Late in the season, Stanford (11-1) wasn't the same old steamrolling Stanford. What was missing? A crucial cog in that offense--TE Zach Ertz, who was injured in the mid-season SC victory and never played again.
But Ertz is healthy now and will team up with the other TEs, Coby Fleener and Levine Toilolo, to create that fearsome pass-catching trio that will help topple Oklahoma State (11-1) in tonight's Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. Stanford QB Andrew Luck wasn't as sharp late in the season--often off target, uncharacteristically throwing picks--because he didn't have all his weapons. His wide receivers don't really count. They're like tight ends in the average offense--used as a last resort. But, with Ertz back, we should see the sharp-shooting Luck of old.
Luck (35 TD passes) will have to be at his best to counter that Oklahoma State offensive machine, headed by QB Brandon Weeden (34 TD passes) and WR Justin Blackmon, which averages nearly 50 points a game and terrorized Big 12 defenses all season. This will be another offensive explosion, much like that off-the-charts, Baylor-Washington, Alamo-Bowl shootout last week. Both teams have accomplished running backs--Stanford's Stepfan Taylor and State's Joseph Randle--to add to the offensive fuel.
Stanford's offense is slightly less prolific--43.6 per game average--but it has the better defense, far superior to that bottom-feeding disaster of Oklahoma State, which is ranked No.107 (out of 120), including the No. 61 run defense. Luck should pick that defense apart. The only question is can the Stanford defense slow the Weeden Machine. Stopping State means controlling WR Blackmon (113 catches, 15 TDs). Stanford, which did a good job on the premier Pac12 receivers, should be able to curtail Blackmon.
Always a factor, it's hard to figure who has the edge in turnovers. Oklahoma State leads the country with 43 takeways, but Stanford, with only 15, is rarely guilty of turnovers. Stanford has a powerful pass rush, ranking 6th in sacks, but Weeden, with that quick release, hardly ever gets sacked.
Both the teams loss just one game, Stanford getting whipped 53-30 by Oregon and Oklahoma State getting ambushed, 37-31, in OT by a nobody, Iowa State. In the battle for the No. 2 spot, No. 4 Stanford should sneak by No. 3 Oklahoma State, a four-point favorite, to settle in under the winner of the Alabama-LSU title match.