2011 Fiesta Bowl Preview
Stanford Cardinal vs Oklahoma State State Cowboys
College football fans who might be disappointed that Oklahoma State won’t play LSU for the national championship will at least get to see the next-best thing: Oklahoma State playing Stanford in what is clearly the most attractive installment of college football’s 35-game postseason lineup.
The Rose Bowl is definitely a sexy matchup in its own right, but Wisconsin has played poorly away from home this season and was fortunate to win the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State. A matchup of the 2010 Wisconsin and Oregon teams would have outclassed this Stanford-Oklahoma State throwdown in terms of pure quality. As things currently stand, Cardinal-Cowboys is a better game than the 2011 edition of Badgers-Ducks in Pasadena. The Cotton Bowl between Kansas State and Arkansas is also a big-time pairing, but Arkansas endured 24-point beatdowns at the hands of LSU and Alabama. Kansas State got shredded by 41 points when it took the field against Oklahoma. Wildcats-Razorbacks is a must-see game, but Stanford-OSU is an even more essential watch for the true college football connoisseur.
This game pits Stanford, a team with a great quarterback and a rugged style of play, against an Oklahoma State squad that possesses more quickness on the edges and big-play receivers such as NFL prospect Justin Blackmon. Stanford could play a more tactically precise game on Jan. 2 and still lose because Oklahoma State has better athletes at most spots on the field. Quarterbacks as skilled as Stanford’s Heisman Trophy finalist Andrew Luck can compensate for numerous kinds of limitations, but the supreme drama found in this game is as follows: Can Luck manage to win a game in which his offense will have to be mistake-free for 60 minutes? That’s the challenge which faces the Cardinal, a team whose top receiver, Chris Owusu, is likely out for the season (and possibly done for his entire playing career) due to a series of concussions suffered this past season. Stanford will get tight end Zach Ertz back from injury for this game, but the Cardinal’s offense still won’t be at full strength. The dynamics surrounding this duel will only place more pressure on the shoulders of Luck, making this clash that much more compelling.
The college football cognoscenti is aware of how good Luck is, but the ranks of pigskin pundits can’t deny that Oklahoma State has fielded its most complete team in recent memory. The Pokes finally won their first Big 12 championship this season, breaking the stranglehold that Oklahoma and Texas held on college football in the South Central Plains. Oklahoma State has been regularly outflanked and outfoxed by Oklahoma in the rivalry known as the “Bedlam Series,” but this year, the Pokes finally threw down the hammer in a convincing 44-10 masterclass that chased away so many demons for head coach Mike Gundy. Oklahoma State has certainly benefited this season from the fact that its quarterback, Brandon Weeden, is 28 years old, much like Florida State in 2000 with Heisman Trophy-winning 28-year-old signal caller Chris Weinke. Weeden’s maturity has been a galvanizing element on a team that has become more than just an entertaining offense. OSU’s defense isn’t brilliant, but the Cowboys have a positive turnover differential greater than 20, a central reason for their success this year. Oklahoma State scored multiple defensive touchdowns in the rout of Oklahoma, a sign that this team – whose defense was far worse in 2010 – has done a lot of growing this season. If OSU’s blend of top-notch offense and ballhawking emerges against Stanford, the Pokes will be riding tall in the saddle.
However, a Stanford team that will have one month to heal its injuries sustained over the course of the season is not going to go down without a fight. Yes, this is likely to be the final collegiate game for heralded quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Andrew Luck, the man who is so substantially responsible for turning Stanford from a Pac-12 also-ran into a BCS bowl team over each of the past two seasons. It’s true that Stanford’s former head coach, Jim Harbaugh, was the architect of this resurgence in Palo Alto, California; its also true that it was Harbaugh who instilled toughness into the Cardinal program at every position. However, without landing Luck, Harbaugh would not have won the 2011 Orange Bowl. He also would not have become the coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He also wouldn’t have set the table for first-year head coach David Shaw to win 11 games and punch a ticket to the Fiesta Bowl. Luck is indeed the centerpiece of everything Stanford is, and of everything Stanford does as well. Luck can be overwhelmed by speed and power from an opposing defense, as was the case in his team’s 53-30 loss at home to Oregon on Nov. 12. However, Oklahoma State’s defense is not a particularly strong or robust defense. The Cowboys got lit up by Kansas State earlier this season, struggled for two and a half quarters against Texas A&M, allowed over 30 points to Tulsa, and blew a 24-7 lead against Iowa State. Luck will be able to call running plays, bring OSU’s linebackers into the tackle box, and then throw over the top of the Cowboys’ defense on play action passes. Stanford is in good position to score 30 points, control the ball, and keep Oklahoma State’s defense off the field.
Oklahoma State wants an insane pace and nonstop playmaking. Stanford wants to produce 15-play, 80-yard, and seven-minute touchdown drives. We’ll see which style carries the night in Glendale, Arizona. College football fans can’t wait for kickoff to arrive.
26th in passing offense – 273 yards per game
22nd in rushing offense – 207.9 yards per game
5th in points scored – 43.6 points per game
23rd in points allowed – 20.3 points per game
2nd in passing offense – 386.3 yards per game
43rd in rushing offense – 170.8 yards per game
2nd in points scored – 49.3 points per game
61st in points allowed – 25.8 points per game
By: Matt Zemek
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