On a sunny Saturday afternoon in mid-September, between games of horseshoes, I was taken to task by a handful of Oregon State Beaver fans about Oregon’s nonconference schedule. I had given up watching the Oregon-Tennessee Tech game after halftime in favor of tossing U-shaped pieces of iron at a stake stuck in dirt. That’s what happens when your team is stuck playing patsies.
During the conversation, a strange thing happened. My dad – a guy whose two favorite teams any given Saturday are the Beavers and whoever is playing the Ducks – defended the Ducks in an argument. I can’t be sure, but I think this is the only time in the history of his life this has happened.
Why was it that in the face of playing Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech a die-hard OSU fan would stick up for Oregon? Because he was privy to the fact one of the nation’s top teams – the Kansas State Wildcats – backed out of a trip to Autzen Stadium.
In doing so, he momentarily stopped my badgering of the Beaver fans about their history of scheduling of cupcakes, specifically Sacramento State.
But now Kansas State can’t back out. Well I guess that’s not true – they could have taken the classless Louisiana Tech route and opted out of its bowl, but the Wildcats didn’t stoop that low. Hats off for that.
Now Kansas State is forced to play a much tougher Oregon team. Had the Wildcats faced Marcus Mariota in one of his first couple starts, chances are they would have had much more success. They would have been able to pressure an untested QB, which likely would have led to a few more turnovers. Mariota showed an unflappable cool early on in his career, but he wasn’t exactly facing high-quality defenses.
Now Mariota is more game-tested. He’s faced some top-tier defenses – namely Stanford and OSU. When Cal loaded up on the run game to make Mariota’s arm beat them, he was up to the task.
While Bill Snyder still has an absurd amount of time to prepare for Mariota – 39 days will have past between the Civil War and the Fiesta Bowl – the Ducks’ redshirt freshman QB will be better suited to making in-game adjustments on the fly.
Obviously it’s impossible to know what would have happened had the teams met in early September, but I think Kansas State’s chances have dwindled over the past few months. Las Vegas thinks the Ducks will win by two scores, laying the spread at Ducks –9 points, and I think that’s generous.
Granted the Ducks have not fared well in bowl games against quarterbacks with Collin Klein’s skill set. Think back to the Oregon-Auburn game for the national championship a couple years ago or the way Terrelle Pryor shredded the Ducks in the Rose Bowl the year before that. This year’s Oregon defense is better than either of those two teams, but you can be sure Snyder is looking at film of those two games during his six weeks of prep time.
While we all know Chip Kelly doesn’t like using outside influences or motivational techniques, the players know Kansas State dodged them earlier in the season. Despite their unwillingness to say it, Oregon players feel a need to demonstrate it was a good move for KSU early in the season. The Wildcats will want to show they weren’t avoiding the Ducks out of fear. But when it comes to on-field performance against the Ducks, it’s easier to talk a big game than it is to play one.
Kyle Boggs is on Twitter. Follow him at @KyleKBoggs