Just over a month ago, Kansas State’s football world was turned upside down.
After mounting a 10-0 start behind the play of Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Kelin, the Wildcats, ranked No. 2 in The Associated Press’ AP Top 25 poll at the time, found themselves on top of the BCS standings — on a collision course to play Oregon for the national championship.
All of that changed on Nov. 17, when then-top-ranked Oregon lost to visiting Stanford, 17-14, and Kansas State was ambushed by Baylor, 52-24, in Waco, Texas.
Yet No. 7 Kansas State (11-1) and the No. 5 Ducks (11-1) will meet anyway, squaring off in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3, 2013, at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., regarded as the second-best bowl matchup outside of the BCS national championship game in Miami — pitting top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 2-ranked and defending national champion Alabama on Jan. 7.
Oregon, denied a Pac-12 championship and an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl after its loss to Stanford, finishing 8-1 in conference play, showcases an unrelenting, fast-paced offense that averaged 550.1 yards per game during the regular season.
“I think it goes without saying that Chip Kelly has done as well as anyone could imagine,” legendary Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder said of Kelly, who has posted a 45-7 record. “That has been a growing program. He was there (as the offensive coordinator) when Mike (Bellotti) was there, and Mike really did a wonderful job and Chip just stepped in and took it to another level.
“The University of Oregon is not just about a fast-paced offense, it is about more than that and I think they have invested heavily in all facets on the field and off the field.”
Ducks senior running back Kenjon Barner, an early Heisman candidate, ran for 1,624 yards and 21 touchdowns. Redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota threw for 2,511 yards and 30 touchdowns, along with rushing for 690 yards and six scores as a dual threat quarterback — similar numbers to Klein, who had 2,490 passing yards and 15 scoring passes while rushing for 890 yards and 22 touchdowns.
“There are a number of teams that can move around like (the Ducks) do,” Snyder said. “When I say like they do, I mean how they reduce it to the tempo of the game, how fast they line up and go.
“Oregon can go as fast as they want to go. They have a variety of different tempos that they move at and certain situations are faster than other situations.”
In clinching a share of the Big 12 Conference championship with Oklahoma after beating Texas 42-24 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan on Dec. 1, the Wildcats secured the Fiesta berth because they beat Oklahoma in head-to-head competition in October. Both Kansas State and OU finished with 8-1 conference marks.
The grind of pre-bowl practices are just beginning for the Wildcats.
“We have not had enough practices,” Snyder said. “I have observed that for the most part, they have been into the practices. As I shared with them, it is not easy with bowl preparation because you have a long time, so at the outset you really do not have to get into it as much and you really get serious about it at a particular point in time. But I do not think that they have approached it that way.
“The biggest challenge is whether or not you can get whole-heartedly invested into the preparation, when you know you still have 15 practices left until the actual event itself. Where in the season, you start practicing on Monday and you have four practices, maybe five at best, so there is a sense of urgency at that time. Now, it is creating that same sense of urgency, not totally in their preparation for Oregon, but that sense of urgency for them to do what you would have liked for them to have done all season, which is to address each individual practice, meeting, etc., as an opportunity to get better and to truly improve yourself during that period of time.”
Snyder is a finalist for the “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year award.