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All you need to know about BCS bowls
Now that the bowls are set, here is a first look at the BCS matchups:
5 p.m. ET, Jan. 2
Yes, Big Ten and Pac-10-now-Pac-12 fans, your world has changed.
Wisconsin and Oregon are this season’s power programs in the two respective conferences. But they won’t be considered special without the Rose Bowl win.
For Oregon, this is a third straight BCS game and a second Rose Bowl in three seasons. That’s the good news. The bad news, which speaks to the whole being special thing: The Ducks have lost those last two BCS bowls (their only BCS bowl win over Colorado in the 2002 Fiesta), and they haven’t won a Rose Bowl since beating Penn 14-0 in the 1916 season.
Wisconsin has won two straight Big Ten titles under head coach Bret Bielema, but the Badgers lost to TCU in last season’s Rose Bowl, their third loss in their last four bowl games. Granted, two long, game-ending touchdown pass by Michigan State and Ohio State are all that stood between the Badgers and the BCS title game, but they’re going to have their hands full with an Oregon running game that’s as quick and fast as Wisconsin’s is brutal and powerful.
Behind the running of record-setting back Montee Ball, the Badgers led the Big Ten in rushing and were 10th in the nation. QB Russell Wilson was second in the nation in passing efficiency behind only Baylor’s Robert Griffin, and the Wisconsin defense, despite having problems slowing down Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, had a stellar season, finishing eighth in the nation.
Oregon got its chance against LSU in the season opener and lost 40-27. Despite a home loss to USC, the Ducks won the Pac-12 North with a dominant win over Stanford and earned the Rose Bowl bid with a blowout over UCLA in the conference title game. The high-powered, high-octane, hurry-up offense finished third in the nation in scoring, fifth in rushing and sixth in total yards, while the defense was among the best in the country at getting to the quarterback (tied for first in the nation with 43 sacks).
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Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Oklahoma State vs. Stanford
5:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 2
Oklahoma State’s task is simple. Win the Fiesta Bowl in a blowout and let the media cry foul that the Cowboys should have faced LSU in the BCS Championship Game.
The Cowboys might be wishing they were in New Orleans instead of Glendale, but winning the Big 12 Conference by blowing out rival Oklahoma to earn the BCS bid is nothing to scoff at. For one of the rare times since 2003, a Big 12 team other than Texas or Oklahoma is going to a BCS bowl, and this is the Cowboys’ first appearance in a Bowl now in the BCS mix since a Fiesta Bowl win over BYU following the 1974 season.
Had a Quinn Sharp field goal attempt gone a few inches to the left, and had the offense been a bit more focused — which was asking a lot coming less than 24 hours after the death of two Oklahoma State basketball coaches in a plane crash — the Cowboys would’ve beaten Iowa State and would be playing for it all. But now the focus must be beating Stanford — not an easy task.
The Cardinal have gone 23-2 over the last two seasons — with both losses coming to Oregon — highlighted by a dominant 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl last season. Andrew Luck has already said this is his final game before turning pro, and he and the offense should combine with the high-powered Cowboy attack to put on a wild show.
Stanford has the nation’s fifth-best scoring offense thanks largely to a terrific offensive line that keeps Luck clean and clears a path for one of college football’s most physical ground games. Oklahoma State is second in the nation in scoring, second in passing, and third in total offense with an attack that can wing the ball all over the yard in shootouts, or run wild like it did in the 44-10 win over Oklahoma on Saturday.
By comparison, Oklahoma State beat Arizona at home 37-14 on Sept. 8, and Stanford won in Tucson 37-10 a week later. These two teams are both exciting, both have something to prove and both should come up with one of the most entertaining games of the bowl season.
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Virginia Tech vs. Michigan
8:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 3
New Orleans, La.
Welcome back, Michigan.
The Wolverines are in their first BCS bowl since losing to USC in the 2007 Rose Bowl, and they have something to prove having lost their last three BCS bowls after Tom Brady led the way to the classic 35-34 Orange Bowl win over Alabama to end the 1999 season. Michigan’s last Sugar Bowl appearance was in the 1983 season, a 9-7 loss to Auburn.
This appears to be just the beginning of the resurgence under first-year head coach Brady Hoke, who currently has Scout.com’s No. 1-ranked incoming recruiting class to go along with a terrific base of players to keep building around.
Quarterback Denard Robinson continues to be one of the most exciting players in college football, the running attack has been unstoppable at times, and unlike last year, there’s a defense in place that works.
The Wolverines are seventh in the nation in scoring defense, highlighted by a secondary that’s night-and-day better than it was last season. After getting destroyed by Mississippi State 52-14 in last season’s Gator Bowl, this is redemption time for the D.
Virginia Tech is probably the most surprising BCS bowl participant after a lousy performance against Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. But the Hokies were able to get in partly because they lost to only one team this season — twice to the Tigers. And their rabid fan base sure to invade New Orleans doesn’t hurt, either.
Michigan and Virginia Tech have never played each other and it should be an interesting battle of running games. The Wolverines might have Robinson, but Virginia Tech's David Wilson is one of the nation's speediest and most dangerous backs. America will finally have a shot to see him roll.
Discover Orange Bowl
Clemson vs. West Virginia
8 p.m. ET, Jan. 4
Miami Gardens, Fla.
Clemson beat Nebraska 22-15 in the 1982 Orange Bowl to win the national title. That was the last time the program has been to a bowl that is currently in the BCS lineup.
This might be just the beginning, though, for a program loaded with terrific young talent from the last two recruiting classes and with more on the way. Even so, getting to the Orange Bowl is a huge step for a program that has the appearance and the name recognition of being big-time, but hasn’t done much to show it over the last 30 years.
After losing three of its last four games and appearing to hit a wall at the worst time possible, Clemson unleashed the full fury of its athleticism and potential with a dominant 38-10 win over Virginia Tech for the ACC title. Led by the running of Andre Ellington and the pitch-catch combination of Tajh Boyd to Sammy Watkins, the Tigers have one of the most dynamic offenses in America, and now they will have the undivided attention of a national audience to show it off.
Yes, West Virginia might be the best of this year’s lot of mediocre Big East teams, but at least the No. 7 passing offense in the nation is a whole bunch of fun. Lost in the fog of the season was how the Mountaineers had LSU reeling late in the third quarter in Morgantown before the floodgates opened for LSU in the fourth. Even so, WVU quarterback Geno Smith threw for 463 yards and two scores on the supposedly impenetrable Tiger defense in September.
Like LSU, WVU has a way of dominating late in games, coming back time and again to earn several close wins (its last three victories came by a total of seven points). The Mountaineers are in a BCS bowl for the first time since the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. The pressure is first-year head coach Dana Holgorsen to come up with a BCS win considering Bill Stewart won that Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma after Rich Rodriguez led the team to a stunning 38-35 win over Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl.
LSU vs. Alabama
9 p.m. ET, Jan. 9
New Orleans, La.
Like it or not, rematch haters, Alabama really does appear to be the second-best team in the nation. And like it or not, the game really will be played.
LSU proved during the regular season and in again in the SEC Championship Game that it is the best team in college football this season. And despite the controversy, the fact that LSU has already beaten Alabama and the outcry for Oklahoma State, this should be a terrific game.
LSU already won the first time around in a 9-6 overtime war at Alabama that, with various opinions weighing in, was either a defensive classic or a model of offensive ineptitude.
Outside of the close call in Tuscaloosa, LSU obliterated everything in its path, winning by 13 points or more in every other game and getting better as the season went on. It might not have been any big deal this season to blow away Florida, Auburn and Ole Miss, but the Tigers obliterated Arkansas and Georgia by a combined score of 83-27 and scored 41 points or more in five of their last six games.
The offense might not be a thing of beauty, but the offensive line has played as well as any in America, barreling away and wearing defenses down over a full 60 minutes for a brutish running game that closes better than Mariano Rivera. From timely kick and punt returns to the nation’s No. 3 punting game, the special teams have been terrific. The offense doesn’t make mistakes — ranking first in the nation in turnover margin — and the defense is No. 2 in the nation in yards and points allowed.
Alabama is No. 1 in yards and points allowed.
The Tide defense put together an all-timer of a season, allowing just 191 yards per game, when no one else allowed fewer than 250. No one allowed fewer than 10.5 points per game, except for a Bama D that allowed just 8.8 and gave up fewer than 75 rushing yards per game. Only six other teams allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards per outing. However, it’s not like the Tide played a who’s who of top offenses — facing no one other than Arkansas who could effectively throw a forward pass — while the run defenses that Trent Richardson piled up huge yards against weren’t exactly stellar.
In other words, the SEC wasn’t the SEC.
Even so, the conference is about to take home its sixth straight BCS championship and will have its eighth title in the BCS era.
And like it or not, this really should be a phenomenal game.
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