STILLWATER — Like Oklahoma State, Stanford was in the national title conversation for much of the 2011 season.
And, like OSU, one blemish on the record was what kept Stanford from getting a chance to play in New Orleans on Jan. 9.
Still, the No. 4 Cardinal (11-1) has many of the key ingredients that make up an elite squad. A superstar quarterback. A top-5 scoring offense. A physical defense.
Here's a closer look at the Cowboys' opponent in the Fiesta Bowl.
Best player: Andrew Luck
No contest here.
The Cardinal quarterback is a two-time Heisman runner-up and passed for 3,170 yards and 35 touchdowns in the regular season. His arm strength, accuracy, leadership and ability to call plays at the line of scrimmage in a pro-style have made him the projected No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Best win: Oct. 29 at USC
Stanford outlasted USC 56-48 in triple overtime in one of the most entertaining games of the season.
After tossing an interception returned for a touchdown late in the fourth to give USC a 34-27 lead, Luck led the Cardinal on a 10-play, 76-yard drive to tie the score with less than a minute remaining and send the contest to overtime.
The Cardinal and Trojans matched each other touchdown-for-touchdown on their first two overtime possessions before a Stepfan Taylor score from five yards and a successful two-point conversion put Stanford up 56-48. USC looked like it would answer again when it drove inside the five-yard line, but Curtis McNeal fumbled into the end zone and Stanford's A.J. Tarpley recovered to seal the Cardinal victory.
Worst loss: Nov. 12 vs. Oregon
It has to be the “worst” loss because it's the only one the Cardinal has, but it also knocked Stanford out of contention for the Pac-12 title and the national championship.
Five turnovers, including three by Luck, helped Oregon cruise to a 53-30 victory.
Why the Cardinal won 11 games
Luck is the Cardinal's superstar, but Stanford has an underrated ground game that ranks 22nd in the nation in rushing (207.92 yards per game). Running behind a big offensive line, Taylor and Tyler Gaffney both average more than five yards per carry.
Stanford is also stout on defense, particularly in the front seven. The Cardinal ranks fifth in the nation in rushing defense (90.33 yards allowed per game) and 25th in total defense (331.42 yards allowed per game).
Why the Cardinal lost one
The turnovers clearly cost Stanford in the loss to Oregon, but the Cardinal was also exposed in the overall strength versus speed matchup. Oregon's spread offense was simply too quick for the Cardinal defense to handle.
Why it will beat OSU
If the Stanford offensive line handles the OSU defensive front, that will open things up for the running game and could allow Luck to pick apart the Cowboys through the air. And if the Cardinal defensive line can stuff the OSU rushing attack, that could make the Cowboys dangerously one-dimensional (see: Iowa State game).
Why it will lose to OSU
The OSU spread offense isn't an exact duplicate of Oregon's, but it's just as dynamic and features plenty of speed. And the Cowboy defense had a breakthrough against Oklahoma, using blitz after blitz to get after Landry Jones. If the Cowboys can get that same type pressure on Luck, the Stanford offense could struggle.