Thursday, January 3, 2013

Tonight's The Night!

K-State plays against Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl tonight, and I couldn't be more excited for it.  I wish this had been the national championship game, but that was simply not to be this year.  First, the official preview:


So, here are my admittedly amateur thoughts.

I think the key will be which team is able to force the other out of its preferred style of play.  Oregon wants to play FAST, snapping the ball almost immediately (every 11 seconds or so, if I recall correctly...real time, not game time).  They want the score to be in the atmosphere, and they want to rely on their speed and quick striking offense to create pressure for the Cats to keep up.  On the other hand, KSU plays a grinding ball control offense, which means slow and steady, closing the vise throughout the first three quarters and finally throttling the life out of its opponent at the end.  Both teams have been brutally effective this year, but in almost polar opposite ways.  The contrast in styles should present a festival of eye candy and intrigue as the coaching acumen involved and the extra time off to heal up will likely give us some surprises.

I think the first quarter will strongly indicate the eventual winner.  If Oregon jumps out to a big lead fast, I think K-State will have a really hard time keeping up.  They have passed effectively, but their bread and butter is a pounding running game that forces extra defenders into the box, resulting in open receivers and big plays.  They're not built to score tons of points through the air.  They've started slowly in most games this year, but doing so tonight will likely be a death knell.  If Oregon is up big after Q1, I think it could get ugly.  On the other hand, if Klein and the Wildcat offense is able to stay on the field for extended periods of time and finish off with scores, thus keeping the game close (or even pulling head) early, I think it bodes ill for Oregon as the Wildcat machinery only picks up speed once it gets rolling.

But, it's not necessarily that simple.  There are some wild cards involved, too.  Even if Oregon should find itself behind, they're never out of the game due to their capacity to score quickly.  Whereas most coaches will find relative comfort in a two- or three-possession lead, I don't believe that's the case with Oregon.  Time of possession will be critical, too.  The Wildcat defense has a monumental challenge in containing and slowing the Oregon hyper-attack, and it needs the offense to give them plenty of rest if it's going to be able to do so for four quarters.  Cleanliness of play and turnovers are both great equalizers in a game like this.  K-State is one of the least penalized teams in the country this year, and has one of the best turnover margins in college football.  Nothing is quite so demoralizing as having touchdowns called back due to penalties or losing much-needed possessions to turnovers.  If the Wildcats continue both of those trends, they will give themselves a huge advantage that will help compensate for less overall team speed.  

I think Oregon's schedule failed to prep them for a team like KSU.  They haven't played a tough schedule; only seven of their opponents are playing in bowl games (but more than half lost), and the only time they faced a high-level grinding, pounding opponent, they lost.  Their defense is almost an afterthought, giving up huge numbers of points in game after game this year.  I don't see any way they can completely shut down Klein & Co., but I think that if KSU is close or ahead after Q1, then the Cats will stand a very good chance of thoroughly wearing down the Duck defense with lots of time left on the clock.  When they've done that this year, they've blown out their opponents.  Speaking of K-State's opponents, they've played 8 bowl teams (more than half have won), and they have already throttled pass-happy teams in West Virginia, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State.  Only Baylor was able to get the better of them, and that was due largely to the combination of abnormally high turnovers and playing TCU the week before (fun fact - every Big 12 team lost the week after playing TCU due to the tremendous physical pounding they took at the hands of the Horned out for them next year!).  They faced and beat multiple top-10 teams (at the time they played), and played more ranked teams in a tougher conference top to bottom.  They may not have seen quite the level of speed as Oregon, but they're also not completely foreign to the task.

I think a very interesting breakdown of trivia can be found here, illustrating just how these two teams compare:

Kansas State’s Team Efficiency/Discipline

1. Kansas State averages 10.1 fewer points per game than Oregon this season, but that does not mean its offense is any less efficient. Kansas State scored a touchdown on 40 percent of its offensive drives and is averaging 3.5 points per drive, tied with Oregon for the second-most in FBS.

2. Kansas State’s average drive starts at its own 41; their opponents at their own 27. The Wildcats’ plus-14 field-position differential is 4 yards better than any other FBS school.

3. The Wildcats are tied with Kent State for the best turnover margin (plus-21) in FBS this season. They had not allowed a point off of a turnover until Week 11 against TCU.

4. Kansas State is committing 3.5 penalties per game, second-fewest in FBS.

5. Oregon leads the nation in first-half scoring margin, but Kansas State has been the best second-half team in the nation (plus-12.8) largely because of its ability to force turnovers. The Wildcats have forced 16 turnovers in the second half that have led to an FBS-best 98 points off turnovers.

Oregon’s Speed/Scoring

1. Oregon is averaging one point every 32.9 seconds of possession, twice the rate of the average FBS team (65.8 seconds per point).

2. The Ducks are averaging a touchdown every 11.8 plays this season, the best rate in FBS. Kansas State is third in the nation, averaging 12.8 plays per touchdown.

3. Oregon leads the FBS in offensive touchdown drives that lasted one minute or less (22) and two minutes or less (44) this season. The Ducks are averaging 2 minutes, 7 seconds per touchdown drive and are in the top three of FBS in points per game for the third straight year.

4. Oregon averages more points in the first half (31.3) than 72 FBS teams average in a game. The Ducks’ average halftime lead is 22.3 points, and the only time that they trailed after halftime was after the last play of overtime in their loss to Stanford.

The Oregon Duck mascot does push-ups every time Oregon scores, with the number of push-ups equaling the number of points Oregon has at that point in the game. The Duck has done 2,735 pushups this season and is averaging over 225 push-ups per game. With four scores on Thursday, the Duck will probably exceed its previous high of 2,790 push-ups done in 2010. 


Basically, it's strength vs. strength in a whole lotta facets of this game.  There are so many reasons that this should be an awesome game to watch!

So, what's my prediction?  Most of the punditry seems to be leaning about 55/45 toward Oregon, but few would be surprised if K-State wins.  I'll say it this way:

- chances that Oregon wins big: 35%
- chances that Oregon wins close: 15%
- chances that K-State wins close: 40%
- chances that K-State wins big: 10%

I admit it that I'm an optimist.  I'm going to land on the perfect storm a la the Big 12 Championship in 2003 over what was at the time being called the greatest college football team in history...and that got pounded 35-7 by the Cats: K-State wins big.  I think this K-State team is that good, and I think that Snyder will have some surprises in store for the Ducks that will all but put this one away.

To close things out, here's a...slightly different preview from one of my favorite shows (of which two of the headline actors are K-State and Oregon alums):

No matter what happens, any season with 11 wins, a top-10 final ranking, and a trip to a BCS bowl is a success.  Go Cats!


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