Oregon Ducks: Fiesta Bowl-2012

Video: Oregon center Hroniss Grasu

January, 4, 2013
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Oregon center Hroniss Grasu talks about the Ducks' Fiesta Bowl victory over Kansas State and the program's future."

Video: Oregon DE Dion Jordan

January, 4, 2013
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Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan talks about the defense's dominant effort in the Fiesta Bowl and his and Chip Kelly's potential NFL futures.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Oregon Ducks donned new T-shirts after their 35-17 victory over Kansas State in the Totitos Fiesta Bowl. "Won the Day" those shirts said, obviously playing off the program's mantra under Chip Kelly: Win the day.

Oregon certainly did that against the Wildcats.

Both teams ran 70 plays. Oregon gained 385 yards. Kansas State 283. Kansas State led the nation in turnover margin this year, but it lost that battle to the Ducks 2-0. The Wildcats had the second-fewest penalty yards per game in the nation this season, but they had seven flags for 57 yards versus five for 33 for the Ducks. The Wildcats were widely viewed as the nation's best on special teams this season, but they yielded a 94-yard return on the opening kickoff to De'Anthony Thomas and missed a field goal while the Ducks were 2-for-2.

Senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein was outplayed by Ducks redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

So Oregon won the day -- night, actually -- but the use of the past tense hints at something else, of a mission accomplished and completed. That has an ominous suggestion for Oregon fans. That feeling, of course, arises from the fact that Kelly is about to interview with at least three NFL teams, according to various reports, and many believe this was his last game at Oregon.

He and Oregon won the day and now he will move on.

Kelly fought off questions about his NFL aspirations during the weeks leading up to the game, saying his entire focus was on the Fiesta Bowl. He opened up a bit after the victory, noting that he will talk to his agent David Dunn on Thursday night or Friday morning to get an update on where things stand.

"I was getting my hair cut on Wednesday and saw my name on the bottom of ESPN, which I thought was funny because I haven't talked to anyone," he said. "I'll sit down and talk with Dave. I've said I'll always listen. That's what I'll do. ... I'll listen and we'll see."

Kelly is expected to interview with the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills. It's possible we'll know Kelly's plans by the end of the weekend.

Ducks fans chanted "Four more years!" at the end of the game. Kelly's four years atop the program -- two Rose Bowls, a national title game and a Fiesta Bowl -- have been the most successful in program history by a wide margin. The Ducks are headed for their third consecutive top-five ranking and figure to be top-five in the 2013 preseason, whoever their coach is.

The postgame interviews focused less on the Ducks' dominant performance in all phases and more on Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, who is expected to replace Kelly should he leave.

Oregon players paid tribute to both.

"[Kelly] means everything," said running back Kenjon Barner, who gained 120 of his 143 yards in the second half. "Without him, I wouldn't be the running back that I am. Sitting with him in meeting rooms is a lot different than sitting in any other meeting room that I've ever been in because it's not just about football, it's about life. He teaches you life lessons as a man, so he means a lot to me."

But Barner also added that Helfrich is ready to take over.

"If that does happen, expect the same," he said. "Nothing will change."

Said offensive lineman Kyle Long: "Seamless transition. They're cut from the same tree. I'll tell Duck Nation right now, Coach Helfrich is a brilliant coach. Great relationships with his players and other staff members. We all love Helf."

Said Helfrich about potentially becoming the Ducks coach: "We'll cross that bridge. ... Whatever happens, happens."

Helfrich coaches the Ducks quarterbacks, and his star pupil had another great game. Mariota, who won game MVP honors, completed 12 of 24 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed eight times for 62 yards and a score.

"He's a great young player," said Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, an All-America. "He has a bright future."

Both these teams suffered their only regular-season loss on Nov. 17. The Ducks lost in overtime to Stanford, which won the Rose Bowl. Alabama also has one loss, but it's playing unbeaten No. 1 Notre Dame for the national title. Kelly was asked where he thought his team ranked.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't have a vote. I don't want a vote. This is my favorite team, so I vote us No. 1."

As for whether he's about to leave his favorite team, Kelly left few clues. He called his oncoming interviews a "fact-finding mission."

"I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I'm going to be," he said.

He's not the only one.

A program and an enraptured fan base is holding its collective breath. They are hoping Kelly will be winning more days for years to come.

Video: Fiesta Bowl postgame

January, 3, 2013
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David Ubben and Ted Miller look back on Oregon's 35-17 victory over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Video: Oregon coordinator Mark Helfrich

January, 3, 2013
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Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich talks about the Fiesta Bowl victory and the possibility that he might be Oregon's next head coach.

Oregon gives the Pac-12 a final 4-4 bowl record, though that record now includes victories in a pair of BCS bowl games.

Here's how we see it following the Ducks' 35-17 victory over Kansas State.

It was over when: Oregon owned the third quarter, making a game that looked competitive at halftime into a tension-free fourth quarter. The Ducks outscored the Wildcats 10-0 and outgained them 166-51 in the frame. They also scored a one-point safety on an blocked PAT, meaning we all saw something we likely never had seen before.

Turning point: Oregon jumped ahead 15-0, but Kansas State came back in the second quarter. Down 15-7, but moving the ball well, the Wildcats faced a fourth-and-1 from the Oregon 18. Instead of trying for the yard, they tried a freeze play. Instead of getting the Ducks to jump, it was the Wildcats who got a false start. They backed it up five yards and then missed the field goal. Oregon, which had been struggling on offense, took the ball and went 77 yards in five plays and just 46 seconds, making it 22-10 at the break. The Wildcats never really mounted a threat thereafter.

Game ball goes to: While De'Anthony Thomas was spectacular with a 94-yard kickoff return for a TD and a brilliant 23-yard run on a screen pass, it was QB Marcus Mariota who earned game MVP honors. The redshirt freshman complete 12 of 24 passes for 166 yards with two TDs and no interceptions, and he rushed for 62 yards on eight carries, a number of them critical third-down conversion dashes.

Notable number: Both teams entered the game among the nation's leaders in turnover margin, and Kansas State had only yielded 10 turnovers the entire year. Oregon won the turnover battle 2-0.

Unsung hero: Senior running back Kenjon Barner had 23 yards on seven carries at halftime, but he finished with 143 yards on 31 carries. And most of those were tough yards.

Unsung hero II: The Ducks' defense may finally get credit for how good it is -- and has been. Kansas State ranked ninth in the nation in scoring this year at 40.67 points per game. It also averaged 411 yards. It gained just 283 yards against the Ducks, and was shut down completely in the critical third quarter.

What it means for Oregon: That Oregon wins a second consecutive BCS bowl game and finishes ranked in the top-five for a third consecutive year. Of course, this might be the last game under coach Chip Kelly, who led the Ducks to unprecedented heights, but he would leave behind a team that should contend for a national title in 2013.

What it means for Kansas State: It was a dream season for Kansas State in Year 4 of Bill Snyder Take 2. The Wildcats have improved every year since Snyder came back in 2009. The next step is winning a bowl game, which they haven't done since 2002. The Fiesta Bowl loss is a bummer, but the Wildcats are back atop the Big 12. That's big.

Halftime: Oregon 22, Kansas State 10

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The first half of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl featured plenty of momentum swings, but Oregon's proved the most potent, even though the Ducks' running game struggled.

The Ducks are up 22-10 at the half, despite only rushing for 52 yards.

Oregon couldn't have started faster, with De'Anthony Thomas going 94 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff, with a 2-point conversion making it 8-0. Thomas then scored on a brilliant 23-yard run after a screen pass, making it 15-0.

The Kansas State offense and quarterback Collin Klein then got on track, scoring the next 10 points.

But the final swing was huge: Kansas State missed a 40-yard field goal, and Oregon drove 77 yards in five plays, needing just 46 seconds to make it 22-10.

Kansas State gets the ball to start the third quarter.

The Wildcats outgained Oregon 170 to 158. They were 6-of-10 on third down, and had the ball for 21 minutes in the first half, compared to nine for the Ducks.

The big question in the second half is whether the Ducks can get the running game going or if they will need to pass. Kansas State has been a second-half team all season, so this one is hardly over.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On Nov. 17, both Oregon and Kansas State lost their only game of the season. Otherwise, these two teams likely would have met each other for the national title in South Florida instead of at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl tonight.

It's also interesting that both lost to an opponent that generally resembles their opponent in University of Phoenix Stadium.

Oregon went down to Stanford, a team that prides itself on its disciplined, physical play on both sides of the ball. That's Kansas State.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsCoach Chip Kelly and Oregon will face a Kansas State team that shares similarities with Pac-12 rival Stanford.
Kansas State went down to Baylor, a team that runs a high-octane, up-tempo, spread offense. That's Oregon.

The parallels are far from exact -- for example, Baylor is pass-first; Oregon is run-first -- but they are notable. Both teams surely paid extra-special attention to those game tapes.

Said Ducks coach Chip Kelly, "I think Baylor has a lot of speed, speed in space. They made kids miss tackles. When they missed tackles, they hit some long runs."

That hits the first issue to watch: Tackling. Said Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, "Tackling is going to be the biggest thing in this game."

That seems simple, right? And it is. But it's a measure you can measure on your own at home: How often does the first guy miss or fail to bring his guy down? How often does the Duck or Wildcat with the ball get a second chance to gain yards?

Oregon thrives when it gets fast guys into space, and that fast guy leaves the first tackler grasping air. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back Kenjon Barner, receiver Josh Huff and RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas can use a first-guy miss to go yard.

Kansas State isn't quite so fancy, but it's effective. It ranked seventh in the nation in third-down conversion percentage at just over 50 percent. How often can quarterback Collin Klein or another Wildcat twist away from a Ducks tackler and significantly boost the attractiveness of down and distance? Unlike Oregon, Kansas State loves to hold the ball for a long time. Against Oregon, in particular, it wants to methodically move the chains and play keep-away.

Oregon, by the way, ranks 14th in the nation in third-down defense, with foes converting less than 31 percent of the time.

And what about an X factor? We know who the stars are, and it's perfectly reasonable to believe the quarterback who plays better will lead the winning team. But so often in bowl games, a player who has been under the radar all week plays a major role in deciding things.

Maybe that's Huff for Oregon. Or Chris Harper, a former Duck who is now Kansas State's best receiver.

As for Oregon making like Baylor or Kansas State donning a Stanford disguise, it probably won't be that straightforward. Know that both teams labored over that what-might-have-been game film well before the Fiesta Bowl. The weaknesses that were exposed were taken note of and addressed.

At least that's what both teams' coaches and players are saying about the one that got away.

Said Helfrich, "I don't know if they are finding any magic in that game. I don't think it's in there. It's not going to come down to revelations from one game on either side."

Video: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl pregame

January, 3, 2013
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David Ubben and Ted Miller talk Chip Kelly's future; K-State and Oregon distractions; and a possible upset for the Wildcats from the field at University of Phoenix Stadium before tonight's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Oregon keys for Fiesta Bowl

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Here are three Oregon keys for the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl:

1. Win the turnover battle: Kansas State is No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin. Oregon is No. 3. The Wildcats are ranked that highly because they've given away only 10. The Ducks are that high because they've taken away 38. In Kansas State's lone loss to Baylor, QB Collin Klein threw three interceptions. In fact, Klein threw five of his seven interceptions in the final three games. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota threw only one pick over the final six games, but that interception came in the loss to Stanford. As Oregon coach Chip Kelly would tell you, winning the turnover battle is not just about getting them. It's about what you do with them or what you do when you give them away. Defenses need to make a stand; offenses need to take advantage.

2. Special teams: Both teams are good on special teams, but Kansas State might be the best in the nation. The Wildcats are No. 1 in the nation in punt and kick returns and have a good field goal kicker. As many Ducks fans know, Oregon hasn't been very good at kicker the past two seasons. If the game comes down to field goals, the Ducks are probably going to lose. Further, special teams dictate field position. Beyond that, it seems as if big bowl games feature at least one or two big plays on special teams -- a big return, a blown kick, a blocked kick, etc. In a close game, special teams often make the difference.

3. Get Klein down on first contact: It's strange to say that a quarterback is a physical runner, but that is Klein's game. He runs hard, breaks tackles and is his most aggressive near the goal line, and he gets better as the game goes along, like a good running back. He averaged 13.2 designed running plays per game in Big 12 games, averaged 5 yards per carry and had at least one touchdown in all nine conference games, including five games with at least two touchdowns. Further, he is averaging 1.4 more yards per run on such plays in the second half compared to the first. The Ducks need to be sound tacklers. They need to hit Klein hard. And they need to gang-tackle.
Marcus Mariota and Collin KleinUSA TODAY SportsWith quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein, the Fiesta Bowl won't be lacking in star power.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night? Forget the corn chips; this matchup is about something else.

It's the Regret Bowl. The What Might Have Been Bowl. It's the Can the Mayans Make the Apocalypse Take Out Only Nov. 17 Bowl.

If Nov. 17, when No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Kansas State both lost their only game of the season, were wiped away, this Ducks-Wildcats showdown likely would have been for the national title.

So, yes, when the Ducks and Wildcats turned on ESPN during the past month or so and watched reports on Alabama and Notre Dame, they often were nicked by a pang of regret, no matter how philosophical a pose their respective coaches tried to establish in the locker room.

Regrets? Yeah, both teams have a few.

"Yeah, a little bit, I'm going to be honest with you," Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "It's one of those things you have to learn from. We lost at the wrong time."

Of course, denial can come in handy. Alabama-Notre Dame? Who are they?

"I think this is the best two teams in the nation in this game right here," said Kansas State receiver Chris Harper, who transferred from Oregon. "I know Notre Dame and Alabama have their game, but I think this is the best matchup."

It's certainly a good matchup. No other bowls -- other than that aforementioned matchup in South Florida -- matches top-five teams. You have plenty of star power, with Kansas State QB Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, both All-Americans. Then there's celebrated Ducks redshirt freshman quarterback Mariota, who was first-team All-Pac-12 and will be near the top of many 2013 preseason Heisman lists.

And then there are the coaches. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, the septuagenarian program builder, and Oregon's Chip Kelly, the wise-cracking mad scientist of offense, both would make just about everyone's top-10 list of college football coaches. An added dimension of intrigue is the possibility that Kelly may be coaching his last game as a Duck, as he's being eyeballed by a number of NFL teams.

Said Kelly, "I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game [Thursday] night, and I'm going to be there."

Kelly's crew is playing in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game. It lost its first two, including here to Auburn in the national title game after the 2010 season, but beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year. Kansas State is playing in its first BCS bowl game since 2003, and it has lost its past two bowl games.

So there doesn't seem to be much question about how hungry the Wildcats are to end their season with a victory.

"It would be huge," said Klein, who is 21-4 over the past two seasons. "We talk about finishing all the time. We haven't been able to finish the last two years. To be able to do that is very important to us."

Part of Kelly's coaching philosophy is that every game is the same -- a Super Bowl! -- because your preparation should always be your best. Yet the Ducks want to maintain their perch among college football's elite. A Fiesta Bowl victory likely would cement a 2013 preseason top-five ranking because the Ducks have a lot of talent coming back next fall.

"We have to make a statement to the rest of the country," Ducks offensive lineman Kyle Long said.

As for keys, you hear the usual from both coaches: turnovers, tackling, special teams, etc. But turnovers seem to be even more notable than usual in this one, at least based on the teams' performances this season.

Kansas State has the third-fewest turnovers (10) in the FBS this season and has forced the eighth-most (31). Oregon is tied for first in turnovers forced with 38, including 24 interceptions. The Ducks turned the ball over 19 times, second-fewest in the Pac-12.

Klein had three interceptions in the Wildcats' 52-24 loss to Baylor.

"When we've turned it over, we've struggled," Snyder said. "When we haven't, we've played reasonably well."

Sure, both teams wish they were playing for a national title. But the winner of this game will finish ranked in the top four. So that's better than 116 other FBS teams. Not too shabby, even if it includes a dose of what might have been.

Kelly was asked what he'd learned after playing in four consecutive bowl games.

"I think you learn really how hard it is to get there," he said. "That's the one thing I think as a team, as a staff, as a group of players, to not take it for granted. It's a truly special thing to be able to play in a BCS game."

Of course, it's more special to win one.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The overwhelming sentiment at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is the game will be Chip Kelly's last as the Oregon head coach before he fills one of the seven new NFL vacancies. If that is so, the equally overwhelming sentiment is that offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich will step into Kelly's spot atop the program.

Kelly, clearly anticipating the NFL questions, has fought off all inquires on the matter by saying he is only focused on the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday. He has emphasized that the NFL talk is not a distraction to him or his team, and that he and his players have not addressed it.

His players have been on message, too.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/USA TODAY SportsMark Helfrich was a quarterback coach at Boise State, Arizona State and Colorado, before joining Oregon in 2009.
Said linebacker Michael Clay: "He doesn't talk about it. No body talks about it."

And offensive lineman Kyle Long: "There isn't really a lot of talk about that. You can control what you can control. What we can control is our attitude, our effort and our preparation."

And quarterback Marcus Mariota: "Whatever happens, happens. Coach Kelly will make a decision that is best suited for him. Whatever he does, this team will support him."

And center Hroniss Grasu: "He's our head coach right now. That's the only way I can look at it. I will play for whoever is our head coach right now. Right now, it's Coach Kelly. I won't look too far ahead."

As for Helfrich, he also is staking out a "wait-and-see" position: "I don't think [Kelly leaving for the NFL is] a slam-dunk like everyone else does. I hope he stays at Oregon forever," he said.

It's important to note there have been no concrete reports of contact with NFL teams, and Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said he's received no courtesy calls from an interested NFL team. It's plausible -- and very, very Chip Kelly -- that Kelly's non-denials emerge from his enjoyment in making the media awkwardly tap dance in front of him.

Still, if Kelly's departure is just days away, it is reasonable to get an early measure of Helfrich, who has been a quarterback coach at Boise State, Arizona State and Colorado -- he was the Buffs' offensive coordinator, too -- before Kelly hired him in 2009.

"He's really smart, really intelligent," Kelly said of why he made Helfrich his first offensive coordinator. "He brought a different perspective to our staff, because he had a different background. He wasn't a spread guy. I wanted to bring someone in who wasn't going to tell us what we already knew."

When asked what advice he'd give to Helfrich if he became a head coach, Kelly said he'd give him the same advice Rich Brooks gave Mike Bellotti and Bellotti gave him: "Be yourself. You can't be someone else."

Which is interesting in itself, because Helfrich is different than Kelly. Very different.

"Coach Kelly is the yin and he's the yang," Ducks senior running back Kenjon Barner said. "Coach Kelly is on you. He knows what he wants and he's going to get it out of you. Coach Helf is kind of that guy who brings you along smoothly, rather than rough. Good cop, bad cop. Sometimes they switch roles."

That said, continuity is a big reason to promote Helfrich. Oregon has a team culture, system of practicing and schemes on both sides of the ball that have been working fabulously over the past four years with Kelly. Helfrich wouldn't be expected to change much. Further, he'd likely be able to retain some of the Ducks' staff because Kelly probably will need to hire veteran NFL coaches to offset his lack of professional experience.

Still, Helfrich, as Kelly would advise, is unlikely to transform into a Kelly clone. He's worked with a number of successful coaches, so he'd likely put his own stamp on existing systems.

"You take a little bit of everybody with you," Helfrich said. "I've learned a ton from Chip."

While some players seemed -- for obvious reasons -- uncomfortable with the topic, there was a strong undercurrent of support for Helfrich, and not just with offensive players.

"He's a great guy and knows what he's doing," linebacker Michael Clay said. "Everyone respects him on the team and around the league. I think he'd do a great job as a head coach."

Helfrich is certain to be a head coach at some point. The big question to be answered after the Fiesta Bowl is whether that ascension is just days away.

Video: Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

December, 31, 2012
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Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu talks about the Kansas State offense, Wildcats QB Collin Klein and former Duck Chris Harper, a K-State receiver.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There is a school of thought, now apparently subscribed to by a handful of desperate NFL teams, that if that uber-suave, hirsute gentleman from those wildly entertaining Dos Equis beer commercials revealed his true identity, he would rip off a bearded mask and reveal Chip Kelly.

Is Kelly the most interesting man in the world?

Pause for a moment before chortling over our potential hyperbole, for Kelly has packed a lot into his 52-game tenure at Oregon, including 45 victories.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Don RyanChip Kelly doesn't often discuss his life with writers, but when he does, his answers are revealing.
He has run with the bulls in Pamplona. He has led the Ducks to three Pac-12 titles and four BCS bowl games. He has done humanitarian work in Africa. He has produced Oregon's first Rose Bowl victory in 95 years. He has visited U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kelly, 49 and single, is also fiercely private. He has never cooperated with any truly in-depth "This is your life, Chip Kelly!" story, which is exceedingly rare for a high-profile coach. Nearly all his close friends are back in New Hampshire, where he's from and where he went to college.

Kelly doesn't like glad-handing boosters, something often viewed as a prerequisite for being a college coach. He particularly dislikes talking to reporters, and he goes to great lengths to make sure they understand.

The Dos Equis guy says, "Stay thirsty, my friends." Kelly would say, "Stay away, annoying hangers-on."

Yet the vast majority of Ducks fans not only love all the winning, they love Kelly for his wiseacre, smirking self. They chant "Big Balls Chip!" inside rocking Autzen Stadium to celebrate Kelly's penchant for going for it on fourth down, going for 2 and launching onside kicks at surprising times.

He tells fans, "Shut up!" for cheering behind him during an ESPN postgame interview, and they love him more. A Twitter page, Chipisms, celebrates not only Kelly's amusing or insightful wisdom -- “I saw the ‘Feel Sorry for Yourself’ train leaving the parking lot & none of our players were on it, so that was a good sign” -- but also for his snark.

Inquiries that Kelly doesn't like might get one-word answers, clichéd responses or snappy rejoinders that belittle his inquisitors. Questions that engage him, however, receive full and thoughtful treatment. Consider this response from an ESPN story on Kelly's trip to Africa, when he worked with adolescent girls who had no idea who he was.

"The real heroes are the little girls in Africa who are trying to better themselves so they can help their families," he said. "When I hear a coach say, 'We're grinding.' I'm like: You're sitting in a room with air conditioning watching videotape. That's not grinding."

There seem to be three facets to Kelly. His standoffish public face, the detail-obsessed coach and the Renaissance man determined to drink life to the lees away from the game. Even the hard-driving, "win the day" side of Kelly can loosen up behind closed doors; those who work with him frequently cite his sense of humor.

"He [jokes around] all the time," said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, a leading candidate to replace Kelly should he bolt for an NFL job. "It's not: 'Aha, he smiled! Isn't that amazing?' It's daily. We have a lot of fun."

Further, while Kelly's offense almost always runs like a finely tuned machine, plenty of, er, interesting things have been interspersed with winning during Kelly's tenure. Drama has not been lacking over the past four seasons.

His first game as Oregon's head coach remains his worst: A 19-8 loss at Boise State. Not only did the Ducks gain an embarrassing 152 total yards, but Kelly's star running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Broncos player afterward, bringing the hot light of controversy to his team's feckless performance.

Some thought Kelly was in over his head. He answered that by becoming the first Pac-10 coach to lead a team to an outright conference championship his first season.

Oh, and in a sign of interesting things to come, when a season-ticket holder wrote Kelly demanding a refund for his expenses incurred after attending that disastrous trip to Boise, Kelly quickly fired off a note with a personal check for $439.

Heading into 2010, starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was suspended after he was involved in the burglary of an Oregon fraternity house. Losing a star quarterback typically would damage a team's chances, but all Kelly's team did was finish undefeated and play for the national championship, losing 22-19 when Auburn kicked a last-second field goal.

The NCAA came calling during the 2011 offseason, wanting to know details of Kelly's and the program's dealings with street agent Willie Lyles. A distraction? Nope. Oregon won the conference a third consecutive year and the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin.

Kelly then nearly left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His quarterback, two-year starter Darron Thomas, had already opted to leave the program, which again threw into question the Ducks' prospects. But Kelly returned and so did the winning, with redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors while leading the Ducks to a No. 4 ranking and a Fiesta Bowl berth opposite Kansas State.

Yet he arrives at the Fiesta Bowl amid swirling rumors that he's about to leave for his pick of available NFL jobs. Asked about his NFL ambitions this week, he gave a 235-word answer that essentially said "no comment."

"My heart is to win the day, and that’s it," he concluded. "I know everybody wants to hear a different answer, and I know at times when I don’t give you guys the answer you guys want, then I’m being evasive. I’m not being evasive. My job is to coach the University of Oregon football team, and I love doing it. And that’s what I’m going to do.”

So the question will linger for a coach who at the very least is currently the most interesting man in college football: Will the Fiesta Bowl be his last day to win for Oregon?

A closer look: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

December, 27, 2012
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As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order.

TOSTITOS FIESTA BOWL

No. 5 Kansas State (11-1) vs. No. 4 Oregon (11-1)

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

When: Thursday, Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

About Kansas State: Bill Snyder's boys proved they could get over a painful Baylor loss. With the Big 12 title in the balance, K-State thrashed Texas with a second-half surge to win the Big 12 title on its home field. K-State made the first 10 games of the season look pretty easy, even with close wins over Oklahoma and Iowa State on the road. The Wildcats largely controlled both games but blew out a whole bunch of 7-5 Big 12 teams like West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have a great case as the best K-State team ever, even though a painful loss to Baylor cost them what looked like a really likely shot at a national title after reaching No. 1 in the BCS for the first time ever after a win at TCU. This was K-State's first Big 12 title since 2003 but the first time it's truly been the Big 12's best team throughout the regular season since 1998.

About Oregon: The Ducks are all about go, go, go and this season's been no exception. The run-heavy offense didn't miss a beat without LaMichael James and Darron Thomas. We'll talk about the Ducks trio more a little later, but Oregon nearly reached the national title game for the second time in three years before a painful overtime loss to Oregon's super offense's kryptonite: Stanford. The Ducks hadn't scored fewer than 42 points all season. Stanford held them to just 14 in an overtime loss the same night K-State lost to Baylor. The teams were No. 1 and No. 2 in the BCS on Nov. 17, poised to block the SEC from playing for a seventh straight national title, but the loss also cost Oregon a bid to the Pac-12 championship and a second consecutive Rose Bowl berth. Instead, the Ducks are headed to the desert where they lost to Auburn in the title game two years ago. The Ducks are 4-1 against top 25 teams, but haven't played anyone ranked higher than No. 13, which was Stanford. Those four wins, though, came by an average of almost 29 points.

Wildcats to watch: In case you missed the second half of the Wildcats' win over Oklahoma State, Heisman finalist Collin Klein is K-State's offense. Receiver Chris Harper and running back John Hubert are fine talents in their own right, but Klein is the man who makes it all go. When he's out or plays poorly like he did against TCU and Baylor (performances that ultimately cost him the Heisman Trophy), K-State can look very, very average offensively. Linebacker and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Arthur Brown has led one of the Big 12's best defenses along with cornerback Nigel Malone and big-time pass-rusher Meshak Williams.

Ducks to watch: How many players on any team ever have had three different players earn legitimate Heisman hype at some point during the season? Scatback De'Anthony Thomas was an early-season splash before slowing with limited touches as the season moved forward, though Kenjon Barner emerged as the team's best back throughout the season. In the middle of the season, though, quarterback Marcus Mariota landed on a few ballots with some big games, too. Barner is the team's best player, ranking fifth nationally with 1,624 rushing yards, but Mariota's passer rating of 165.36 is higher than every Big 12 quarterback but J.W. Walsh. Linebacker Michael Clay racked up 92 tackles and fellow backer Kiko Alonso led the team with 12 tackles for loss (two defensive linemen, Dion Jordan and Taylor Hart, combined for 20.5), but let's be honest: It's all about the offense on this squad.

Did you know? Because of expansion quirks, there have been six Big 12 teams to play in this game in the past five years. No Big 12 team won the game from 2001-08, but the league is 3-1 in the game in the past four seasons, including huge wins over No. 10 Ohio State and No. 4 Stanford over that stretch. (There were also rumors of a win over a five-loss team from somewhere in the Northeast, but I don't know anything about that.)

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 8/28
Friday, 8/29
Saturday, 8/30