KSU, Oregon to meet after unwanted detour

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The matchup seemed preordained. On the morning of Nov. 17, the penultimate weekend of the regular season, Oregon and Kansas State were the top two teams in the two most authoritative polls, undefeated and seldom challenged. Their resumes were flush with quality victories, their rosters loaded with skill and smarts.

There was reason for the consensus. Oregon had put up 62 points on Southern California two weeks previous during a streak in which it scored 40 points or more in 13 consecutive games. Sports Illustrated cover guy and quarterback Collin Klein had led Kansas State to road victories over bowl-bound Oklahoma, West Virginia and TCU.

If only Baylor and Stanford had bought in on that Nov. 17 day. The Bears shocked the Wildcats 52-24, and the Cardinal stunned the Ducks 17-14 in overtime.

Upsets that concluded within four minutes of each other dropped Oregon and Kansas State below a trio of Southeastern Conference titles contenders in the only poll that mattered, the BCS, and the numbers made it virtually impossible for either to make up enough ground to recover.

So while Oregon and Kansas State take their identical 11-1 records into Thursday’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, it’s not what either had hoped for.

Baylor played its best game of the year to beat Kansas State, putting up 580 yards total offense, a surprising 342 yards rushing. Stanford beat Oregon on an overtime field goal and a late fourth-quarter touchdown reception at the back of the end zone. The catch initially was ruled to have come out of bounds before an official review overturned it, correctly. The Ducks missed a field goal on their overtime possession.

But that was then, and both teams have moved on.

“We always have a 24-hour policy — it was a long 24 hours for some of us,” Oregon redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota said.

“To have that loss, I think, not only helped us grow as a team but really kind of built this team up. We always understand that it’s not one loss, it’s a whole body of what you’ve done. We’re looking forward to this game.”

Both Oregon and Kansas State built up a quality body of work, heading into their first meeting. The schools scheduled a home-and-home series that was to begin this season, but it was canceled by mutual agreement, according to a letter the Kansas State athletic director sent to fans in August, 2010.

“It didn’t fit our scheduling philosophy,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said.

So they meet here by chance.

Coach Chip Kelly’s Ducks are playing in their fourth consecutive BCS bowl game, joining Southern California (2003-09), Ohio State (2006-11) and Miami, Fla. (2001-04) as the only schools to accomplish that feat since the format was established. Oregon’s only other appearance at the University of Phoenix Stadium came in the BC title game after the 2010 season — a 22-19 loss to Auburn on a field goal as time expired.

Kansas State had an unprecedented resurgence when Snyder took over the program in 1989, and after three years in retirement, he has guided the Wildcats to their seventh 11-win season – all in the last 16 years – in a second tour that began in 2009. Wildcats assistant co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Del Miller has a saying he likes to use: “Play fast, fast with confidence.”

Both quarterbacks embrace that. Mariota and Klein are the driving forces, making plays with their athleticism and quick thinking.

Mariota, a redshirt freshman, accepted a scholarship to Oregon at the same time as reigning Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel, but Manziel decommitted after being offered by Texas A&M. Mariota is sixth among FBS schools in passing efficiency and 14th in points responsible for. Mariota has completed 69.9 percent of his passing attempts and with a typical — which is to say highly efficient — Fiesta Bowl, he could break Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford’s NCAA freshman record of 69.5 percent.

Klein, a senior, is right there. He has completed 66.2 percent of his passes and rushed for another 890 yards.

Oregon enters as a favorite and with as much speed as any team in country on both sides of the ball, a fact Snyder has seen on film during game preparation.

“The major dialogue is about the tempo of the game, how fast they are,” Snyder said. “They are a fast, offensive football team in two ways. One is the tempo and the other is the speed of the people that execute the offense, whether it’s linemen, receivers, backs, quarterback, etc. … They have dangerous speed, so to speak.”

Kansas State is playing in its third consecutive bowl in Snyder’s second stint, the 15th in 19 years. Kelly doesn’t see a huge difference in the programs.

“We’re a lot more similar than people think,” Kelly said. “Offensively we rely on running the football, play-action pass. They do as well. We preach special teams. They preach special teams. We’re a little bit different in our spacing on the defensive side of the ball than they are. Still the same fundamentals. They run to the ball extremely well on defense.  We do, as well.”