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OREGON vs. KANSAS STATE
Thursday, Jan 3, 8:30 pm
It has seemed likely for several weeks that the Ducks and Wildcats would meet in the BCS. As soon as Alabama lost to Texas A&M, though, it seemed most likely they would meet in the BCS National Championship Game, not in the Fiesta Bowl. But then within an hour of each other both programs suffered huge losses. Oregon fell to Stanford in a close one, while Kansas State was crushed by Baylor. The Wildcats still won the Big 12 despite that setback, and they secured the Fiesta Bowl bid automatically as a result. Oregon couldn’t even play for the Pac-12 Championship because they lost to the eventual champions, but they were a very attractive at-large team. While some of the luster has come off these two teams because of the losses, there is no doubt that this is still a thrilling matchup between great teams. In fact, I don’t think there is a better game on this year’s bowl menu. Each team is very good at what they do, and each is the product of a strong system run by an outstanding coach — albeit two coaches who are about as different as it is possible to be. The teams will be prepared, and there will be fireworks.
The Kansas State Wildcats were 11-1 on the season, and their 9-2-1 ATS record makes them among the most profitable teams in the country. They had a 10-game winning streak before losing at Baylor. They were sluggish starting off in their final game against Texas, which came after the loss and a bye week, but they shook it off in the second half and were dominant. They will find the path much tougher in this game if they start slow due to rust again. Kansas State’s schedule didn’t wind up being as impressive as it looked early on — only their win at Oklahoma stands up as truly impressive. The driving force of the team is QB Collin Klein. The Heisman was the senior’s to lose, and he lost it against Baylor. Despite his outstanding play, though, this is not a dominant offense.
The Oregon Ducks also wound up 11-1, though the public obviously expected more of them than of the Wildcats because they were just 7-5 ATS. They not only lost to Stanford, but the 14 points they scored in that loss was four touchdowns fewer than they scored in any other game. Their schedule also wasn’t as tough as it looked like it could be thanks to down seasons by Cal and especially USC. The season-capping win at bitter rivals Oregon State stands up nicely, though. Coach Chip Kelly, who is strongly rumored to be coaching in his last BCS bowl game with the NFL beckoning.. He will be playing in his fourth BCS game. He lost the Rose Bowl and BCS Championship Game before winning the Rose Bowl last year. The team is full of stars, but perhaps the brightest all year has been running back Kenjon Barner.
As Stanford alone showed, if you can contain the Ducks offensively you can beat them. Oregon is only competent through the air, but the Ducks are truly elite at running the ball, setting the tempo and, of course, scoring a pile of points — more than 50 per game. Kansas State, thanks to playing in the Big 12, has had more experience with explosive offenses than many teams, though. There are a couple of big differences, however. First, Oregon should be very sharp in this one, while West Virginia and Texas Tech were already inconsistent and troubled when the Wildcats faced them, and Oklahoma State hadn’t been consistent from the start of the year. More significantly, those programs rely more heavily on the passing game to score points. Kansas State has not faced a team nearly as fast or dominant on the ground as the Ducks. They have the 17th-ranked run defense at 117 yards per game, but that statistic is skewed by the opposition they have faced. Kansas State will have to get very creative to try and slow the run and not let the Ducks control the tempo. That’s a massive task.
Chip Kelly flirted seriously with the NFL last year. This year the league will throw even more money at him, and all indications seem to be that he’ll take it. With the coach on his way out combined with the disappointment of not playing in the championship game or even the Rose Bowl, it’s possible that this team will struggle with their focus in the days leading up to this game. As strong as this team has been for the last four years, their biggest issues have come when they have not mentally been in a game. Handicappers need to get a feel of the mental state of the Ducks when making their selection.
If the Ducks can run they can win. I see no reason why they shouldn’t be able to run all day in this one. The Wildcats aren’t suited to contain them, and I don’t think they’ll be able to keep pace in what should quickly turn into a shootout. If the Wildcats hadn’t shown some frailty in losing to Baylor — a team that is, in a few keys ways, a lesser version of what Oregon has built — then I would be more confident in their chances. As it is, as much as I respect them I can’t give them much of a shot to win the game. But having Oregon winning this game by almost a touchdown, giving up more than a touchdown is not something that jumps at me as a play and right now I am going to sit back and wait until closer to kickoff to make a determination. Although Oregon should be a play if you are utilizing teasers or money line parlays. Well this became an easy selection for me. Line has come way down and when everyone zigs I zag. I am jumping on Oregon to help continue with the hot streak I am on and also definitely believe on the Under in this game as well for a much lesser amount of course.