With the Kansas State Wildcats set to take on the Oregon Ducks in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, the game could be the highest scoring of any of the BCS bowls—and perhaps the entire bowl season. Which means the winner will come down to defense.
While both these teams play different styles of offense, it's hard to say that one will outright outscore the other.
KSU is built around Collin Klein, who can hit you hard on a run or hurt you with a deep pass to his wideouts. Either way, he's going to find the endzone.
Oregon is built around speed and wearing down the competition. They have a flurry of weapons all designed for one thing: Moving the ball as quickly as possible.
It's that evenness that makes it so the most balanced team will win.
Reviewing the Offenses
The Wildcats average 410.4 yards and 40.7 points per game. Collin Klein's 22 rushing-touchdowns are one more than Oregon tailback Kenjon Barner's, and that's on top of his 2,490 passing yards.
But in their lone loss this season, KSU was easily outpaced by Baylor 24-52. Klein was a non factor in that game, rushing for just 39 yards and throwing three picks.
Their most comparable game to Oregon this season was the shootout against Oklahoma State. The Wildcats were out-gained all game, but won by forcing four Cowboy turnovers.
Always the prolific offense, Oregon averaged 550.1 yards and 50.8 points a game this season. Quarterback, Marcus Mariota, is a model of efficiency for Chip Kelly, completing 69.9 percent of his passes, with 30 touchdowns, and six interceptions.
The Ducks' lone stumble this season came against Stanford's hard-nosed defense. The Cardinal were relentless, holding Oregon under 200 yards rushing and just 14 points.
Oregon's biggest shootout this season came against USC. The Trojans kept pace with Oregon in the final three quarters, but being held to just three points in the first quarter set them back from a win.
For both teams this season, their lone losses came at the hands of superior defensive play. And it was defense that made the difference in both teams' biggest shootouts.
Reviewing the Defenses
At first glance, KSU is the better defense. The Wildcats allow a Big 12-best 21.1 points per game. Their 375.8 yards of total defense is third in the conference.
Oregon isn't much further behind in the scoring department, allowing just 22 points per game. But they do give up a few more yards, 381.8 to be exact.
While the Wildcats have the better turnover margin, it's because they lost the ball just 10 times this season (Oregon had 19 turnovers lost).
The Ducks are the much more opportunistic defense, forcing 38 turnovers this season—including an FBS-leading 24 team-interceptions.
The amazing thing about that stat is that Oregon's secondary has been banged up all season—safety John Boyett was out after Week 1, and his replacement Avery Patterson was later lost to an ACL injury.
Nonetheless, the Wildcats were pretty good at getting the ball back as well. They had 31 team-turnovers, including 13 fumbles gained.
That could be dangerous for an Oregon team that loss 10 fumbles this season.
The one thing that hasn't been touched on yet is pass rush, where once again KSU have a slight edge. The Wildcats have 31 team sacks this season, where as the Ducks have only 27.
In a game like this, it's obvious that plenty of points are going to be scored. It's foolish to think either team will be limited to less than 30 points.
And while offense is starting to emerge as the leading force in today's football—both at the collegiate and professional level—defense still wins championships.
Maybe not shutdown defense, but defense nonetheless. A balanced team is always more of a threat than the unbalanced. All it takes is one piece to be out of place for the latter to fall apart.
This game should be a great one, with both teams trading offensive blow after offensive blow.
And while Oregon gets the slight edge on offense, Kansas State gets the slight edge on defense. In reality, this is an incredibly even matchup.
It's because both teams match up so well—and are so good at scoring—that defense will become the difference maker. Every goal stand, every turnover, every sack will have the potential to win or lose this game.
When you look at it that way, defense becomes everything.