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December 19, 2011
The bowls are upon us, and what's the most exciting matchup of the postseason? (Hint: not the BCS title game.) It's the Fiesta Bowl, in which prolific Brandon Weeden and the unstoppable offense of Oklahoma State meet the sublime skills of Andrew Luck and Stanford
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December 19, 2011

Get Ready For A Fiesta

The bowls are upon us, and what's the most exciting matchup of the postseason? (Hint: not the BCS title game.) It's the Fiesta Bowl, in which prolific Brandon Weeden and the unstoppable offense of Oklahoma State meet the sublime skills of Andrew Luck and Stanford

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In the spirit of the holidays, let us spare the BCS the mockery it so richly deserves and focus on the games it has bequeathed us, a mixed bag of matchups ranging from the recycled (No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama in the title game) to the sublime (No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 4 Stanford in what should be a pyrotechnical Fiesta) to the ridiculous (What on earth were you thinking, Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan, passing over two top 10 teams in favor of No. 11 Virginia Tech—coming off a four-touchdown loss to Clemson—and No. 13 Michigan?).

True, Hoolahan's head-shaking decision reeks of cronyism and is the latest in a long list of reasons to nuke the BCS. But that's not our focus here—we're celebrating the teams, the games, the players! The time has come to embrace these matchups, the way Andrew Luck hugged Robert Griffin III after RG3 was named the winner of the Heisman Trophy last Saturday night in midtown Manhattan.

The presentation ceremony, by the way, was surprisingly crisp and compelling. Emcee Chris Fowler deftly put the five finalists at ease, at one point asking Alabama running back Trent Richardson if perhaps the figurine on the Heisman trophy itself was carrying the point of the ball a tad too low. (Richardson, who has lost one fumble in 614 touches as a collegian, agreed.) Turning to ball-hawk extraordinaire Tyrann Mathieu, LSU's storied Honey Badger, Fowler asked, "Could you knock that loose?" Not surprisingly, Mathieu believed he could.

While it's sure to be all business between them in the Superdome on Jan. 9, when the Tide takes on the Tigers for the second time in 65 days, and with a national championship on the line, they were bosom buddies in the Big Apple. "You look at Trent and think he's a coldhearted kind of guy," said Mathieu after the presentation. "Actually, he's a sweetheart." Richardson, for his part, described the Honey Badger as "a lifetime friend."

Chewing the scenery beside them was Luck, the Stanford quarterback who is almost sure to hear his name called out in midtown Manhattan next April, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announces the first pick in the draft. But for the second straight season Luck was runner-up for the Heisman. He was incredibly efficient and consistent in 2011. But Luck played in a pro-style system predicated on balance. He was very good but not great down the stretch, opening the door for Griffin, who entranced a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately Heisman electorate with superheroic performances in late-season wins over Oklahoma and Texas. So it was fitting, moments before he learned that he'd won the trophy, when Griffin lifted one of his pant cuffs, revealing to his audience at the Best Buy Theater that he was wearing Superman socks, complete with tiny red capes.

Bridesmaid though he was, Luck was graciousness personified. He was the first to congratulate Griffin, who deserved the award so richly, Luck later said that "it's very hard to be upset." He'll get a chance to ease that sting on the evening of Jan. 2.

Had Oklahoma State not been stunned by Iowa State on Nov. 18, Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden would've shared the stage on Saturday with Griffin, Luck, Richardson & Co. Despite routing big brother Oklahoma in this year's Bedlam matchup, Oklahoma State missed out on a BCS title game berth by .0086. Like Luck—and against him, as it turns out—Weeden will have a chance to rinse away his disappointment.

Stanford vs. Oklahoma State, Luck vs. Weeden, will be the most wide open of the five BCS bowls. Weeden has thrown for 4,328 yards this season, third best in the country. Luck owns the nation's fifth-highest efficiency rating, at 167.50. Weeden's go-to guy is the beastly, Biletnikoff Award--winning Justin Blackmon, who has caught 113 balls this season for 1,336 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Luck did the bulk of his damage throwing to the best corps of tight ends in the country. When Stanford lined up in a three-tight-ends set, it was all but impossible for defenses to account for Coby Fleener, Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz, who combined for 79 catches, 1,281 yards and 19 touchdowns. Both teams feature underrated defenses that will have trouble getting off the field in Glendale, Ariz.

No less intriguing is the Rose Bowl between No. 6 Oregon and Big Ten champ Wisconsin. On its face, this one looks like a throwback: the giant, corn-fed lads from the heartland traveling west to take on a slighter, speedier Pac-12 opponent. But that stereotype doesn't really hold up anymore, says Ducks coach Chip Kelly, who points out that Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue are spread teams. "Ohio State with Braxton Miller—he's all over the place," he says.

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