With the BCS bowl games set, coaches can start game-planning now and will be looking to exploit key matchups in order to earn a monumental win for their program.
Each team in one of this year’s marquee matchups has excelled in at least one area of the game in order to earn their spot, and they will need to get creative in order to ensure that their best players have a large impact on the game.
A perfectly drawn up game plan can lead to a shocking result for one of this year’s underdogs, while the favorites will look to take full advantage of their superior talent.
Here are the matchups that will decide each BCS game.
National Championship Game: No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama
Key Matchup: Fighting Irish’s Front Seven vs. Alabama’s Rushing Attack
While Notre Dame’s offensive line and committee of rushers have been impressive this season, they do not compare to backs and blockers that Alabama has at its disposal.
Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon have continued to excel this season, and the two combined for 334 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia. But a significant amount of the credit must go to the offensive linemen, as they opened up huge holes throughout the game.
However, Notre Dame has allowed the fewest points per game in the nation this season, and they have a formidable front seven led by Manti Te’o. They must contain the Crimson Tide’s running backs in order to have a chance in this game.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 5 Kansas State vs. No. 4 Oregon
Key Matchup: Turnover Battle
This is going to be a thrilling contest, chock-full of offensive highlights. Collin Klein and John Hubert will run wild against Oregon’s defense, while Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas will pad their stats against Kansas State.
Fans watching this game should not blink, as both teams can score in an instant. With plenty of points, this game will come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes.
Turnovers will be crippling in this matchup, as they will almost certainly turn into points for the other team. The team with the most giveaways will lose the Fiesta Bowl.
Sugar Bowl: No. 3 Florida vs. No. 21 Louisville
Key Matchup: Teddy Bridgewater vs. Florida Defense
Florida’s offense ranks 118th in passing yards and 76th in points scored. The Gators have not been impressive offensively this season, but their defense has been spectacular.
Will Muschamp’s team has allowed the third fewest points of any team in the nation and will win the Sugar Bowl unless Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater can find a way to move the ball.
The sophomore signal-caller has been impressive this season and has completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,452 yards and 25 touchdowns. But this will be his most difficult test of the season by a wide margin, and if he is not up to the task, Florida will run away with this game.
Orange Bowl: No. 12 Florida State vs. No. 15 Northern Illinois
Key Matchup: Florida State vs. Complacency
All the headlines leading up to this game will be about how Northern Illinois does not deserve to be in this game. While Florida State may certainly agree with that, it will be up to the Seminoles to make sure that they prove this on the field.
If Jimbo Fisher lets the idea that this game will be easy get into his team’s head, the Huskies’ Jordan Lynch has the talent to beat FSU. He has racked up 2,692 passing yards, 1,771 rushing yards and has accounted for 43 touchdowns this season.
But if the Seminoles are sharp and execute like they did against teams like Clemson and Florida (for the first three quarters), they will overwhelm their opponents in this game. There is simply too much talent and athleticism for FSU to lose—unless they make too many costly errors.
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Stanford
Key Matchup: Montee Ball vs. Stanford's Run Defense
Stanford’s defense has been extremely impressive this season, and the team needs one more impressive performance in order to win the Rose Bowl.
But the Cardinal will have to stop Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball, and he will be running harder than he ever has. Ball has the record for most touchdowns in a career, but he does not have a Rose Bowl ring, despite two trips to Pasadena in the past two years.
Ball will put up an inspired performance, and if he dominates this game, the Badgers will pull off a shocking upset.