Kickoff: Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Forecast: 65 degrees
Spread: Oregon by 9
Watchability: The faux national championship? You're going to want to tune in, if only to see the clash in styles, personality and composition of each roster. Simply put, this is the kind of game that represents the bowl season.
Shining stars: Oregon -- RB Kenjon Barner. The brilliant back bounced back in a big way from consecutive average performances to lift the Ducks to a 48-24 win over Oregon State in the season-ending Civil War. After totaling just 131 yards in two games against Cal and Stanford -- and that came after his phenomenal 321-yards, five-touchdown performance at USC -- Barner had 198 yards and two scores against the Beavers. He finished with 1,624 yards and 21 touchdowns on the year. Not bad for a guy who sat out many a fourth quarter.
Kansas State -- QB Collin Klein. Klein was the driving force behind an offense that drastically improved in 2012, scoring more than a seven points better than in 2011. Klein had 3,380 yards of total offense and 37 combined touchdowns. He had one subpar game all year, negating 325 total yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions in a 52-24 loss at Baylor that knocked the Wildcats out of the national title game on the same day Oregon was bounced by Stanford. But the Heisman finalist will be on the grand stage once more, and he should rise to the occasion.
Who could steal the show: Oregon -- WR Josh Huff. The Wildcats are incredibly stout against the run, ranking 17th nationally with 119.1 rushing yards allowed per game; if they have a weakness defensively, it's through the air, where they rank 91st nationally at 255.3 passing yards allowed per game. That means Huff will be of extra importance, as he was down the stretch for the Ducks. After combining for 121 yards in Oregon's first eight games, he burst out for 346 in the Ducks' final four constests, with five of his seven touchdowns. Kansas State -- LB Arthur Brown. Brown was named Big-12 defensive player of the year after leading the Wildcats with 91 tackles. The second-team All-American was the defensive leader for Kansas State, and he'll be tested by Oregon's lightning-quick rushing attack. With the level of discipline that Bill Snyder's team displays, this should be the big matchup.
Magic number for Oregon: 54.18. Throw away the Ducks' 14-point swoon against Stanford -- a loss that knocked them out of the national title game -- and Oregon averaged more than 54 points per game, which would've led the nation. Instead, they placed second to new Cal head coach Sonny Dykes' former squad, Louisiana Tech.
Magic number for Kansas State: 51.23. The Wildcats led the nation in kickoff and punt returns, combining for more than 50 yards per return.
3 keys to an Oregon win
- Get the good Marcus: The scary little secret about Marcus Mariota's wonderful freshman season: It wasn't always quite so wonderful. Mariota was downright unstoppable in six of the Ducks' games, totalling 23 touchdowns against two interceptions. Aside from those six games -- Oregon's six highest scoring outputs -- Mariota had seven passing touchdowns and four interceptions, and sometimes showed some freshman tendencies. That's not to say he wasn't still great ... just not as great. And not as great against Kansas State is not an option.
- De'Anthony Thomas reigns: Like Barner, the Black Mamba was sensational in the Ducks' season finale after two middling performances. When Thomas finds a crease or two, he might be the most electric player in the country. Oregon needs him to build off his season-high 122 yards and three rushing touchdowns against Oregon State.
- Don't get caught in a field-position game: The Wildcats thrive at doing so many of the little things right. That's coach Bill Snyder's biggest influence. The little things add up fast, particularly in special teams, where the margin for error is so slim. The Ducks cannot afford to let Kansas State shift the game and the momentum with big returns.
3 keys to a Kansas State win
- Force turnovers: The Wildcats led the nation in turnover margin, and look no further for their massive resurgence. Klein takes care of the ball and the defense goes after it, which makes for a potent combination.
- Be stout up front: Meshak Williams ranked second in the Big-12 in sacks and fourth in tackles-for-loss, and while the Wildcats are known more for their ball-hawk tendencies, a lot of that starts up front.
- Wrestle the tempo-game from Oregon's hands: The Ducks thrive on their relentless attack, even if it takes mere seconds. In those seconds though, Barner, Mariota or Thomas can squirt right by, break off a 20-yard run, get to the line of scrimmage in a flash, call another play and get another 20-yard run. The Wildcats are more methodical in their approach, and if they can control the pace, they'll be in it.
Prediction: Oregon 41, Kansas State 33