Fiesta Bowl 2012: Stanford Football Facing Emotional Oklahoma State

STANFORD, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Stepfan Taylor #33 of the Stanford Cardinal runs the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Stanford Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Stanford Cardinal are returning to the BCS. But they're in for one of the most difficult matchups of the bowl season when they take on the Oklahoma St. Cowboys.

Oklahoma State is a good team, but moreover they will be going into this game with something to prove. The Cowboys believe they should be the ones in New Orleans instead of the Alabama Crimson Tide, and they have a legitimate gripe. Oklahoma State won their conference while Alabama sat at home and played Sudoku on Championship weekend, and they're instead headed to the Fiesta Bowl. While there's no clear-cut case to be made for either team (Oklahoma State had the better resume of victories, but Alabama had the less damaging loss), the result ends up being that Oklahoma State isn't going to be number one at the end of the season.

Stanford might be the team that pays the price. Or it might work to the Cardinal's advantage.

The Cardinal have proven that they aren't quite the juggernaut they were at the end of last season, instead having to plod their way to victory in almost every major game in the conference. They can't stretch the field with deep threat receivers, instead using their various threats to pick up slight chunks of yardage as they move the football. That could come in handy against a flawed Oklahoma State defense that has seen plenty of spread but very little pro-style offense in the Big 12. Stanford's run attack will be critical, as any little mistake here and there between Andrew Luck and his receivers could send the Cardinal off the field.

Oklahoma State probably has a decided advantage on offense though; the Cardinal haven't really faced a spread pass attack like the Cowboys; the Trojans had elite receivers, but they too relied on balance with a strong running attack. The Cowboys far more rely on their passing game to kill their opponents and go to the run to change it up. For a team so oriented at stopping the run, the need for the Cardinal to defend the entire field could prove to be very problematic.

Stanford is a really good football team, but so is Oklahoma State. And while the Cardinal are probably just happy to return to a big BCS matchup, the Cowboys will be there looking to prove they're the ones who should be champions.

For those who like bowl matchups, prepare for one of the most enticing undercards in college football history.

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