Jaffe: Fiesta Bowl offers ideal matchup

Dec. 7, 2011, 1:48 a.m.


Well, here we are. Our BCS overlords have spoken, and the bowl games are set. And from a Stanford perspective, things couldn’t have gone much better. The Cardinal will play in not-too-far-away Glendale, Ariz., against arguably the second-best team in the country on Jan. 2. Here’s Stat on the Back’s first look at the numbers of Stanford’s Fiesta Bowl matchup with Oklahoma State.


Number of the game: 92.92


What it means: Stanford and Oklahoma State, two of the top five offenses in the country, combine for 92.92 points per game. Yes, you read that right.


Why it matters: LSU and Alabama will play a week later in what is supposedly the meeting of the two best teams in the nation. But they could play a thousand more rematches and those teams wouldn’t come close to approaching 90 points in a game.


You want offense? This is a game for offense. Stanford boasts Andrew Luck, the best player in the country (regardless of the Heisman results). The Cardinal has a running game that has already put up 446 yards in a game against a team with a winning record (yep, Alabama, those teams exist.) In 12 games this year, Stanford scored at least 44 points seven times.


But Stanford’s may not even be the best offense in this game. Oklahoma State boasts its own prolific quarterback in Brandon Weeden, whose grandkids will take over for him in Stillwater next year. (Okay, I guess he’s not that old. But he did graduate high school when Luck was 12. Seriously. And the next year, he was traded to the Dodgers for Kevin Brown. Yes, that Kevin Brown.) Weeden has been putting up insane numbers this season, and those are certainly helped by Justin Blackmon, who is arguably the best wide receiver in the country. The Cowboys have even found a running game this year, which is just unfair for an offense that already ranks second in the nation in passing and scoring. Oh yeah, and Okie State has scored at least 44 points eight times.


Needless to say, this game should be fun.


Other notable numbers:


1: With these crazy-good passing games, who leads these two teams in points and yards? That would be Cowboy running back Joseph Randle, who has 25 touchdowns this season, including 23 on the ground. To put this in perspective, Stanford’s trio of Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney and Jeremy Stewart have 23 rushing touchdowns combined. Randle has more rushing yards than Taylor on fewer carries, and he also has 38 catches, more than any Stanford player besides Griff Whalen. Watch out for No. 1 in orange and black.


26: On the other hand, Stanford never relies on one player to do all of its scoring. The Cardinal is all about balance, and few teams do it so well. Stanford is one of just three teams to rank in the top 26 nationally in passing and rushing on offense, along with Baylor and Texas A&M.


Of course, those two teams both struggle on defense, while Stanford’s balance carries over to the other side of the ball. The Cardinal is also one of just three teams to rank in the top 26 in scoring and total offense and scoring and total defense, along with Wisconsin and Boise State. It’s hard to get much more balanced than that.


113: Meanwhile, Oklahoma State cares as much about balance as the BCS bowls do about selecting the best teams. The aforementioned Blackmon had a historic 2010 campaign, running away with the Biletnikoff Award for top receiver in the country while shattering several records. This year hasn’t gone as well for the redshirt junior—he only has 1,336 yards on 113 catches. 113!!! Despite the “drop-off,” Blackmon has more yards and touchdowns than Stanford’s top two receivers (Whalen and Coby Fleener) combined and almost half as many grabs as the Cardinal’s entire team. He is once again in the running for best receiver in the country, and he’s undoubtedly the scariest player for the Stanford secondary.


42: One of the most intriguing aspects of this game is Oklahoma State’s defense. The offense gets all the hype, but it’s the Cowboy defense that has elevated Mike Gundy’s crew to a team that is merely settling for its first-ever BCS bowl. Oklahoma State is 107th out of 120 in yards allowed, yet they only give up about 25 points per game.


How do they do it? Turnovers. The Cowboys have forced a mind-blowing 42 turnovers in 12 games, easily the most in the nation (Stanford has only half as many and is still above-average nationally.) Despite being mediocre in terms of giving the ball away, Oklahoma State is still second in the country in turnover margin, and this is the main reason the Cowboys have been so dominant this season.


15: Stanford will pose a tough test to this strategy, though, as the Cardinal has coughed up the ball just 15 times all year; that’s fewest in the Pac-12 and tied for 11th-fewest in the nation. Luck has thrown an interception in each of his past five games, but there are still very few (if any) quarterbacks more difficult to rattle than Luck.


6: Of course, Stanford’s biggest defensive strength is its pass rush, which has registered 38 sacks on the year, sixth-best in the country. Oklahoma State combats this with a line that has allowed just 11 sacks, the 12th-fewest in the country. Negative plays will be tough to come by in general, as the Cardinal and Cowboys rank first and 11th in tackles for loss allowed, respectively.


37: These two teams are from two different conferences, but they did have one common opponent: Arizona, appropriate given the setting of the Fiesta Bowl. Oddly enough, both teams scored exactly 37 points against the Wildcats. What does that mean? Probably nothing. Or maybe everything.


4: There are so many ways to compare these two teams. Oklahoma State has seven wins over teams with winning records; Stanford has four. The Cowboys have six wins by 25 points or more; the Cardinal has eight. Each team has one loss—Oklahoma State in overtime to a team it should have beaten, Stanford in a blowout to a team that has its number. The Cowboys’ best non-conference win was against 8-4 Tulsa; the Cardinal’s was against 8-4 Notre Dame.


Any way you slice it, these are two of the top four teams in the nation, making this the best possible matchup outside the national title game. Oklahoma State will look to prove it should have been ranked ahead of Alabama, and Stanford will look to match last year’s school-record win total and send Luck to the NFL with a bang.


Either way, you can be sure of one thing. This one won’t finish 9-6.


Unfortunately, Jacob Jaffe has fallen just a little bit short of 113 catches over his prolific Ink Bowl career. Before he leaves school for a certain career in the NFL, help him attain that Blackmon-esque flair at jwjaffe “at” stanford.edu or follow him on Twitter at @Jacob_Jaffe.

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