Big 12 bowl picks: K-State hopes to ground high-flying Oregon in BCS Fiesta Bowl

US PRESSWIRE

Kansas State and Oregon were in line late in the season to play for the national championship. That did not come to pass, but Bill Snyder's surprising Wildcats still have a chance to make a huge statement by downing the favored Ducks.

Through five bowl games, the Big 12 is 3-2 and came within two points of being 4-1 with four more games involving conference teams scheduled this week. Of the five games already in the books, only Baylor had a relatively easy time of it, rolling over favored UCLA, 49-26, in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego last Thursday to get things started in the postseason for the Big 12.

Texas Tech had to come from behind late against Minnesota, but pulled out a 34-31 victory in the Meineke Care Bowl of Texas to log the Big 12's second bowl win in as many games. But then it all came crashing down on West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday, along with the snow and cold in New York's Yankee Stadium, as Syracuse pounded the Mountaineers on the ground for a 38-14 victory. It was the 60th meeting between these two former Big East rivals, but the only time they have met in a bowl game. Syracuse will move to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.

Conference teams split a pair of games Saturday night. Texas scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to overcome a 10-point deficit and down the Oregon State Beavers 31-27 for a second Big 12 win over the Pac-12 in the 2012 bowl season. In the late game Saturday night, TCU let a 13-0 halftime lead slip away, regained the lead by two with a 40-yard field goal with a little over a minute remaining, but couldn't hold on as Michigan State kicked a field goal of its own with only a few seconds left to pull out a 17-16 win in the Buffalo Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

Kansas State will have the chance to run the conference's record to 3-0 over the Pac-12 when the Wildcats face the fourth-ranked Oregon Ducks on Thursday in the BCS Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.

Here is a preview of this week's bowl games involving Big 12 teams:

Iowa State vs. Tulsa

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium)

Monday, Dec. 31

Iowa State became bowl eligible in its next-to-last game of the season, a 51-23 road drubbing of lowly Kansas. The Cyclones (6-6, 2-6) won their first four games of the season, including a 38-23 opening game win over Tulsa, their Liberty Bowl opponent.

Iowa State struggled in its Big 12 schedule, coming out on top in only two of its eight league games. Tulsa enters the game with a 10-3 season mark and as the champion of Conference USA.

This is the third bowl appearance for Iowa State in head coach Paul Rhoads four seasons at the school. The Cyclones last played in the Liberty Bowl following the 1972 season, losing to Georgia Tech 31-30. The Cyclones have gone with three starting quarterbacks this season, but converted defensive back Sam Richardson is expected to get the call against Tulsa. Richardson threw for 412 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions in Iowa State's final two games of the regular season. The Hurricanes are led on offense by junior running back Trey Watts, who averaged nearly six yards a carry and also doubles as the return man on kickoffs, averaging almost 30 yards per return.

The Cyclones are three-point favorites in the game, but to win they are going to have to avoid third-and-long possessions. The Tulsa defense is third nationally in quarterback sacks and ranks fourth in tackles for loss. Tulsa is primarily a running team this season and runs a ball-control offense, so it will be important for Iowa State to start fast and take an early lead. Prediction: Iowa State 24, Tulsa 21.

Oklahoma State vs. Purdue

Heart of Dallas Bowl (Cotton Bowl)

Tuesday, Jan. 1

With two games to go in the regular season, it appeared that Oklahoma State had a good chance of going to Dallas in the postseason and playing in the Cotton Bowl. Two losses later, the Cowboys are indeed headed to Dallas and the Cotton Bowl, but in the three-year-old Heart of Dallas Bowl and not the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, where Bedlam archrival Oklahoma drew the nod as the conference's second best team in the regular season.

Oklahoma State was one of five Big 12 teams that ended the season with a 7-5 overall record. The Cowboy's opponent, Purdue from the Big Ten, comes into the game with a 6-6 record. Oklahoma State has the much stronger offense of the two teams, averaging about 140 yards more a game in total offense (548 to 405), most of that advantage being through the air. The Cowboys offense ranks second in the offense-heavy Big 12 and fifth nationally. Defensively, both teams give up an average of 29 points a game, but OSU owns a two touchdown edge in the scoring offense column, averaging 45 points a contest.

These same two teams met 15 years ago in the Alamo Bowl, won by the Boilermakers 33-20. This is Oklahoma State's school-record seventh consecutive bowl appearance. The Cowboys own a 4-2 postseason record under head coach Mike Gundy. Purdue will be playing this game without head coach Danny Hope, who was fired at the end of the regular season. Receivers coach Patrick Higgins will serve as interim head coach for the Boilermakers' bowl game. OSU has a similar issue and will be without Todd Monken, it offensive coordinator, who has been named the new head coach at Southern Mississippi. Prediction: Oklahoma State 51, Purdue 28.

Kansas State vs. Oregon

BCS Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (University of Phoenix Stadium)

Thursday, Jan. 3

One week before the regular-season ended, these two teams were destined to meet in the BCS National Championship game as the top-two ranked teams in the country. Both teams lost on the same day, creating a big shakeup in the BCS standings and knocking both from the championship picture. Ironically, we now get the same BCS matchup, but in the Fiesta Bowl instead. While both teams undoubtedly are disappointed by the turn of events, it isn't as if this game is meaningless.

The outcome may be a matter of how the Kansas State defense is able to handle Oregon's hurry-up, speed dominated offense and, conversely how patient the Oregon defense can be against Kansas State's disciplined, grind-it-out attack led by senior quarterback and Heisman finalist Colin Klein. Big 12 co-champion Kansas State (11-1) feels most comfortable running the ball, and why not when you have a pair like Klein and junior running back John Hubert, both of whom have accounted for more than 850 yards rushing and a combine 37 rushing touchdowns this season. But K-State is far from one-dimensional. The Cats have actually averaged more passing yards per game this season (212 ypg) than they do running the ball (199 ypg). Klein's favorite targets have been Chris Harper, Tyler Lockett and Tremayne Thompson.

Oregon's big threats on offense are senior running back Kenjon Barner, who has rushed for over 1,600 yards this season and averages more than six yards per carry, and sensational freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has thrown for 2,511 yards and 30 touchdowns with just six interceptions.

Oregon matches the Kansas State record of 11-1 and comes into the Fiesta Bowl as the fourth-ranked team in the BCS; K-State is ranked fifth.

This contest shapes up as the type of game in which the first team to 40 points wins. Oregon's high-octane offense puts up an average of 50 points a game, and Kansas State is averaging 40 points. Defense, ball control on offense and the turnover battle appear to be the keys to victory, three areas where Kansas State has stood out all season. The Wildcats lead the nation with a plus-21 turnover margin. Prediction: Kansas State 48, Oregon 42

Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M

AT&T Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Texas (Cowboys Stadium)

Friday, Jan. 4

Texas A&M may be a new member of the Southeastern Conference, but this game has all the markings of another classic Big 12 matchup between these two longtime gridiron rivals. Oklahoma may have been a bit miffed that it didn't receive a bid to the Sugar Bowl, which was where most college football experts thought the Sooners were headed after their final-game victory over TCU earned them a share of the Big 12 title, but it can't feel too slighted, recognizing that the Cotton Bowl matchup with A&M is considered one of the top three games of the entire bowl season.

The opportunity to go up against Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel will be added incentive for the Sooners, who are making their 14th consecutive bowl appearance under head coach Bob Stoops. The Sooners are 7-6 in bowl games under Stoops, including appearances in four national championship games.

Texas A&M surprised everyone this season by putting together a 10-2 season, including a stunning upset of then-No. 1-ranked Alabama in mid-November in Tuscaloosa, in the Aggies' first season in the Southeastern Conference. Behind freshman quarterback Manziel, the Aggies were third nationally in total offense, averaging 552 yards a game. Manziel averaged 383 yards of that per-game total all by himself. The Oklahoma offense, behind senior quarterback and four-year starter Landry Jones, the school's career passing leader, averaged 505 yards against its opponents this season, 11th best in the country.

This game will likely be a high-scoring affair, given the potency of the two offenses. The key matchups in the game will be OU's ability to put pressure on and contain the playmaking Manziel, forcing him into uncomfortable situations. The Sooners also must be able to run the ball so Jones can use play-action and get OU's speedy corps of receivers involved and out in space. Oklahoma has shown vulnerability this season against the run, and with the 13th-ranked rushing attack in the country, the Aggies will look to capitalize on that perceived advantage.

The oddsmakers have established the Aggies as three-point favorites in this matchup of ninth-ranked A&M and the No. 11 Sooners. Another storyline worth noting is that A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, in his first season in College Station, was on Stoops' coaching staff at Oklahoma from 2003-2007 as a wide-receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator. These two teams are very familiar with one another and don't like each other, which should make for a hard fought and entertaining game. Prediction: Oklahoma 31, Texas A&M 28

Follow Big 12 football and basketball news and developments all season long at Big 12 Sports.

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