Bowl Projections 2012: Breaking Down Best Potential Non-BCS Games
With so much BCS drama still to play itself out this weekend, there are some potential games not quite on the scale of college football's marquee January matchups that are sure to be barn burners.
Several big-name programs will still be playing significant games in college football's postseason. Some who have suffered disappointing losses late in the year will hope to take this opportunity to avenge those disappointments against top-tier competition.
Here is a breakdown of the three of the most exciting non-BCS bowls to watch for—all featuring the nation's best conference—based on what should turn out to be very accurate projections by CBSSports.com.
(Note: All rankings listed are based on the latest BCS standings.)
Chick-fil-A Bowl: No. 14 Clemson vs. No. 7 LSU
This battle of Tigers would be the unquestionably most intriguing showdown on New Year's Eve.
Tajh Boyd may be the least talked-about elite QB in the country, simply because Clemson plays on the ACC. More prominently on the national radar, Les Miles's Tigers couldn't quite get through the brutality of the SEC schedule and will settle on one of the best non-BCS bowls of the year.
It will certainly be interesting to see how LSU's elite defense matches up with the explosive offense orchestrated by Boyd, considering he has one of the best receiver duos in Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins at his disposal.
Conventional wisdom says to always side with the country's best conference, but Clemson will definitely be playing with a massive chip on its shoulder.
The biggest issue that LSU will present, in addition to its premier pass rush, is its extremely physical running game, which should have success against the softer Clemson defense led by freshman RB Jeremy Hill.
The Tigers of Clemson should throw at least some points on the board, but their opponents will likely be able to dominate time of possession and ultimately pull out the victory.
Capital One Bowl: No. 19 Michigan vs. No. 3 Georgia
This is assuming the Bulldogs can't find a way to beat the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game. Under that assumption, they will be fired up to attack a perceptibly inferior Big 10 foe.
But the Wolverines—who narrowly lost at undefeated Ohio State last weekend—have shown improvement lately, sparked by the change at quarterback from Denard Robinson to Devin Gardner.
Although it was brought on by injury, Gardner has proven to be more apt at throwing the ball despite lining up at receiver for the majority of the year. Rather than having Robinson come in for spot plays to run as he did against the Buckeyes, Michigan should continue to stick him in the backfield.
With over a month to prepare for the Bulldogs, the Wolverines should come out with all kinds of interesting gadget plays.
Georgia QB Aaron Murray faces a tough matchup against one of the best secondaries in college football, but the Bulldogs defense will be too much for Michigan to handle up front, led by elite NFL prospect Jarvis Jones at linebacker.
Combine that with the exceptional freshman running back duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and it should translate to a second-half burst to key the Bulldogs coming out on top.
Outback Bowl: No. 22 Northwestern vs. No. 10 South Carolina
Pat Fitzgerald—no relation, by the way—has injected enthusiasm into the Wildcat program, and this year's team was extremely close to being a Big 10 champion.
If not for a one-point loss to Nebraska—who scored 14 points in the last six minutes—and an overtime defeat to the Wolverines in the Big House, Northwestern would be playing Wisconsin for the conference championship this weekend.
Alas, it was not to be for a school typically more renowned for academics than college football. However, a massive consolation prize would be in store if they could somehow upset Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks to ring in the new year.
The Wildcats have the 19th-ranked rush defense in the country (h/t NCAA.com), which should hold up since South Carolina will unfortunately continue to be without star RB Marcus Lattimore.
However, as long as the Gamecocks can stop the Northwestern rushing attack led by junior Venric Mark (1,310 yards, 11 touchdowns), it should be an easy win.
Mark and Co.'s only experience facing an SEC defense this year came in a 23-13 victory over Vanderbilt on Sept. 8. Although they have proven to be a hard-nosed, fundamentally sound football team, they would need a nearly perfect performance to upstage SC in this one.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that Northwestern had not faced an SEC team this year.
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