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Fiesta Bowl preview: Oregon vs. Kansas State

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Fiesta Bowl
Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1)
Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

About the Ducks: Most of the talk surrounding Oregon before this game has been about Chip Kelly's interviews with NFL teams. USA Today reported he will talk to the Browns, Eagles and Bills after this game. That has the potential to be a distraction to Oregon. On the field, what set this Oregon team apart from others of the last few years is defense. The Ducks, aside from some garbage time points (and there were many blowouts over their season) and allowing 51 points in a shootout against USC, were a consistent and very good defensive team, even through a ton of injuries late in the season. The offense was great, as usual. Freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota didn't get the publicity of Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, but he was incredible in his own right. Most college football fans know how good Mariota is, and the others should figure it out during the Fiesta Bowl.

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(USA Today Sports Images)

About the Wildcats: Oregon has the reputation of being a scoring machine, but 40.7 points per game is no joke. That's what Kansas State averaged during the season, the ninth best mark in FBS. That's not all due to the offense. The Wildcats ranked first in the nation in three important categories: turnover margin, kickoff return average and punt return average. That put the offense in a lot of advantageous positions. Quarterback Collin Klein cashed in most of those opportunities. He had 15 passing touchdowns but his strength is as a tough runner. He scored 22 rushing touchdowns last year, a nice follow-up to his 27 rushing touchdowns last year. Klein was good, but not great, down the stretch after suffering a mysterious and apparent head injury against Oklahoma State on Nov. 3, so the time off may help him.

Key number: 4
Oregon is the fourth program to play in four straight BCS bowl games, joining USC (2003-09), Ohio State (2006-11) and Miami (2001-04). Oregon is 2-2 in BCS games, having also played in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2001 season. Kansas State lost 35-28 to Ohio State in its only other BCS appearance, which was the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2003 season.

The breakdown: This, of course, is the what-could-have-been bowl. This matchup was very close to being the national championship game, but both teams were upset over a few crazy hours on Nov. 17. Both of those losses should give some worry to each side. Kansas State had a ton of trouble with Baylor's uptempo offense, especially running back Lache Seastrunk, who not only fits the Oregon mold, he actually transferred to Baylor from Oregon. The Ducks lost the kind of game to Stanford that Kansas State is probably hoping to play - a tough, rugged, lower-scoring game that can keep the Wildcats in it until they get a big special teams play or a turnover.

Predictions
Frank Schwab: Oregon 49, Kansas State 31

I think this Ducks team could have beaten either team in the BCS Championship Game, and had Stanford tight end Zach Ertz's touchdown been ruled incomplete - as was ruled on the field - maybe they would have gotten the chance. As long as the talk of Kelly's NFL future isn't a distraction, Oregon should be able to take care of a very good Wildcats team.

Graham Watson: Oregon 42, Kansas State 35
I'm a little gun shy these days because games that should have gone one way have often gone the other. So, according to that trend, Kansas State should win this game. But we all saw what Baylor did to Kansas State and Oregon has a similar up-tempo, quick-strike offense. Kansas State will score on Oregon, but if the Ducks can continue to put points on the board, it's going to make it difficult for Kansas State to keep up.

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