2012 Fiesta Bowl Prediction: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State

Addressing a large crowd at the Stanford Fiesta Bowl pep rally in Scottsdale last night, bittersweet is the word Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin used to describe what it was like watching his former Cardinal teammates this season. "You want to be out there with them," said Baldwin, who capped his impressive rookie year with 3 catches for 40 yards in a 23-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium earlier in the day.

No. 4 Stanford will cap its season against No. 3 Oklahoma State in the same venue today. While I don't especially "want to be out there with them" -- Brandon Weeden could throw a ball through me -- bittersweet could be an apt description for the game. It's been more than a month since the Cardinal wrapped up its second consecutive 11-1 regular season with a win over Notre Dame, and the players are eager to finally get back on the field. Still, it's a little sad to think that this is the last time we'll see Andrew Luck (not to mention Coby Fleener, Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro, and a host of others) in a Stanford uniform.

Would anyone be opposed to another week of Cardinalfiesta?

Here are three keys to the game:

  • Run the ball effectively. Novel, right? As usual, it all starts with the ground game.
  • Put controlled pressure on Brandon Weeden. In its only loss of the season, Stanford was repeatedly burned by dump off passes to the running back when the Cardinal brought the heat against Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas. Weeden isn't as elusive as Thomas, but he likes to throw the ball to running back Joseph Randle. Stanford needs to put pressure on OSU's talented QB, but they also need to be aware of where Randle is at all times and make tackles in the open field to prevent him from turning short passes into long gains.
  • Take care of the ball. Oklahoma State is a turnover-generating machine. The Cowboys' offense is potent enough without extra possessions and short fields.

Oklahoma State is a 3.5-point favorite and most experts, including the oddsmakers in Vegas, expect a high-scoring affair. The game is shaping up to be one of the bowl season's best. When I started to think about my prediction for this game, I wondered what I wrote before last year's Orange Bowl. I was more confident in a Stanford win than I remembered:

I should probably be more concerned about Tyrod Taylor and his potential to burn Stanford with the zone-read option, but with a month to prepare, I think Vic Fangio will have the Cardinal defense ready. Virginia Tech hasn't seen an offense quite like Stanford's this season and the running game shouldn't have much trouble setting up the play-action for Andrew Luck. Stanford 38, Virginia Tech 24.

As it turned out, I gave Tyrod Taylor and the Hokies more respect than they deserved. I don't expect today's matchup to be nearly as lopsided, but I think Stanford will prevail in a shootout. The defense will make just enough plays and Luck will lead the Cardinal on a classic, 7-minute scoring drive in the fourth quarter, with a healthy dose of Stepfan Taylor and Tree's Company. Stanford 42, Oklahoma State 35.

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