The Bowl Championship Series, shortened by many to be called the BCS, will bid farewell to the wonderful world of college football this year. While this may not be the greatest set of 5 games the BCS has produced, there are still some intriguing matchups in this year’s edition, particularly in the National Championship Game and the Rose Bowl. All of these teams have had fantastic years on the gridiron, and are rewarded for their fine work by participating in the most unique postseason system in all of sports, although all that changes next year with the College Football Playoff. But let’s not get overly sentimental as the BCS bids farewell, since seemingly everybody seems to be able to think of a season in which somebody didn’t get the bid they deserved under this system. Then again, the topic of BCS snubs is certainly another story for another day.
Game of the Week: Vizio BCS National Championship, #1 Florida State (13-0) vs #2 Auburn (12-1)
Florida State is an 8-point favorite in the final BCS National Championship Game, taking on a “team of destiny” in Auburn. Many look at Auburn’s incredible rushing game and their multiple miracles this year as reasons they will take home the crystal ball when these teams meet Monday in Pasadena, but I am going to look more at why I think Florida State will lose. QB Jameis Winston has had an outstanding season, and was rewarded with the Heisman Trophy. However, Heisman winners are 3-6 in national title games under the BCS format, and Heisman winning quarterbacks have an even worse mark at 2-5. Florida State’s schedule was just the 66th toughest in the nation, the worst for any team ever to reach the BCS title game. The next 3 worst, which were Ohio State in 2006 and 2007 and Texas in 2009, all lost to SEC opponents by 27, 14, and 16, respectively. This is the 4th time an undefeated team has played a 1-loss team in the national championship. The previous undefeated teams were Ohio State in 2006, LSU in 2011, and Notre Dame in 2012, and they all lost to the 1-loss team, which each time was from the SEC, by 27, 21, and 28, respectively. Looking at Auburn, this is the 7th ranked team they have played, and the 4th in a row. While they did lose to LSU back in September, this is not the same team now, as they have improved week-by-week. This is the 5th ranked opponent for the Seminoles, although the caliber of the ranked opponents isn’t quite the same. It’s tough to pick against a Florida State team that hasn’t really been threatened by anyone, but with this look at history and the seemingly destined path of Auburn to this championship opportunity, it would be even tougher to pick against the Tigers. I do believe the game will be closer than the historical games I referenced above.
Auburn 38, Florida State 31.
Big Game Guarantee: Allstate Sugar Bowl, #3 Alabama (11-1) vs #11 Oklahoma (10-2)
Alabama will be a 16-point favorite in a very maroon Superdome on Thursday night when they take on an Oklahoma team that got into the BCS at the last minute when they beat Oklahoma State. That game was one of 3 wins for the Sooners over ranked opponents, but the other 2 came against teams who are no longer ranked. They also had losses against Baylor and Texas in games that were not close, and while Baylor is joining the Sooners in the BCS, the Longhorns win over the Sooners was pretty much their only high point in a season that ended in Mack Brown’s resignation. Oklahoma won their last BCS appearance, but before that had lost 5 in a row. Alabama actually has the same 3-1 record against ranked opponents as the Sooners do, but they beat better quality opponents and lost to Auburn, who is playing for the national championship. Alabama has won 4 straight bowl games, with 3 of those wins coming in the BCS title game. It’s the other of those 4, however, that I’m looking at in analyzing this matchup. The Tide came into the 2011 Capital One Bowl in a very similar situation to this Sugar Bowl, in a potential letdown game after losing national title chances over the last month of the season. In Orlando, on that occasion, the Tide beat a good Michigan State team, 49-7, ending talk of a letdown game. Then again, the last time the Crimson Tide played in the Sugar Bowl, in 2009, they lost to Utah, also under very similar circumstances. However, Nick Saban has told his players not to let the Auburn loss get them down so much that it causes them to lose this one too. Oklahoma has lost their last 3 bowl games against the SEC, including their last Sugar Bowl trip in 2004.
Alabama 42, Oklahoma 24.
Upset of the Week: The 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, #5 Stanford (11-2) vs #4 Michigan State (12-1)
The last time these two programs met was in the 1996 Sun Bowl, when Stanford won 38-0. There may not be 38 points, total, in this Rose Bowl matchup between two teams whose strengths are their defenses and running games. These programs met 4 times between 1955 and 1962, with Michigan State winning 3 of the 4, but that Sun Bowl is the only meeting since before today. Stanford is favored by 7, perhaps due to their familiarity with the Rose Bowl, after beating Wisconsin 20-14 in last year’s edition, and the BCS, as this is their 3rd straight BCS bowl. This is Stanford’s 8th matchup with a ranked opponent, and they have won each of the previous 7, including 3 games against top 11 opponents, although they also added losses to Utah and USC. Michigan State is making their first ever BCS appearance, and their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1988, after upsetting Ohio State to win the Big Ten Championship Game. The Spartans are leading the nation in total defense, and have allowed the 4th least points, at just 12.7 per game. Their only loss of the season was at Notre Dame, 17-13, in a game with some controversial calls against the Spartans. They have not only won the rest of their games, but have won all their games by double digits, including each of their Big Ten conference games and the Big Ten Championship against the Buckeyes, which they won 34-24. Michigan State hasn’t played the strength of schedule that Stanford has, but with the games they’ve played, they have compiled quite a résumé that leads me toward their first Rose Bowl win since the Reagan administration.
Michigan State 13, Stanford 10.
Another Upset of the Week: Discover Orange Bowl, #7 Ohio State (12-1) vs #12 Clemson (10-2)
These programs have met just once in their elaborate histories, in the 1978 Gator Bowl. That game is infamous in college football lore after Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes punched Clemson player Charlie Bauman after Bauman’s interception which sealed Clemson’s win, and Hayes’ Hall of Fame career ended when he was fired the next day. While we probably won’t see the same reaction from Urban Meyer if Clemson wins, I don’t think we’ll see the same score either, as that was a 17-15 game. This year’s matchup is between the 3rd and 9th best scoring offenses in the nation. Clemson is in their 2nd BCS bowl game in 3 seasons, and the memory of the first is plenty of motivation, as the Tigers try to forget their 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl. Clemson’s 2 losses this season are to Florida State and South Carolina, currently ranked 1st and 9th, respectively. Other than the losses, and a big 3-point win over Georgia on opening day, they’ve beaten everyone else convincingly. Clemson is 2-2 all-time in the Orange Bowl. Ohio State is in just their 2nd Orange Bowl, after beating Colorado by 17 in 1977. They had been hoping to play an ACC team in a bowl this year, but they had Florida State in mind. That hope of a bid in the national title game ended with their loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, 34-24. Even before that, while they had a 12-0 record, many of their wins weren’t necessarily convincing, with 2 particular games standing out. One was against Northwestern, when they trailed for most of the game before winning by double digits only because of a touchdown on the game’s final play. The other was “The Game” against Michigan when the Wolverines chose to go for 2 and the win instead of kicking the extra point to force overtime, and were stopped by the Buckeye defense. Ohio State has given up 35 points or more in 3 of their last 4 games, and this Clemson offense will certainly be the best they’ve played all year. Ohio State is favored by 3, but Clemson will likely have more motivation as they play an Ohio State team who seems to be on the decline as the season comes to an end.
Clemson 48, Ohio State 40.
Closer Than The Experts Think: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, #6 Baylor (11-1) vs #15 UCF (11-1)
Both of these programs come into their first ever BCS bowl game, both after having very similar seasons. In fact, both can claim they are having their best season in school history. Additionally, both have active bowl winning streaks, with UCF winning 2 straight and Baylor winning 3 straight. Baylor is a 17-point favorite, due in large part to the nation’s best offense, which is averaging 624.5 yards and 53.3 points per game. QB Bryce Petty has proven himself as one of the nation’s elite passers, and coach Art Briles’ name continues to surface in rumors about vacant jobs, both at Texas and in the NFL. Baylor was 9-0 in mid-November, and was looking at an outside chance at playing for the national championship in the event they won out. The dream ended with a 49-17 loss to Oklahoma State. It didn’t even look like Baylor would get a BCS bid, or at least not an automatic one, going into “championship Saturday” on December 7, but when Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State, the Baylor-Texas game became a de facto championship game, and the Bears won 30-10, earning their trip to Phoenix. UCF was undefeated in conference play, although the fact they are champions of the new American Athletic Conference is more of a hindrance to their credibility than a help. The Knights did beat Louisville, 38-35, in one of the season’s best games back in October, taking the conference title away from the favored Cardinals, and also beat Penn State in Happy Valley. UCF’s one loss was to South Carolina back on September 28, in a game in which they played very well before losing 28-25 to a Gamecocks team currently ranked 9th. While the spotlight will shine on Baylor’s offense, QB Blake Bortles has formed quite an offensive juggernaut for the Knights. Looking deeper at the Knights, however, 4 of their last 5 wins were by a combined 15 points, over 4 teams with losing records. While motivation won’t be an issue, and Bortles should play well enough to keep the game relatively close, Baylor’s offense will be too much in the end.
Baylor 45, UCF 33.
(All photo credits to Wikimedia)