In the days leading up to the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, the Emerald will take a position-by-position look at Oregon and Kansas State, determining which team has the edge going into the BCS showdown on Jan. 3.
Oregon- Darron Thomas’s departure caught many-a-Duck fan off guard and set into motion a quarterback battle between Thomas’s backup, Bryan Bennett, and a little-known redshirt freshman from Hawaii. That competition seems like an eternity ago, and that freshman has turned into arguably the best quarterback in the Kelly era. Marcus Mariota threw for 30 touchdowns this year with just six interceptions and completed just a hair under 70 percent of his passes. His quarterback rating is 165.36, the sixth best in the nation, and he ranks second among freshmen.
His stats might be even more impressive if the Ducks hadn’t built up so many big leads early in games. Mariota threw for just 46 yards in the Ducks’ win against Arizona State because he only was called upon to pass 12 times. When he has been needed though, he’s stepped up, throwing for more than 300 yards on three occasions, including back-to-back road games against USC and Cal, where he threw for a combined 681 yards with ten touchdowns — and no interceptions.
As with any quarterback in the Kelly system, Mariota is a threat on the ground, too and has shown his speed on several occasions, averaging seven yards per carry on 98 attempts this year, including an 86 yard touchdown scamper against Arizona State, a 58 yard run against USC and a 77 yarder against Stanford.
Kansas State- Collin Klein’s phenomenal season had him in the Heisman discussion for most of the year and earned the senior a trip to New York for the trophy presentation. Klein threw for 2490 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season but picked up another 890 yards and 22 scores on the ground. Klein averaged nearly a first down on every pass and went on a streak of six straight games without throwing an interception that lasted from Sept. until Nov. before throwing five picks in the Wildcats’ last three games, including three in Kansas State’s loss to Baylor.
With 890 rushing yards on the ground, Klein is just two short of the team lead in that category and has been automatic in the red zone — 19 of his 22 touchdown runs (which leads the team) have come on plays starting inside his opponents’ 20 yard line with 17 of them coming from inside the 10. Klein has three 100 yard rushing games on the year with a season best 116 yards against Kansas, which took him just 10 carries.
Advantage- Push. One could make a convincing argument either way — it’s hard not to give a Heisman trophy finalist the edge over a freshman playing in his first bowl game, but Mariota’s numbers are in many ways just as good, if not better, than Klein’s. Mariota has more passing yards and passing touchdowns, but Klein has more yards per attempt. Klein has more yards on the ground — and 18 more rushing touchdowns — than Mariota, but Mariota has four runs that are longer than Klein’s longest run play of the year.
Yesterday: Running backs