Oklahoma State Vs. Stanford, Tostitos Fiesta Bowl 2012: Speed Vs. Strength

STILLWATER, OK - DECEMBER 03: Brandon Weeden #3 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys runs the offense during play against the Oklahoma Sooners at Boone Pickens Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The nation's default third-place game will be decided by Stanford's ability to create some breaks on defense and Oklahoma State's ability to control the Cardinal's power running game.

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

Sometimes regret clouds excitement. It is impossible to look at a game like this and not think about these teams deserving (or at least almost deserving) a shot at the national title. And the pro-playoff folks among us will use that as EXAMPLE NO. 143,386,306 WHY WE NEED A PLAYOFF RIGHT NOW, and for the most part, they will be correct. But in a vacuum, with no regrets or negative context, this game, like the Rose Bowl, should be an absolute knockout.

In terms of F/+ rankings, No. 5 (Wisconsin) is playing No. 6 (Oregon), No. 3 (Oklahoma State) is playing No. 7 (Stanford) and No. 1 (LSU) is playing No. 2 (Alabama). Granted, the other two BCS bowls are a bit lacking in terms of elite play (No. 12 versus No. 19 and No. 24 versus No. 28), but there are some high-quality matchups at play here, and two of them are taking place on one day.

Team Record AP Rank 2011 F/+ Rk 2011 Off.
F/+ Rk
2011 Def.
F/+ Rk
2011 S.T.
F/+ Rk
Oklahoma State 11-1 3 3 5 3 9
Stanford 11-1 4 7 4 27 49
Team Pace Rk Covariance Rk MACtion Rk Schizophrenia Rk
Oklahoma State 13 109 100 77
Stanford 42 53 48 88

If Stanford's defense can account for Oklahoma State's offense and pace (and their experiences with Oregon the last couple of years throw that into question), this could be a dynamite matchup. (And at the same time, OSU has to show they can handle the brawn and strength that Stanford brings to the table.) The 'Pokes are favored because they have proven to be more well-rounded, but still, this game is a study of contrasts, of two completely different ways to build elite teams, and of some serious pro-caliber talent and athleticism at play.

When Oklahoma State Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Oklahoma State Offense 5 2 20 2 8 1 14
Stanford Defense 27 22 10 17 28 33 17
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Oklahoma State Offense 43.5% 6 26.5% 9
Stanford Defense 48.8% 19 30.9% 35
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Of Stanford's opponents, only Oregon State and Duke even pretended to throw the ball as frequently as Oklahoma State. And granted, Stanford in no way struggled to win either of those two games (combined scoring margin: plus-55). But without either Justin Blackmon or Brandon Weeden on their side, the Beavers and Blue Devils still managed to average 8.1 yards per pass against a Stanford defense that regressed a bit from last season's unit. The Cardinal are as fierce as anybody up front -- they rank 17th in Adj. Line Yards, first in Adj. Sack Rate -- and in Chase Thomas (42.0 tackles, 17.5 tackels for loss, five forced fumbles), they have one of the best play-making linebackers in the country. But it does appear that the defense took on a little water this season, and it is unclear whether the cornerback unit of Johnson Bademosi, Terrence Brown and company can handle what is about to come their way.

It is one thing to attempt to deal with Justin Blackmon (1,336 yards on 149 targets), the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner. It is another to handle the wave of other receivers and frequent targets -- possession man Josh Cooper (660 on 83), tight endish creature Tracy Moore (672 on 68), running back Joseph Randle (238 on 42), Isaiah Anderson (305 on 34), Michael Harrison (239 on 26), et cetera. Brandon Weeden (73-percent completion rate, 34 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) is smart enough to go wherever you let him with the ball. With defenses over-compensating for Blackmon earlier in the season, Harrison and now-injured Hubert Anyiam put up big numbers. Later in the year, Blackmon exploded. And if all else fails, just utilize your run game. On a per-play basis it is, after all, the best in the country. Randle and Jeremy Smith combined for 1,838 rushing yards, 32 touchdowns and a ridiculous plus-56.5 Adj. POE.

Weeden does occasionally make mistakes, usually in the form of trusting his arm a bit much and throwing some gunslinger interceptions. Unfortunately for Stanford, that's not really their thing. They have somehow picked off only six passes all season. They did force 18 fumbles, seventh-most in the country, but they will likely need to create a few breaks for themselves.

When Stanford Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Stanford Offense 4 11 11 8 16 17 13
Oklahoma State Defense 3 15 1 34 5 37 14
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Stanford Offense 59.6% 9 35.1% 31
Oklahoma State Defense 54.8% 27 29.6% 13
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

One of the many beautiful aspects of college football is the uniqueness of scheme and personnel. In recent years, uniqueness has typically involved spread formations (or the flexbone) in one way or another, but intentionally or not, Stanford developed quite a bit of a one-of-a-kind look this season. An abundance of quality tight ends coincided with a lack of receivers, and when wideout Chris Owusu was lost with injury, things skewed even further toward size. Without Owusu, here are Luck's five most frequent (healthy) targets heading into tonight: Griff Whalen (receiver, 9.0 yards per target), Coby Fleener (tight end, 13.2), Ryan Hewitt (fullback, 7.9), Zach Ertz (tight end, 9.6), Levine Toilolo (tight end, 96.). That's ... not normal.

For the most part, the Cardinal have crafted a solid identity out of this personnel. They were power-based even last season, but they have doubled down this year. And really, credit goes to Andrew Luck for doing what needed to be done and not simply aiming for stats. If given Robert Griffin III's receiving corps, he may have produced Griffin-esque numbers, but instead he focused on steadiness and efficiency over explosiveness, and he got the Cardinal to a second consecutive BCS bowl because of it (despite defensive regression). Stepfan Taylor ground out another 1,153 rushing yards (minus-2.8 Adj. POE) and Tyler Gafney (445 yards, plus-12.4 Adj. POE), Anthony Wilkerson (283 yards, plus-1.5 Adj. POE) and Jeremy Stewart (192 yards, plus-5.0 Adj. POE) threw in another 15 carries per game. And this "rushing and tight ends" approach worked for most of the season. It was, however, overwhelmed by Oregon's defensive speed, and the Cardinal might encounter similar troubles against Oklahoma State.

Compared to Oregon, Oklahoma State doesn't attack quite as well -- they rank 89th in Adj. Sack Rate compared to Oregon at eighth -- but they swarm well, they tackle incredibly well, and they are deep and fast enough to cover Stanford's big receivers, no matter who the quarterback may be. They picked off 23 passes (five players had at least two) and broke up another 62; all season, I proclaimed their safety duo of Daytawion Lowe and Markelle Martin (combined: 138.5 tackles, six tackles for loss, 16 passes defended) as one of the best in the country, and they did little to dissuade me. The Cowboys created breaks for themselves for most of 2011, and if they are reasonably successful in stopping Taylor and the run game, they should be able to outscore the Cardinal.

It remains to be seen, however, how the Cowboys handle a power running game, since, well, such a thing really doesn't exist in the Big 12. Iowa State's big Jeff Woody did reasonably well against them (12 carries, 54 yards) and run-first attacks like Texas and Kansas State found some success, but there is no perfect reference point here.

The Verdict

Oklahoma State by 7.4.

So basically, this game comes down to whether Stanford can create some breaks for themselves (in the form of turnovers, drive-killing sacks, etc.), and whether Oklahoma State can rein in Stanford's run game. The numbers like the 'Pokes because of their defense and a general advantage on special teams, and I am inclined to agree. Still, the Cardinal have probably the less mistake-prone quarterback and a decent chance to control the ball and keep Oklahoma State's offense off of the field. If they can control the narrative, the advantage will shift considerably in their favor.

--------------------

A Quick Glossary

Covariance: This tells us whether a team tends to play up or down to their level of competition. A higher ranking means a team was more likely to play well against bad teams while struggling (relatively speaking) against good ones. (So in a way, lower rankings are better.) For more, go here.

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

MACtion: This is a look at how closely teams are associated with big-play football (like those high-scoring, mid-week MAC games). Teams that rank high on the MACtion scale play games with a ton of both big plays (gained and allowed) and passing downs. For more, go here.

Pace: This is calculated by going beyond simply who runs the most plays. Teams that pass more are naturally inclined to run more plays (since there are more clock stoppages involved), so what we do here is project how many plays a team would typically be expected to run given their run-pass ratio, then compare their actual plays to expectations. Teams, then, are ranked in order from the most plays above the expected pace, to the least.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

S&P+: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

Schizophrenia: This measures how steady a team's performances are throughout the course of a full season. Teams with a higher ranking tend to be extremely unpredictable from week to week. For more, go here.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

In This Article

Teams
Players
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.