SunLife Stadium will be the place to be in January for college football fans. Not only does the Miami-based stadium host the BCS National Championship Game, but it is also host to one of the most prestigious bowl games in college football history, the 2013 Orange Bowl.
Though the national championship game will carry the most on-field intrigue, the Orange Bowl may have a more exciting back story. Theoretically, there are as many as seven teams by my count that could take the field on Jan. 1.
First and foremost, the ACC champion, Florida State or Georgia Tech, will make the trip. However, outside of those two squads, it's just about anyone's guess. The Orange Bowl gets last pick among the BCS games for an at-large team, meaning it will be stuck with the proverbial lonely kid at the end of the kickball line that no one else wanted.
Which teams will those be and what will happen at the Orange Bowl? Here is a complete breakdown of predictions and everything you need to know about the 2013 Orange Bowl.
Who: ACC Champion vs. No. 3 BCS at-large selection
Where: SunLife Stadium in Miami, Fla.
When: Tuesday, Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Listen: ESPN Radio
Representative No.1: Can Kent State Crash the Party?
Expect network and Orange Bowl executives to be crowded around their televisions for Friday's MAC Championship Game between the No. 21 Northern Illinois Huskies and No. 17 Kent State Golden Flashes.
If the Flashes win, they're almost guaranteed to be heading to Miami. Any team not in an automatically qualifying conference that ranks inside the Top 16 in the final rankings and ahead of one AQ conference champion is guaranteed an at-large berth to a BCS bowl game.
With Louisville and Rutgers (the two possible Big East champions) unranked coming into Week 14, it's a "win and you're win" for Kent State. Considering the Orange Bowl has the last pick among at-large squads, Miami is the only logical destination.
For those aforementioned executives, having the Flashes in the game would be a ratings nightmare. Though deserving based on the criteria, this is a team that lost to a 2-10 Kentucky squad and has very little national following.
Luckily, Northern Illinois is a talented monkey wrench that should be able to spare a ratings swoon. The Huskies have one of the more underrated offensive attacks in the nation, gaining nearly 500 yards per game while having an average scoring margin of 23 points.
Kent State also boasts a fantastic running game led by Dri Archer, but it won't be enough. Northern Illinois wins on Friday, sending Louisville, who will beat Rutgers on Thursday, to the Orange Bowl.
Predicted Representative: Louisville
Representative No. 2: Florida State or Georgia Tech?
Saturday's ACC Championship Game comes with far less complication, but no less white-knuckled worries from the ratings-obsessed crowd.
Though the No. 13 Florida State Seminoles are an inherently flawed team, they come with both star power and a national following. Quarterback EJ Manuel has had a mostly brilliant senior season, and the Seminoles have three running backs who have rushed for over 500 yards in 2012.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech is a 6-6 squad fresh off getting eviscerated by Georgia on national television. The Yellow Jackets also have a stable of strong rushers, but that's mostly due to Paul Johnson's vaunted triple-option offense.
If you're having trouble scoring at home, there is a distinct possibility that the Orange Bowl will feature a team from the MAC and one that's one game over .500.
Nevertheless, look for those in Miami to be spared the worst-case scenario on Saturday. Florida State is leaps and bounds ahead of Georgia Tech in terms of both talent and result, having suffered just one loss in the weakened ACC.
Game Prediction: Louisville vs. Florida State
Of the possible scenarios for the Orange Bowl, a matchup between the Cardinals and Seminoles is by far the most desirable.
Though neither squad is among the upper-echelon, both carry intrigue in a multitude of ways.
First and foremost, there's the coaching factor. Florida State lost its defensive coordinator, Mark Stoops, to Kentucky on Nov. 27. While Stoops will coach in the ACC Championship Game, it has not been announced whether he'll stick around for a month to face off against Louisville.
On the other side of the field, it's a distinct possibility that the Cardinals could lose most of their coaching staff. Charlie Strong is considered a top candidate for most vacancies across the nation and, with the way coaching searches work, could be on his way out the door by New Year's Day.
As for the football side of things, this contest should go as the rankings dictate.
Teddy Bridgewater is one of the nation's most underrated signal-callers and the Cardinals have a strong two-headed running game with Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright.
However, we saw last week against Connecticut that Louisville can be slowed down by even an above-average defense. With Florida State's unit ranking among the nation's best, it's hard seeing anything but a two-score victory for the Seminoles.
Score Prediction: Florida State 35, Louisville 21
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