've agreed with all of the analysis. Both the O and the Eagle gave the edge in this matchup to the Wildcats.
I understand that three of the Wildcats' defensive linemen were All-Big 12 and, if you can forget about the Baylor game in which the Bears racked up a total of 580 yards, the D-line has been very effective at stopping the run and getting to quarterbacks.
But, even if you don't believe that Oregon's O-line has superior depth, smarts and agility (it does), let's take a minute and look at size alone.
Oregon: Tyler Johnstone, LT, 6-6, 292; Kyle Long, LG, 6-7,311; Hroniss Grasu, C, 6-3, 294; Ryan Clanton, RG, 6-5, 305; Jake Fisher, RT, 6-5, 294
Kansas State: Adam Davis, DE, 6-0, 259; Vai Lutui, DT, 6-2, 289; John Sua, DT, 6-0, 290; Meshak Williams, DE, 6-3, 245.
Clearly, Oregon's training table features more hearty entrees than K-State's.
Maybe Oregon has traditionally not been known for its size or skill on the O-line, but give the 2012 Ducks the edge on this unit's matchup.
7. Heisman 2013 Launch
If you have been an Oregon Ducks fan for more than a few years, you know that the words "Oregon" and "Heisman" were rarely used in the same sentence. Those days are gone.
In a year that saw three Oregon players mentioned as part of the Heisman buzz at various times throughout the season, the Ducks' visibility on the national scene has brought more individual attention to the players.
Now that we know that the Heisman is always presented to the best offensive player in the country rather than the best player (otherwise Notre Dame's Manti Te'o would have won it), we can focus on quarterbacks and running backs only.
Depending on how well Oregon QB Marcus Mariota and RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas perform in the Fiesta Bowl, one or both of them may be on Heisman preseason watch lists for 2013.
Big stages mean big opportunities. Mariota and Thomas can do themselves a big favor in terms of setting themselves up as Heisman candidates by performing well under the national spotlight.
6. Look Out For Arthur Brown
There is one Wildcat in particular who can ruin Mariota's Heisman launch: Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown.
The 6'1", 231 lbs senior often plays like a man among boys. The All-America Brown will be playing his last game as a Wildcat and is simply too good to be a non-factor.
Oregon's O-line must have an answer for Brown or Mariota might end up eating dirt a la Cody Vaz in the Alamo Bowl.
5. More Wildcats Than Ducks
From what I read, Kansas State has sold many more tickets to the Fiesta Bowl than Oregon.
Linda Cook, Assistant VP of Communications for the Kansas State Alumni Association, expects nearly 30,000 K-State fans to buy tickets. Kansas State has already sold out its initial school allotment and alumni packages, and have requested additional tickets.
As of Dec. 30, Oregon fans could still purchase tickets at GoDucks.com.
There is going to be a whole lot of purple in the stands, Duck fans. You should don your yellow and warm up your vocal cords, or stand the risk of being out-muscled by tens of thousands of Wildcats.
And, if there are purple people in your section, please be nice to them.
4. Expect Defense
While the nation is expecting an epic shootout, don't overlook the importance of defense in this game. Both the Ducks and the Wildcats have had the kind of great defensive efforts this season that can make a huge difference in games.
K-State's 43 ranking in total defense and the Ducks' 46 are somewhat misleading. Oregon was often so far ahead of opponents that starters were often off the field by the end of the first half—sometimes even the first quarter.
The Ducks' starting defenders often refused to let opponents score, only to see the second and third-team backups ease up. If the stats compared only first team defenders, both Oregon and Kansas State would be much higher ranked.
Also, as the season wore on, both teams' backups on defense—often freshmen—improved with experience.
Expect a shootout, but also some key defensive plays that will probably end up being the difference in this game.
3. Don't Eat In Glendale
For those of you making your first trip to the Fiesta Bowl or for those who went to one years ago, you need to know the Fiesta Bowl is now played in Glendale's fancy-schmancy University of Phoenix Stadium, not in Tempe's Sun Devil Stadium as in the old days.
The new stadium is very nice, but is located in foodie Never-Never-land. Now, if hot dogs, nachos and beers are your thing—and there's certainly nothing wrong with that—you will be fine in Glendale. But be prepared with more than just a $20-bill in your pocket.
However, if your tastes are a bit more refined, you will want to stay closer to Phoenix and Scottsdale. There is excellent food in the Valley of the Sun and bargains can be had.
By all means, have your stadium hot dog, but keep your stomach and your wallet fuller by researching some of the good restaurants in Phoenix and Scottsdale first.
Me? I miss Sun Devil Stadium and Mill Avenue watering holes.
2. There Will Be Interceptions
Oregon's starting defensive backfield is young with three sophomores and one junior, but they are experienced and very good.
Kansas State has two senior cornerbacks who are highly effective.
Oregon is No. 1 in the nation in interceptions with 23 during the regular season and four touchdowns. Kansas State is No. 10 with 18 interceptions and two touchdowns.
There is likely to be at least one pick in the Fiesta Bowl, but who will throw it: Mariota or Klein? Who will grab the interception? Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu or safety Erick Dargan for the Ducks? Cornerback Allen Chapman or Nigel Malone for the Wildcats?
The team that gets more picks is likely to win.
1. One More Game
I don't know who will get the interception, who will be celebrating the most in the end zone, which player will launch their 2013 Heisman campaign, or what a win will do for the victor's preseason ranking.
But I do know one thing for sure: the 2013 Fiesta Bowl will be the highlight game of the BCS and have the entire nation calling for one additional playoff game when it's over.
Go Ducks! Go Wildcats!
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.