SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On Nov. 17, Kansas State and Oregon were Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the BCS standings, seemingly on course toward a national title game matchup.
By day's end, the Wildcats had been run over at Baylor and the Ducks had lost in overtime to Stanford. And gone were their title hopes.
But unlike many teams, Kansas State and Oregon ended up with a nice consolation prize: a matchup in tonight's Fiesta Bowl.
"This game could have been for the national championship," Oregon linebacker Boseko Lokombo said. "A couple weeks ago, that's where we were both headed."
The Ducks are in their fourth consecutive BCS game under coach Chip Kelly after playing in the 2010 Rose Bowl, 2011 title game and winning the Rose Bowl last season for the first time in 95 years.
They fly fast, overwhelming opponents with where-did-they-all-come-from speed, their touchdown drives measured not in minutes but seconds. Running backs Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas are threats to score on every touch. And Marcus Mariota — the first freshman to start at quarterback for Oregon since 1991 — has played well beyond his years.
The Ducks were second nationally with 50.8 points and 323.3 rushing yards per game and fourth in total offense at 550.1 yards per game.
"Basically, only one team stopped them the entire year, and that was Stanford," Kansas State defensive coordinator Tom Hayes said. "It's a challenge. We need to meet the challenge if we have any wishes for a victory."
It doesn't figure to be any easier for Oregon going against Kansas State. In the second season of his second stint as coach, Bill Snyder has — again— lifted the Wildcats out of the doldrums and into national prominence.
Kansas State doesn't play nearly as fast as Oregon. But it can put up points in a hurry — ninth nationally at 40.7 per game — and is led by a Heisman Trophy finalist, do-everything senior quarterback Collin Klein.
This is the Wildcats' 14th bowl under Snyder, and beating the Ducks means the program's first 12-win season.
"You can't help as a coach admire what Coach Snyder has done," Kelly said. "He had an opportunity when he first got to K-State that he created a legacy that I don't think anybody could ever imagine when he first took over that program; what one man could do to a university. Retired for a couple years then came back and is building upon that legacy.
"It's really a special story in college football that will (have him) go down, like I said, as one of the top coaches in the history of the game."