It’s not possible to get a bigger or better BCS championship matchup. It’s Notre Dame vs. the defending national champion from the SEC, and it couldn’t be more perfect. Much has been made about the Irish struggling in three overtimes against Pitt and catching a nice break in the overtime win over Stanford. However, the team came through in a season with all substance but no style. In all, the Irish have beaten 10 bowl-eligible teams, but it’s the carrot on the end of the stick that this group is shooting for. If the Irish beat the Tide, they will have earned their national championship. Alabama is about as subtle as an Eddie Lacy forearm. The Tide has the most talented offensive line in the country, and it showed in a virtuoso performance against Georgia with big run after big run thanks to the holes and empty spaces to fly through. There were a few key deep passes — the offense leads the nation in passing efficiency — but Alabama’s success stems from the front five that blasted away on the Dawgs. Either Notre Dame will be back, or Alabama will win its third BCS title in four years. No matter what, something epic is going to happen. First thought prediction: Alabama 23-13 For an in-depth first look, click here.
Looking into the crystal ball
Dull? Not this BCS season. From a dream BCS championship matchup — you couldn’t ask for anything bigger than Notre Dame vs. Alabama, the defending national champ — to the novelty of Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl, there will be plenty of storylines and lots and lots of hype over the next month for an interesting slate of BCS games, all leading up to a whopper of a main event. It’s one of the most improbable and impossible BCS seasons ever, but can it deliver? It’s the bowl season . . . let the fun begin. —Pete Fiutak
Rose Bowl, Jan. 1: Wisconsin (8-5) vs. Stanford (11-2)
This might not seem like the right matchup considering Ohio State went 12-0 and Oregon finished No. 4 in the BCS, but it’s hard to argue too much with two teams that were in the BCS last season and with Wisconsin playing in its third straight Rose Bowl. This is going to be power on power, strength on strength in a game that won’t be for the lighthearted. Wisconsin’s offensive line and running game have found their groove at the right time, but Stanford came into championship weekend with the nation’s top run defense thanks to a front seven that ranks No. 1 in sacks and tackles for loss. Neither team does much with the passing game, makes a slew of mistakes or gets too fancy when it comes down to pushing and shoving. It’s going to be one of the grindiest Rose Bowls ever, and it’s going to be fun. At the very least, it should be more entertaining than the boring 17-9 Wisconsin win the last time these two met in the 2000 Rose Bowl. First thought prediction: Stanford 27-17 For an in-depth first look, click here.
Orange Bowl, Jan. 1: Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1)
Remember that the BCS bowls are the BCS Championship Game and then glorified exhibitions — they're not playoffs. So why not Northern Illinois? Why not give a MAC team a shot in the limelight to see what it can do? Quarterback Jordan Lynch might be the best player you've never seen, and despite the loss of head coach Dave Doeren to NC State, this is a terrific Huskie squad that has been as fun and exciting as any non-AQ team over the last few years. Florida State was pegged to get here from the moment the 2011 season ended. It might not have been the prettiest route, and it might be a bit disappointing for the Seminoles to be playing in Miami on the first of January instead of the seventh, but it’s still a matchup of two interesting teams, and now there's a kitsch factor — this is the novelty game among the novelty bowls. And now all the pressure will be on the Seminoles. It's not like NIU has rocked against the BCS-conference teams — losing to Iowa to start the season and struggling to get by Kansas — so anything less than a total wipeout might not sit well with the Seminole faithful. First thought prediction: Florida State 34-16 For an in-depth first look, click here.
Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2: Florida (11-1) vs. Louisville (10-2)
Welcome to the curveball. After seeming like a foregone conclusion that Oklahoma would get here to face Florida in a rematch of the 2009 BCS Championship Game, Northern Illinois crashed the party and ended up getting into the BCS, moving Louisville over from the Orange to the Sugar. The Cardinals don’t know how to play a boring game with seven of their last 10 decided by a touchdown or less. They should’ve lost to Cincinnati and South Florida, and played way down to their competition against FIU and Southern Miss, but the close calls have made this a battle-hardened team that won’t back down from the mighty Gators. Florida will blast away with its power running game, while the nation’s No. 1 pass efficiency defense should make life difficult for Teddy Bridgewater. However, the Gators don't have any real semblance of a passing game on offense, and the D doesn’t get to the quarterback. Will this be a showcase game for Louisville with a move to the ACC coming in a few years, or will this be a big step forward for the Florida program on the rise? There’s a chance it could be both. First thought prediction: Florida 31-14 For an in-depth first look, click here.
Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 3: Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1)
It’s the battle for No. 2. Barring a Florida blowout over Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, the winner of this game should end up finishing second in most of the polls — but that might seem a bit hollow considering what might have been. Now it’s the alternative national championship. Before Oregon lost to Stanford and Kansas State lost to Baylor within minutes of each other on Nov. 17, these two were on a collision course for the BCS Championship Game. Helped by the great coaching matchup of Chip Kelly (far left) vs. Bill Snyder (hugging QB Collin Klein), a case could be made that this might be the best of all BCS matchups. Can Kansas State come up with the defensive performance to be Stanford-like? The Wildcats might not have the firepower to keep up in a shootout without slooowwwwwwwing the game down to a crawl. Third down conversions will mean everything for K-State, but Oregon should have too much overall speed. Kansas State doesn’t make big mistakes, it controls the ball and it does all the little things right. The big numbers put on the board come from a slow drip that turns into a flood, while Oregon is a tsunami, putting up points in bunches — blink, and you’ll miss the 21-0 run. However, the Ducks played just one really, really good defensive front this year, and lost. Kansas State led the Big 12 in sacks and was 16th in the nation against the run. First thought prediction: Oregon 40-27 For an in-depth first look, click here.