If the Oregon Ducks are to roll to their second straight victory in a BCS bowl game, they will need not only their stars but some X-factors to bring their A-games to Glendale, Arizona this January, where they will face off against the Kansas State Wildcats in the Fiesta Bowl.
The No. 4-ranked Ducks and No. 5-ranked Wildcats are each 11-1 this season, and both teams rank inside the Top 10 in scoring offense in 2012.
Jan. 3's matchup is sure to be as thrilling and even as they come, and Oregon will need a trio of players to step up in order to emerge victorious.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has a hard-to-pronounce name but makes playmaking look easy at times on the outside of Oregon's defense. The sophomore cornerback from Chino Hills, California has recorded four interceptions this season (tied for No. 1 on the team), and even returned one for a touchdown against Arizona back in September.
Ekpre-Olomu will need to be at his very best this January against Kansas State. The Wildcats' two best wide receivers, Chris Harper and Tyler Lockett, have combined for more than 1,400 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, and each is capable of breaking a game open.
A solid tackler and a superb cover man, Ekpre-Omonu is one player who must bring his A-game to Arizona this winter if the Ducks hope to cash in on their trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
Kansas State prefers to run quarterback Collin Klein, but the Heisman Trophy finalist can be just as deadly in passing situations.
Josh Huff, WR
With superstars Marcus Mariota, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas receiving most of the attention for Oregon's offensive success, leading wide receiver Josh Huff goes largely unnoticed for the Ducks. But Oregon will rely on the junior wideout vs. Kansas State.
Huff has 467 receiving yards and seven touchdowns on just 29 receptions this season, averaging a shade over 16 yards per catch.
As a player who only averages 2.9 receptions per game, Huff's production is huge for Oregon. He has to make the most of his opportunities. Kansas State only ranks No. 94 in the nation defending the pass, which should provide Huff with some game-breaking chances.
The 200-pound pass-catcher has plenty of strength to beat the Wildcats' defenders across the middle and in the air downfield.
Kiko Alonso, LB
Senior defender Kiko Alonso has tremendous size for a college linebacker. At 6'4", 246 pounds, Alonso can shut down any opposing running back and play a huge part in Oregon's pass defense.
Alonso actually leads the Ducks in tackles for a loss this season. He has 12 for 28 total yards lost this season. Although senior linebacker Michael Clay oftentimes gets more notice than Alonso, the latter's performance will be key for the Ducks assuming Clay delivers as he usually does.
The senior will be key for Oregon in pass defense as well. He has four interceptions this season, and has exceptional hands for a linebacker.
Look for Alonso to make throwing the ball tough for Collin Klein. The Ducks rank No. 62 against the pass this season, but have picked off the opposing quarterback 23 times in 2012. Alonso's ability to read the quarterback's eyes is a huge reason why.
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