As the bowl season winds down toward the BCS national championship game, the clutter of three dozen games is reduced to more refined matchups. Short of the Notre Dame-Alabama matchup for the crystal football, the Fiesta Bowl features perhaps the most compelling game.
In mid-November, Kansas State and Oregon were the top two teams in the BCS standings and were in control of their national championship chances. But on Nov. 17, Kansas State lost at Baylor and Stanford edged Oregon in overtime. The Wildcats and the Ducks meet in the Fiesta Bowl as top 10 teams, each with 11-1 records.
"The goal all along was to lead this team to a conference championship and a BCS bowl game, and with the unity we showed throughout the season, we were able to accomplish that," Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein said. "Oregon is certainly going to be a tough matchup."
Kansas State and Oklahoma finished with 8-1 records in the Big 12 but the Wildcats earned the Fiesta Bowl invite based on their victory at Oklahoma in late September.
Klein, who was the Heisman Trophy favorite until throwing three interceptions in the Baylor loss, will close out his stellar career in the Fiesta Bowl.
In 2012 Klein rushed for 890 yards and threw for 2,490 yards while totaling 37 touchdowns - 22 on the ground.
"He's awfully good at what he does," Big 12 coach of the year Bill Snyder said, "and he's awfully good as a leader and he's awfully good as a field manager, and he's awfully good in all the physical aspects of the game - and he's a tremendous person."
Kansas State will be challenged to control the football and keep Oregon's explosive offense off the field.
The Ducks averaged 50.8 points per game, second in the nation and were third in rushing yardage (323.3 yards per game). Senior Kenjon Barner ran for 1,624 yards and 21 touchdowns. K-State limited its opponents to 99.3 yards per game but allowed 342 yards on the ground in the loss to Baylor.
"Running the ball will be very important," Kansas State running back John Hubert said. "Oregon's offense is very explosive and can score at any time. We need to keep the ball in our hands and keep their offense off the field."
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Kansas State vs. Oregon
Need to know: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, University of Phoenix Stadium, ESPN.
Team records: Kansas State 11-1, Oregon 11-1.
Scouting Kansas State
If the Wildcats are going to control the game by controlling the clock with their running game, they need to get John Hubert untracked. He gained 100 or more yards in four of the first five games but was held under 100 yards in the last seven games. Klein, who missed most of the second half against Oklahoma State with an injury, also struggled down the stretch. He had just three touchdown passes over the final four games. The defense faces a major problem in containing Oregon's speed. The Wildcats need great performances from linebacker Arthur Brown, the Big 12 defensive player of the year, plus cornerback Nigel Malone and defensive end Meshak Williams.
The Ducks are known for speed. They play an up-tempo, fast break style and their play makers are game breakers. Oregon relies more on spreading the field and then gashing opponents with the run game. Senior running back Kenjon Barner is the nation's fifth-best rusher, supplanting DeAnthony Thomas - another speedster - as the team's top running back. Freshman Marcus Mariota attempted 312 passes and threw just six interceptions. He's also a dangerous runner, which creates yet another concern for the defense.
Kansas State averaged 262.8 rushing yards over the first five games but that dipped to 153.7 over the last seven games. ...Oregon is making an eighth consecutive bowl appearance and fourth straight in a BCS game. ... Kansas State has dropped its last four bowl games since 2002, including a 29-16 loss to Arkansas in the 2012 Cotton Bowl. ... Oregon freshman Marcus Mariota is the only quarterback in the country with 30 passing touchdowns and more than 600 rushing yards (690). ... Three of the last four and four of the last six Fiesta Bowls have been decided by a touchdown and two were decided in overtime.