SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Oregon and Kansas State were atop the BCS standings just two weeks ago, each needing two wins for a likely trip to the BCS championship.
Those plans were derailed quickly with a loss on the same day, but they ended up with a nice consolation prize: A trip to the desert to face each other in the Fiesta Bowl.
And it should be a doozy.
Nos. 4 and 5 in the BCS standings, two of the nation's best offenses, a pair of Heisman Trophy contenders — yep, the Fiesta Bowl has done it again, pulling off a marquee matchup for the second straight year.
"(It's) not just the rankings, but type of teams, the kinds of exciting plays and players that they put on the field," Fiesta Bowl executive director Robert Shelton said Sunday night. "We're thrilled."
The fans should be too, again.
The 2012 Fiesta Bowl was certainly a memorable one: Oklahoma State vs. Stanford, Nos. 3 and 4 in the BCS, dynamic teams with two of the nation's best quarterbacks in Brandon Weeden and the Cardinal's Andrew Luck.
The game matched the hype, with the Cowboys outlasting Stanford 41-38 in overtime, giving the Fiesta Bowl a much-needed boost after nearly losing its BCS status due to financial improprieties and a dud of a game in 2011.
This year's game has the potential to one-up 2012.
Oregon (11-1) and its swarm-of-bees offense has been one of the nation's best teams under coach Chip Kelly, reaching the BCS title game in 2011 and winning the Rose Bowl for the first time in 95 years last season.
This year, the Ducks are loaded with fleet-footed players, rolling up yards in big chunks, scoring in bunches.
They have one of the most dynamic players in the country in running back Kenjon Barner, a Heisman Trophy hopeful, and quarterback Marcus Mariota had no trouble handling the pressure of running Oregon's potent attack as a freshman.
Oregon, No. 5 in the AP Top 25, finished the season second nationally with 50.8 points per game, fourth in total offense at 550 yards and will be making its fourth straight BCS bowl appearance. The Ducks also played at University of Phoenix Stadium when they lost to Auburn in the 2011 BCS title game.
"It's an amazing challenge," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "They're extremely talented and well-coached collectively. Offensively, they go faster than the speed of light, so to speak."
Snyder hasn't done too bad for himself in the Little Apple.
Orchestrator of what may be the biggest turnaround in college football history his first go-round in Manhattan, Snyder came out of retirement to re-energize K-State again in 2009 — in the stadium named after him, no less.
He led the Wildcats to the Pinstripe Bowl in 2010 and followed, after a 7-0 start, with a 10-win season and a trip to the 2011 Cotton Bowl.
This season, No. 7 Kansas State (11-1) opened some eyes by trouncing Miami in its second game and started to draw national attention by knocking off Oklahoma in Norman on Sept. 22. Behind the do-everything quarterback Collin Klein, another of the Heisman favorites, and a tough defense, the Wildcats kept piling up wins to become No. 1 in the BCS standings on Nov. 11 for the first time in school history.
The Wildcats averaged 40.7 points per game, 10th nationally, and have an opportunistic defense that led the nation in turnover margin at plus-21.
Kansas State is playing in its second BCS bowl, with the 2004 Fiesta Bowl.
"Obviously, the job that Bill Snyder has done in Kansas State, his first tour, now his second tour, he'll go down in history as one of the greatest college football coaches this game has ever seen," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "He is a model for how to run your program does an outstanding job."
Originally scheduled to play each other this season before the game fell through, Kansas State and Oregon were atop the BCS rankings after defending national champion Alabama lost to Texas A&M on Nov. 10.
All the Wildcats and Ducks had to do was win their final two games and they would almost assuredly play in the BCS title game.
They ended up losing on the same day, turning the BCS on end.
Kansas State fell flat under the pressure, run over 52-24 by unranked Baylor. The Ducks couldn't get their high-flying offense going against Stanford and lost 17-14 in overtime.
That moved Notre Dame up to No. 1 and put the SEC back in the BCS championship picture.
With its win over No. 3 Georgia this weekend, the Crimson Tide earned a spot in Miami on Jan. 7 to face the Fighting Irish for the national title.
Kansas State bounced back to beat Texas 42-24 on Saturday night, sending Wildcat fans rushing onto the field after the school earned its third conference championship in 117 years.
Oregon closed out its regular season a week earlier, rolling over No. 16 Oregon State 48-24 in the Civil War to keep its BCS bowl hopes alive.
The losses prevented the Wildcats and Ducks from playing for a national championship, but they sure gave the Fiesta Bowl a boost with another matchup that could be the 1A to the title game.