2012 FIESTA BOWL
Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-1)
Stanford Cardinal (11-1)
Bigalke: Everyone knows about Brandon Weeden and Andrew Luck, the two highly-touted quarterbacks for the Pokes and Cardinal who have been the catalyst for their teams’ rising fortunes. But the most important players on the field for both teams come Monday night will be the two young men who provide all the balance and keep defenses guessing enough to give Weeden and Luck time to find their open reads.
While Luck received all the press in Palo Alto, it was Stepfan Taylor whose rushing chops led the Cardinal to a higher-ranked rushing offense (20th nationally) than passing offense (26th nationally). Taylor’s downhill running, taking advantage of a stout offensive line that opens as many holes as it provides a comfy pocket for Luck to throw from, will keep Oklahoma State unsure of what to do from snap to snap.
In Stillwater, sophomore Joseph Randle was the next standard-bearer in the chain of tailbacks that have scorched the Oklahoma night over the past few decades. Following in Kendall Hunter’s footsteps, Randle averaged nearly 100 yards a game and piled up over two touchdowns a game (23 rushing, 2 receiving) to provide some relief to the passing game. He will face a tougher challenge, taking on a Stanford defense ranked 5th nationally against the run. Randle will have to find the tough yards to give Weeden the same advantages Luck will receive courtesy of Taylor.
KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE
Strobl: Oklahoma State’s defense has been much maligned this season, and the criticism is understandable. Ranking 106th in the nation, the Cowboys allow more than 445 yards per game. Those include, on average, 265 passing yards per game, 103rd in the country. In comes Andrew Luck, arguably the best pocket passer in college football. It’s only natural to wonder how the OSU defense, and particularly the secondary, will fare against his arm. It’s worth noting that at least some of the ‘Pokes’ woes are due to how quickly their offense scores. We know that because the team ranks 8th nationally in terms of pass efficiency defense. So while they surrender massive amounts of yardage, the Cowboys make sure that that yardage doesn’t come easy for opponents.
Still, the “how” isn’t as important as the “what”, and in this instance, the “what” means points. Okie State has allowed just shy of 26 points per game. That’s nearly a touchdown more than Stanford’s own D has coughed up. In a game that features two powerful offenses, that difference could decide the final score. Will Andrew Luck be the next to feast on the Cowboys’ defense, or will Mike Gundy’s stop unit step up its game?
Mitchell: The quarterback’s in this matchup, Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, have received the bulk of the attention heading into their Fiesta Bowl clash. But, I think the running game will be a key factor that could determine the outcome of the game. We know that Luck and Weeden are great QB’s, but Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor and Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle were both 1000-yard rushers in 2011. Which running back will have the bigger day in Glendale? The Cardinal rank 5th in the nation against the run, but they allowed Oregon’s LaMichael James to have a big game against them in November. Oklahoma State ranks just 85th in the nation against the run, and Stanford’s powerful offense line led by a punishing running back should give the Pokes all sorts of problems. Both QBs should have strong days, but the game could very well come down to which defense forces the other offense to be one dimensional.
Bigalke: If you’re the gambling type, it might be a safe bet were you to lay money down for this to be the highest-scoring Fiesta Bowl in history. The current mark, the 86 total points put up between Nebraska and Florida in the 1996 edition, is well within reach for two teams that average well over 40 points apiece per game. This game will come down to defense, though, and the biggest thing going in Oklahoma State’s favor is the fact that Stanford’s only losses the past two seasons came against a Ducks team whose game is quite similar to the Pokes’ style of play. As Matt said earlier, Gundy’s team plays better defense than they are credited… and Stanford’s defense (60th in pass efficiency defense) isn’t as stout as they seem. PICK: Oklahoma State 51, Stanford 45
Strobl: Expect a lot of points when all is said and done, but don’t be surprised if this game begins with a feeling-out period. These offenses will likely need a few drives to get back into rhythm after their recent layoff. But once they find themselves, the touchdowns will roll in. Stanford has the better defense, but as good as Luck is, Oklahoma State boasts the more dangerous attack. While it should be close throughout, the Cowboys will be motivated by their National Championship snub. PICK: Oklahoma State 45, Stanford 37
Mitchell: This is another BCS bowl game that should be fantastic. 3rd ranked Oklahoma State against 4th ranked Stanford. Oklahoma State coming in desperate to prove that they deserved to play LSU for the BCS National Title, and Stanford looking to make the same case along with winning their second straight BCS Bowl. I think Andrew Luck is obviously the best player in this matchup, but I think Oklahoma State is the better football team, and they will be splaying with a serious chip on their shoulder. It should be another good game, but I’ll take the Cowboys. PICK: Oklahoma State 41, Stanford 30