Stanford Cardinal (11-1 SU, 10-2 ATS) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-1 SU, 9-3 ATS), 8:30 p.m. EST, Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Monday, January 2, 2012, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona, TV: ESPN
by Scotty L, Professional Sports Handicapper, Predictem.com
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Point Spread: Stan/ +3.5/OSU -3.5
Over/Under Total: 74
The Stanford Cardinal and Oklahoma State Cowboys meet in the Fiesta Bowl on January 2. Oklahoma State is ranked #3, with Stanford being ranked 4th. This just might be the most exciting game of the bowl season, with two top teams who can put points on the board tangling for high stakes. Obviously, the BCS Championship game carries more importance, but in terms of watchability, this is the game to see.
These two squads have a lot in common. Each team features a highly-effective offensive line, with a high-powered passing game. Oklahoma States QB Brandon Weeden averages an off-the-charts 360 passing yards per game, but Stanfords Andrew Luck is no slouch with 35 touchdowns in the air–one more than Weeden.
Each team is playing with a chip on their shoulders. Luck didnt fulfill his Heisman or national title plans and wants to end the season with a huge win. Oklahoma State is embittered after coming up short in the BCS rankings and a chance to play in the big game and might be looking to make a statement. If the perceived chip on the shoulder scenario could actually lead to a letdown, it seems more likely to occur with Oklahoma State. Unlike Stanford, Oklahoma State was holding out hope to play LSU right up until the final BCS rankings were released. The Cardinal were spared that disappointment.
Both quarterbacks average over 70% completions. The Cowboys offense averages nearly 50 points per game, but Stanford is right there with 43.6 per contest. The defensive stats favor Stanford, especially their #5 ranking against the rush. Oklahoma State is more known for just overpowering their opponents. Their explosiveness has taken some attention off a defense that, while occasionally porous, leads the nation with 42 takeaways. Its important to note that the Cowboys unflattering defensive rankings came about in games where they were usually pounding teams. Playing often with a big lead in spots that were not urgent made them look worse than they actually are.
Stanford might be facing a match-up problem in this game. One would like their chances more against a more conservative team, maybe even Alabama or LSU. Watching them get blasted by Oregon and get lucky to beat USC, they seemed off their best form when faced with a shoot-em-up style. Their bend not break defense was exploited by those teams, with their secondary looking like a ragtag group at times. When thinking back to those games, its difficult to not bristle a bit when imagining what Oklahoma State might do. Then again, unlike Oklahoma State, Stanford never lost to Iowa State.
Stanfords best defense in this game might be their offense. It is imperative that they get RB Stepfan Taylor (207-1153-8) and Tyler Gaffney (70-445-7) untracked. If they can keep the Cowboy offense off the field for long spells, they can compensate for having fewer weapons offensively. If Luck can be extra-clutch in key spots, this is a winnable game for Stanford.
Stanford did well against the run this season. But they wont be able to stack the line in light of the Cowboys passing attack. If they drop everyone back, that opens it up for RB Joseph Randle(198-1193-23) and Jeremy Smith (90-645-9)–backs who averaged 6.0 and 7.2 yards per carry, respectively. WR Justin Blackmon (113-1336-15) will be looking to impress on a big stage. With 5 other pass-catchers having at least 3 touchdowns, this is a team with a lot of firepower at their disposal.
Scotty Ls Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Stanford has a good pass rush, but look for The Cowboys O-line to be well-prepared and for Weeden to connect with his playmakers against a dicey Cardinal secondary. Stanford could conceivably hang in there and have Luck makes some key plays at the end to tip this in their favor. But while losing to the Cyclones looks a lot less flattering than losing to Oregon, that particular defeat looks more like an off-night for the Cowboys. Stanfords performances against the Ducks and USC, however, suggested a team that cant quite contain a top-notch aerial attack.
Oklahoma State will start quickly and look for Stanford to answer as this turns into a well-contested shootout. Sometime in the second half, a pick-six with Stanford threatening or a pair of quick-fire touchdowns will establish a little separation for the Cowboys, who will be able to absorb some late-minute Luck magic to get the win and cover. Take Oklahoma State minus 3.5.
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