Fiesta Bowl preview: Position breakdowns

With the Fiesta Bowl nearly upon us, we've decided to break down the matchup between Stanford and Oklahoma State by going over the depth chart and determining where each team has the advantage. To the ratings!

Quarterback: Both teams sport high-caliber quarterbacks, Andrew Luck for Stanford and Brandon Weeden for Oklahoma State. Weeden has put up big numbers and won high praise from a number of places (including Stanford head coach David Shaw last week). However, Luck is the better quarterback, and has the accolades to prove it. Beyond the ability to make plays, Luck is a supremely talented game manager, and his skills will prove indispensable in the Fiesta Bowl. Advantage: Stanford.

Running back: Both teams' featured backs—Stanford's Stepfan Taylor and Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle—stack up pretty evenly, so the crucial factor will be the depth behind them. On that count, it appears that the edge belongs to the Cardinal. The Cowboys' only credible threat behind Randle is sophomore Jeremy Smith, while all three of Stanford's backup halfbacks—Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson and Jeremy Stewart—have lit it up on various occasions. Any one of those guys could have a big game in the Fiesta Bowl, and their presence allows Stanford to continually pound the ball without getting fatigued. Advantage: Stanford.

Wide receiver: Two words: Justin Blackmon. Stanford has no one that can even approach the Cowboys star in talent or playmaking ability, especially since Chris Owusu remains sidelined with a concussion. Oklahoma State's depth behind Blackmon is pretty respectable as well, with Josh Cooper and Tracy Moore both gaining over 650 receiving yards for the season. Advantage: Oklahoma State.

Tight end: This may be a matter of style rather than substance, but Stanford gets the nod here merely because it makes significant use of its tight ends in its offensive scheme. Each of the "Tree Amigos" of Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo have NFL potential, while the Cowboys rarely deploy tight ends. Advantage: Stanford.

Offensive line: Anchored by Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, Stanford has one of the best offensive lines in the country for the second year running. However, Oklahoma State has a very strong unit, doing an excellent job in pass protection and surrendering only 11 sacks all season. Both front sevens are going to have a tough time getting penetration, and the two units appear to be equally good. Advantage: Even.

Defensive line: Though it may not always show up on the stat sheet, Stanford's defensive line is a key reason why the Cardinal has had such a stout run defense. In the defense's 3-4 scheme, the defensive linemen occupy blockers and free up space for Stanford's linebackers to get into the backfield and make plays. On the other side, Oklahoma State's defensive line has left a lot to be desired this year, and the unit's lackluster play is a big reason why the Cowboys have such an abysmal run defense. Advantage: Stanford.

Linebacker: If Stanford had Shayne Skov, I would quickly pencil this in as an advantage for Stanford. As it is, though Jarek Lancaster has filled in admirably, the Cardinal's linebackers could definitely do better. The same can be said for Oklahoma State, though its players have done a decent job in compensating for the poor play of the defensive line. For Stanford, the name of the game will be in coverage to contain the Cowboys' explosive pass offense, while Oklahoma State will look for ways to stuff the Card's running backs. Advantage: Even.

Secondary: Where the defensive backfield is a weak point for Stanford, Oklahoma State has had success defending the pass. Though giving up 266 yards per game through the air may not seem that impressive, it's a pretty good mark in the high-flying Big 12. The Cowboys figure to have an easier time clamping down on Stanford's receivers and tight ends than Delano Howell and the rest of the Cardinal DBs, who have to figure out how to keep Justin Blackmon from shining like a Christmas tree. Advantage: Oklahoma State.

Intangibles: Stanford looked singularly uninspired in its last two games of the season, lackluster wins over California and Notre Dame, generating little positive energy after losing to Oregon back in mid-November. On the other hand, Oklahoma State had everything going for it when it destroyed Oklahoma in the Bedlam game in Stillwater. The fact that the Cowboys got left out of the BCS championship game surely adds fuel to the fire—beating Stanford will go a long way towards proving that Oklahoma State, not Alabama, deserved to face LSU in the title game. Advantage: Oklahoma State.

Prediction: As I wrote in my game preview, these two teams are fairly evenly matched. Though it might appear that Stanford has the advantage on offense, with better players at most positions except wide receiver, the gaps are small in most places where Stanford has the edge, while the gap at wide receiver between the Cowboys and the Cardinal is huge. The deciding factor will be the run-first Cardinal's ability to control the clock and hold on to a slim lead. Final score: Stanford 41, Oklahoma State 38.

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