Nov 17, 2012; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) before the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

2013 Fiesta Bowl Preview: Oregon Ducks vs. Kansas State Wildcats


2013 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona
(4)Oregon Ducks (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) vs. (5)Kansas State Wildcats (11-1, 8-1 Big 12)

Coverage – 4:00pm PT | Kickoff – 5:30pm PT | TV – ESPN
Weather – Kickoff at 60 degrees and falling, clear, roof expected to be OPEN

It’s not exactly the finish both Oregon and Kansas State wanted after a 10-0 start, but the consolation price was the Ducks being the first at-large BCS pick against the Big 12 champions in the Fiesta Bowl.

Both teams finished in the top five of the BCS rankings, making this the next best match-up in the BCS series behind the national championship. That’s similar to last season; Oregon and Stanford switched places with the Cardinal taking on last year’s Big 12 champion Oklahoma State while the Ducks played against Big Ten champion Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

Kansas State will be a little tougher test than Wisconsin was a year ago. The Wildcats match up well, their defense was able to hold off most teams’ running attack and force them to pass. They will hope to have the same result against the Ducks who rely on three key players to run the ball and create a fast-pased tempo to score early and often.

[Also see: Previewing KSU's Defense]

If Marcus Mariota is able to be mobile and throw on the run without any problems, then that will be a huge relief for the Ducks. One advantage for them is that they’ve faced teams in the Pac-12 that are better at stopping the run than the pass in the last month. Outside of the game against Stanford when the Cardinal was able to get into the backfield, Mariota completed 70 percent of his passes or better in four of his last five games. That includes a whopping 87 percent against USC when he missed on just three passes.

Obviously, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas, the other two main threats to run the ball, will have quite a time against the 17th-best rush defense in the nation. That means if no running game gets produced, expect DAT to be used a little bit more for his playmaking ability and potential lining up as a wide receiver.

What will vastly help Oregon is the improved health on defense. Dion Jordan, their star defensive end that’s struggled with injuries in the latter half of the season, should be ready to go. Given some playing time now for at least a month, the secondary should be able to overcome injuries to conerback Avery Patterson (who was lost against California) and safety John Boyett (who was lost at the beginning of the season).

[Also see: Previewing KSU's Offense]

Prediction:

Lots of talk is centered around how Oregon will respond to the assumption that Chip Kelly will be going to the NFL amid NCAA sanctions. If there’s anything that Kelly can do, it’s get his team prepared and focused for a game regardless of what distractions there are. The Ducks have had to get over losing their leader in Boyett, making clutch plays on the road at USC when a game finally got competitive, losing their entire defensive line against California, and almost came away with a victory over Stanford when their offense was shut down.

The offense may come out slow like it has in other BCS games, but they should be able to get things going at half. The only question will be how well Collin Klein and his team do with this layoff. After a slow start by both teams, Oregon should be able to break through running the ball on the Wildcats. That will make Mariota both comfortable and able to throw on a weak secondary.

Oregon 43, Kansas State 31

Tags: 2013 Fiesta Bowl Chip Kelly Football Kansas State Wildcats Marcus Mariota Oregon Ducks