Fiesta won’t be biggest bowl but might be best

It came as no surprise when the Fiesta Bowl officially announced Oregon and Kansas State as this year’s selections for the BCS game, but it did create an interesting question: Might the Fiesta Bowl be the best BCS game this year?

With Oregon ranked No. 4 and Kansas State No. 5, the Fiesta Bowl features two top-five teams for the second straight year after No. 3 Oklahoma State beat No. 4 Stanford in the game last season.

Given No. 1 Notre Dame’s underdog status against No. 2 Alabama in the BCS national championship game, some have already written the Crimson Tide in (at least in pencil) as back-to-back national champions. Fair or not, that opens up the discussion on this season’s most intriguing bowl matchup. The Fiesta Bowl has a pretty good case.

It was just over two weeks ago that Kansas State entered the weekend ranked No. 1 and Oregon No. 2. Both teams lost within hours of each other, derailing their respective hopes of playing for the national championship. Factor in that the Ducks and Wildcats — who are both 11-1 — will make the Fiesta Bowl the only BCS game featuring two scoring offenses ranked in the top 10 nationally and you’ve got the makings of a classic.

Furthermore, Oregon and Kansas State have a little unfinished business. The two were supposed to meet during nonconference play earlier this season, but the game was canceled, apparently due to “mutual agreement,” though it’s believed Kansas State initiated the change.

“We were just told we had to find another game,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said Sunday. “I didn’t ask why. Is it ironic? I don’t know. We’ll see.”

That the teams will get the chance to face off after all only adds intrigue to a game already chock-full of it. On one side is a veteran coach, Bill Snyder, in his second tenure with Kansas State. On the other is a coach who might be headed for the NFL this offseason after taking his team to four straight BCS bowls.

“Oregon has an amazing program, a wonderful team,” Snyder said. “It will be an amazing challenge.”

The game also features a pair of Heisman Trophy contenders in Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner. Throw Ducks freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota in the mix and there’s plenty of potential for fireworks.

“Who knows what to expect?” Snyder said. “We just try to do our thing, and Oregon will try to do their thing, and their thing has been extremely successful.”

Indeed it has. Kelly’s ultra-fast spread offense has the Ducks ranked second nationally in scoring offense (50.8 points per game) and fourth in total offense (550.1 yards per game). While many fans were eager to see that offense against Alabama’s top-ranked defense, it’s hard to imagine a lack of excitement against the Wildcats’ 10th-ranked scoring offense (40.7 points per game).

That concept might spark a debate over preference for offensive games or defensive games and also marks the biggest difference between the Fiesta Bowl and the national championship game. Notre Dame and Alabama, both top-10 defensive teams, will likely battle for points while the Ducks and Wildcats might trade them liberally.

As for the other BCS bowls this year, there’s certainly intrigue, but much of the lineup looks one-sided. The Rose Bowl pits Pac-12 champ and No. 6 Stanford against unranked Wisconsin, which finished 8-5 and won the Big Ten title game despite finishing third in the Leaders Division. Ohio State and Penn State finished ahead of the Badgers but were not eligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions.

There’s the Sugar Bowl, featuring No. 3 Florida and No. 21 Louisville, a heavy underdog benefiting from the game’s Big East tie-in. Pass. And of course there’s the Orange Bowl, the BCS’s latest headache thanks to No. 15 Northern Illinois, which went 12-1 and won the Mid-American Conference, busting in to play ACC champion and No. 12 Florida State despite a weak schedule and a loss to lowly Iowa. Good luck, Huskies.

There’s no denying either Notre Dame or Alabama will end the year with college football’s greatest prize. That’s not in question. But Oregon and Kansas State might just leave college football fans with the most memorable game of this bowl season.