SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Fireworks are expected in the desert as the Nos. 3 and 4 teams in the country get together. Each boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Both defenses are feeling a little disrespected with all of the chatter about offense. All the ingredients are there for a classic matchup.
Here’s a quick preview from the Stanford perspective.
WHO TO WATCH: Bet you thought I was going to say Andrew Luck. Sure, keep an eye on that guy. But really watch running back Stepfan Taylor. The hard-nosed runner has his second consecutive 1,000-yard season and he's done it while rotating with three other backs. Luck calls the plays and puts the running backs in the best position to do something once they've got the ball, and Taylor rarely disappoints. He explodes out of the hole with a compact frame that usually carries defenders an extra few yards and he rarely takes a negative play. He's shifty enough to make jump cuts, but powerful enough to go North and South. He's also sure-handed coming out of the backfield with 22 receptions and a pair of touchdowns.
WHAT TO WATCH: It’s got to be the Stanford secondary against Oklahoma State’s passing attack. Justin Blackmon is the best wide receiver the Cardinal have faced this year and by far quarterback Brandon Weeden’s favorite target. But it’s not just Blackmon. Weeden will spread the ball around to other receivers as well as running backs on swings and dishes in the flat. Head coach David Shaw already said they are willing to yield a few yards at a time in lieu of the 70-yard touchdown. When the Cowboys score (and they will), Shaw wants to make sure it’s because they earned it.
WHY TO WATCH: Now, we're going to talk about Luck. This will be his final collegiate game before jetting off to make his delayed NFL debut. He's the brightest quarterback in the country and one of the most heralded NFL prospects in decades. There will be plenty of chances to watch him work his magic over the next decade on Sundays. But one last chance to see him do it at the college level should be more than enough reason to watch the Fiesta Bowl.
PREDICTION: Stanford 38, Oklahoma State 35. If this game was played a week after the Notre Dame game, I’d put the outcome at Oklahoma State 42, Stanford 28. But I believe the month off helps Stanford more than it does Oklahoma State. The Cardinal used that time to get healthy on the offensive line, at the tight end spot, and to rejuvenate the legs of their multi-headed rushing attack. They are fresh and have the complete playbook at their disposal now that the Tree Amigos are at full strength. They are game-changers and difference-makers. And in this game, they will be the difference.