After completing its second-straight 11-1 season, the Stanford football team is once again bound for a BCS bowl.
This time, the No. 4 Cardinal (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) will head south to Glendale, Ariz. to take on the No. 3 Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3 in a matchup that pairs two of the country’s best offenses against one another.
“I think this game is going to be great for college football,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said after his team received its BCS bid. “I think it’s going to be exciting. I think it’s going to be one of the best bowl games this year.”
Oklahoma State comes into the Fiesta Bowl after capturing the Big 12 championship by routing rival Oklahoma 44-10, but it was left out of the BCS title game after it couldn’t push past No. 2 Alabama in the final BCS standings.
And while the Cowboys were at the heart of the latest BCS title game controversy, Shaw, who hasn’t been shy about criticizing the BCS system, said he couldn’t know how the Cowboys would react to being snubbed for the title game.
“I have no idea. Oh gosh, I don’t know. I’m not experienced enough to be able to put myself in other people’s shoes,” he said.
“They did get some push from some people to be in the national championship game, and they earned that, not just from how they played against Oklahoma but how they played all year,” Shaw continued. “They had one loss in a tough circumstance, but at the same time, the BCS put the two of us together.”
Even without the somewhat controversial status of the matchup, the desert showdown appears likely to be one of the most exciting games of the year. The Cowboys and Cardinal bring in the nation’s second- and fifth-most prolific scoring offenses, respectively, and all eyes will be on the Cowboys’ high-flying duo of quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon against two-time Heisman finalist Andrew Luck.
Weeden has thrown for 4,328 yards this year, the third most in the nation, and Blackmon, who won last year’s Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver, had 1,336 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
Shaw, a former wide receiver at Stanford, saved his highest praise for Blackmon, the engine of the Cowboys’ attack.
“That guy wearing number 81 is something special,” he said. “They have other guys, they have good running backs, but Justin Blackmon, I think, is a special, special player.”
Shaw also compared the Cowboys’ deadly offense to conference rival Oregon, but explained that Oklahoma State’s wide-open spread attack was different from the Ducks’ run-based game.
“They’ve got the combination of team speed and playing speed, where they run a lot of plays in a short time. They don’t huddle up, they don’t spend time between plays,” Shaw said. “You see the receivers catch the ball, get tackled and run back to get lined up again.”
But before the Cardinal can start to focus on stopping — and outscoring — Oklahoma State, it must first deal with the challenges that come with more than a month between games. In addition to having finals week interposed between the bowl selection and the game, the Cardinal will also have to make do with its starting quarterback bouncing around the country for various awards shows, including the Heisman Trophy ceremony this Saturday.
Shaw said that the Cardinal was going to use its extended, if interrupted, practice time to focus first on jump-starting an offense that has struggled in its last three games.
Partly due to injuries to offensive weapons Zach Ertz and Chris Owusu, the Cardinal has posted its three lowest point totals of the season and turned the ball over a combined eight times.
“All coaches have the same disease, and sometimes [having] too long to prepare is really bad for us because we try to do too much,” Shaw said when discussing the Cardinal’s practice schedule. “We’ll take a cursory look at Oklahoma State with our players, but a lot of our first few practices are going to be us working on us.
“We’re going to work hard to do the things that we need to do better, and as we get out of finals week we’ll really have some of those Oklahoma State-dedicated practices,” he continued.
But despite the challenges that come with awards season, almost a month of downtime before the game and Oklahoma State receiving the bulk of the national attention, Shaw said the goals that were set out well before the season were as clear as ever.
“We’ve been a team that’s been ranked in the top 10 the entire year, [and] that’s probably been talked about the least. That’s fine. Our guys don’t care; we don’t play for that. We play to earn respect on the field and to earn respect in the rankings, and that’s what we have,” he said. “What you do on Saturday is who you are, and we’re going to have the best resume that we can.”
Stanford and Oklahoma State will face off in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. at University of Phoenix Stadium on Jan. 2 at 5:30 p.m. Television coverage will be on ESPN.