After a dud national title game, why not look ahead to next year's slate of Bowl Championship Series games? The 2012-13 college football season should have plenty of excitement, and it could be the first time a non-SEC team hoists the crystal ball since Vince Young and the Longhorns in 2006.
The BCS is a flawed system; everybody agrees on that point. A plus-one format would be great for the game, but the bowl format is still entertaining, and fans must deal with the system in place.
2012 should see some familiar programs at the top of the polls, but look for fresh faces to elbow their way into the dance.
That said, here are the 2013 BCS bowl matchup projections.
Michigan and first-year coach Brady Hoke are fresh off a thrilling Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech and will have momentum and continuity heading into the 2012 season; Hoke has shown he is the right man in Ann Arbor and is putting together a top recruiting class.
Quarterback Denard Robinson and most of the offensive starters return. A Sept. 1 meeting with Alabama at Jerryworld will give us a good sense of the Wolverines' potential. After that, they face a manageable Big Ten slate, with the two biggest question marks being road games at Nebraska and Ohio State.
Oregon, meanwhile, loses star tailback LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas to the NFL but returns plenty of talent and should be a national title contender under Chip Kelly's eye. Redshirt sophomore Bryan Bennett steps in at quarterback, and he should have success running the potent Duck attack. Kenjon Barner, who rushed for 11 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards as a backup to James, should shine in one of the nation's best offenses. The defense, which was full of youth in 2011, should be better as well.
The Fiesta Bowl is turning into a winter retreat for the Sooners, but they will gladly accept another BCS bid, which will be within reach in 2012.
Landry Jones helms an offense that likely retains four offensive linemen, play-making wideout Kenny Stills and 2011 breakout tailback Dominique Whaley. The defense loses big names like Ronnell and Travis Lewis but will have plenty of talent and be coupled with the coaching prowess of the returning Mike Stoops. Helping OU's chances is the fact that Oklahoma State loses Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden, Baylor will be without Robert Griffin III and Texas is still reloading.
Meeting the Sooners in the desert will be the Michigan State Spartans. Despite losing Kirk Cousins and several receivers, tailback Le'Veon Bell, as well as four starters on the o-line, should return. Defensively, eight starters will be back.
Behind Michigan, the Big 10 is wide open next season, but expect Mark Dantonio, fresh off an Outback Bowl victory over Georgia and his second straight 11-win season, to have the Spartans motivated to come out strong. They will face an interesting schedule, with an opener at home against Boise State, followed by the traditional matchup with Notre Dame and conference bouts with Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska. MSU will face plenty of competition and opportunities to show if it's the real deal. Look for Bell to thrive behind a seasoned offensive line.
Next season could be a breakout year for Aaron Murray and the Bulldogs. They return 10 defensive starters on a unit that ranked seventh nationally in yards allowed in 2011. Isaiah Crowell will be back at tailback after an impressive freshman campaign in which he racked up 850 yards and was named SEC Freshman of the Year. A major plus for the Dawgs is the absence of conference elite Alabama, LSU and Arkansas on their schedule.
The hype surrounding FSU before the 2011 season was overblown, but the Seminoles still pulled off a pretty solid season, earning nine wins and beating Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl. 2012 could be a huge year for Jimbo Fisher's bunch; nine starters, including Greg Reid, return on defense, and dual-threat quarterback E.J. Manuel returns for his senior year.
Look for them to fall short of the ACC crown but impress pollsters and bowl officials enough to earn a ticket to New Orleans for an enticing matchup.
Frank Beamer has made VT a perennial ACC power, and the Hokies will be in good position to become conference champs next season. 2011 ACC champ Clemson, which beat the Hokies in the 2011 ACC Championship, must replace four starters on the o-line, along with five defenders. They do get the advantage of facing Beamer's bunch at home, however, which may be the game of the year for the Hokies. Florida State, another legitimate contender, must visit Lane Stadium the second-to-last week of the regular season, so VT gets a slight edge.
With West Virginia bolting for the Big 12, 2012 will be the Cardinals' chance in the Big East. Charlie Strong's group went 6-6 in 2011 but were in every game, including the disappointing Belk Bowl loss to N.C. State. Teddy Bridgewater and six other starters return on offense, and nine defenders will be retained. With no other threat in the Big East, the Cardinals will seize the moment and punch their ticket to South Beach in the automatic berth.
Don't dwell on the national title loss, LSU fans; the Tigers have a very bright future. Although they lose Jordan Jefferson, Jarrett Lee and Morris Claiborne, potentially seven starters will return on both sides of the ball. Eight home games, including bouts with Alabama and South Carolina, are a big plus. Zach Mettenberger is next in line for the starting quarterback role, and he will have plenty of talent around him, which will ease the transition greatly.
As for USC, Matt Barkley's endearing decision to return to LA for one more go makes the Trojans a formidable squad in 2012. As many as nine starters should return on both offense and defense, and youth permeated the team last season as 10 starters were either freshmen or sophomores. The schedule is favorable as well, as Stanford will take a huge hit with the departure of Andrew Luck, and Oregon and Notre Dame must face the Trojans in Los Angeles.
This matchup should be compelling, and it should have happened eight years ago in New Orleans, where the Tigers trumped Oklahoma to split the title with the Men of Troy.