What would happen if an unstoppable force were to meet an immovable object?
If Oregon had received a bowl bid to play a top SEC team with an elite defense instead of Kansas State, then the college football world may have finally found an answer to that age-old question.
I don’t mean to take away from the No. 5-ranked Wildcats or the excitement surrounding Oregon’s Fiesta Bowl berth. One of Oregon’s best regular seasons in school history has culminated in their fourth straight trip to a BCS bowl, something no Duck fan can complain about.
Kansas State is certainly a worthy opponent, having put together an excellent 11-1 season, produced a Heisman Trophy contender in Colin ‘Optimus’ Klein, and won their first Big-12 title since 2003.
However, after spending most of the season as a primary contender to play in the national championship game against what would have likely been an SEC team, the Ducks’ bowl matchup now seems a bit… anti-climactic.
Oregon wants to show the country that they can take down a tough, defensive powerhouse. Ugly losses to Auburn and LSU in recent years now plague the memories of Duck fans, creating a hunger for revenge against the dominant, often boastful SEC that tends to look down at Oregon.
On the flip side, every SEC team wants to prove they can stop the Oregon offense. In short, almost everybody wants to see the Ducks play an SEC squad because they are capable of testing the Oregon’s strengths more than most teams could.
Unfortunately, Oregon’s 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford took them out of the race for the national championship. At the time, the Cardinal boasted the top-ranked run defense in the nation, allowing only 55 yards per game.
Some may argue that Stanford’s defense exposed Oregon, implying that the nation’s toughest teams would continue to push the Ducks around.
However, Oregon actually moved the ball quite effectively against the Cardinal until they reached the red zone. In fact, the Ducks managed to rack up 405 total yards, including 198 on the ground.
While Stanford definitely played a great game against the Ducks, the result can be attributed more to Oregon’s missed blocks, opportunities, and field goals rather than the Cardinal out-muscling them.
So here Oregon sits, set to take on the Kansas State Wildcats in the Fiesta Bowl; a fun matchup between two top-tier teams that promises to include a good amount of fireworks.
Yet, the game still somehow feels like a consolation prize. Not because Oregon lost to Stanford or because Kansas State is necessarily a worse team, but because a win over an SEC team with a top defense would have more to prove for the Ducks.
Kansas State ranks 43rd in total defense this season, a far cry from the likes of Alabama, Florida, and LSU, who all crack the top ten in the same category.
That is not to take away from the Wildcats, who are certainly one of the best all-around teams in the nation. But, much like Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year, they don’t quite test the Ducks’ strengths in the same way that an elite SEC team would – everyone knows Oregon is capable of winning a shootout.
While the Wildcats do have a strong run defense, allowing less than 120 yards per game this season, they have not faced many top-tier rushing attacks.
In fact, one of the only teams that Kansas State has faced this season that is comparable to Oregon was Baylor, who fared quite well on the ground against the Wildcats—Lache Seastrunk, a former Duck, led a rushing attack that posted a whopping 342 yards and five touchdowns.
The Wildcats also struggled to contain Texas freshman Daje Johnson, who,with his 4.34 speed and a versatile skill set, is a similar player to De’Anthony Thomas.
On the other side of the ball, Colin Klein may give the Oregon defense a pretty serious challenge. Receivers Chris Harper (also a former Duck) and Tyler Lockett are dangerous deep threats as well.
Though the Ducks’ defense will have their hands full, they have more speed than most teams that Kansas State has faced this year. Dion Jordan and Kiko Alonso are freakishly athletic, relentless pass-rushers. Because Klein’s running game is based largely on patience and vision rather than speed, Oregon’s fast front seven should get to him quicker than the Wildcats are used to.
There is no doubt that Kansas State is a great team that will give Oregon a run for their money. While either team could walk away with the win, the Wildcats just don’t quite matchup against the Ducks’ strengths in the same ways that most SEC teams would.
Given the current standings, it seems fair to imagine that an Oregon vs. Florida matchup could have occurred under slightly different circumstances (which I’m sure the Gators would prefer, as opposed to their underwhelming Sugar Bowl matchup against Louisville). Comparing the Gators with Kansas State, the Gators seem like a tougher test for the Ducks.
Florida’s defense has been virtually impenetrable, allowing only 96 yards per game on the ground and 186 yards per game through the air in 2012 (sixth and 15thin the nation respectively); a fantastic test for Oregon’s offense, which ranks fourth in the FBS.
The the Gator defense had a tough time with the Texas A&M offense, led by the dynamic Johnny Manziel (a former Oregon commit), which is one of the few SEC offenses comparable to the fast and furious Ducks. The Aggies posted 334 total yards on the Gators, their highest total allowed this season.
That, of course, does not directly translate for Oregon. The Ducks would have to work extremely hard to penetrate Florida’s defense and put up points (the Gators still beat Texas A&M). Nonetheless, Manziel perhaps would have provided Oregon with a blueprint for how to move the ball against an elite SEC defense.
While the Gator defense is top-tier, their offense is a bit weaker. They have a great, powerful running back in Mike Gillislee (something Kansas State lacks), an athletic and reliable tight end in Jordan Reed, and an all-around threat in the versatile Trey Burton.
While Florida would likely find success up the middle against the Ducks, Oregon’s ever-improving defensive backfield could counter by shutting down a passing game that is averaging only 144 passing yards per game (118th in the FBS). That would allow the Ducks to stack the box against Gillislee’s inside run game.
Of course, this is all just speculation; the matchup is hypothetical, and Florida is only one SEC team. The point is simply to show that comparable SEC squads such as Alabama, Florida, and LSU would test Ducks’ strengths more than any other team in the country, and that Oregon is capable of playing with the best of them.
As strong as Kansas State is, they do not provide the Ducks with the same level of opportunity to prove their strengths and flex their muscles on the national stage compared to some of the elite defenses of the Southeastern Conference.
Ultimately, Oregon’s bowl opponent is set. The Ducks will be taking on an extremely talented Kansas State team in a showdown that looked, for a week, like it might have been the national championship game. While an Oregon-SEC matchup may be ideal for many college football fans, the Fiesta Bowl should still prove to be an excellent, entertaining matchup between two relatively even, outstanding teams.