It could be the biggest advantage Kansas State has over Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.

It could be the biggest advantage Kansas State has over Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.

Or will penalties not matter at all?

The difference statistically is striking. The Wildcats are one of the least-penalized teams in the country, finishing tied for second-fewest with 42 total and third in yardage with an average of 28.8 in their 12 games.

In the same number of games, Oregon was flagged 98 times, and the average penalty yardage of 74.3 for the Ducks ranked them 116th in the nation.

Here's why the numbers could be much closer in the Fiesta Bowl: These officials come from the Atlantic Coast Conference, where teams are typically among the least-penalized in the nation.

Officials are always supposed to be impartial. In bowl games, there's an extra attempt to make sure of that by assigning the officiating crews from leagues that don't include either of the participating teams.

Not, of course, that there should be any difference in the officiating from one conference to another.

"It was always different," said Mike Bellotti, now an ESPN analyst who was head coach at Oregon for a dozen bowl games. "There is not supposed to be a big difference, but there always is."

Bellotti said before he coached in a bowl game, he had two questions for the officials: how do they interpret holding by offensive blockers, and what is pass interference?

"I'd always get answers," Bellotti said, "but what I was trying to get a sense for was, are they sticklers?"

It certainly seems as though Pac-12 officials are just that. Along with Oregon, four other Pac-12 teams ranked among the 11 most-penalized teams in the country this season.

Is it a conference made up of teams that push the rules?

"I don't see that necessarily," Bellotti said. "But statistically that's what comes out."

Commissioner Larry Scott even addressed the issue of Pac-12 officials calling a tighter game than the rest of the nation in a late-November posting on the conference's website, explaining that "I've asked our head of football operations and head of officiating to ... do a comparative study. I'd like a thoughtful answer to that question" of why Pac-12 games include more penalties than elsewhere.

Most conference coaches will be anxious to hear the answer, weary of seeing so many penalty flags in a typical Pac-12 game.

So maybe a Pac-12 team should be welcoming an officiating crew from the ACC.

Of that conference's 12 teams, eight ranked in the top half of the country in fewest penalty yards during the regular season, and just one was lower than 86th out of 120; among Pac-12 teams, only Arizona State ranked in the top half nationally, and seven came in lower than 86th.

Oregon had an officiating crew from the ACC for last year's Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. After the Ducks averaged seven penalties for 65 yards during the 2011 season, they were almost exactly on that in the Rose Bowl as ACC officials flagged them seven times for 56 yards.

So what happens in the Fiesta Bowl?

Asked about officiating in bowl games, UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said, "I know I've got to be careful with what I say here, but I think officials from other leagues are a lot more lenient. I'll use that word: lenient."

Which is what Aliotti wants on calls such as pass interference, though he'd naturally prefer that offensive holding was called more closely.

For Oregon's offense, coordinator Mark Helfrich primarily wants consistency. He said the differences in the interpretation of rules from conference is somewhat to be expected.

"You think about it a little bit and maybe try to influence it a little bit beforehand," Helfrich said of officiating and possible differences.

"It's fairly standard, but everybody is human and one umpire is going to be different from another."

Helfrich's primary plea to officials would be to treat both teams the same throughout the game.

Where he sees that isn't true is when an opponent's offense tries to speed up its pace of play late in the first half or when trailing late in the game, and officials "are sprinting around" to put the football in place and quickly allow the offense to snap it.

"We want to do that the whole game" but aren't always allowed to, Helfrich contends. "That is sometimes a source of frustration."