One Thing Every Bowl-Bound Team Must Fix Before Its Bowl Game

Jeff PoirierCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2012

One Thing Every Bowl-Bound Team Must Fix Before Its Bowl Game

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    As much as it pains me to say it, the 2012 college football regular season has come to a close.

    It has been an exciting year of collegiate gridiron action, complete with surprising success stories and even more shocking failures. Unfortunately, it's time to close up shop for another long, harsh nine months without NCAA football.

    But what that also means is that it's almost bowl season, as the first round of postseason matchups is slated for this coming weekend.

    Every team wants to finish its season on a high note, but some will have an easier time doing that than others.

    With close to a month until some of the bowl games, most teams have plenty of time to tweak their game plans and fix their shortcomings. Whether or not they successfully do so is another story, but it's important to identify main areas of need regardless.

    Read on for one thing every bowl bound squad must work on before it takes the field for the last time this season. 

Nevada Wolf Pack

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    The 2012 Gildan New Mexico Bowl features the Nevada Wolf Pack and the Arizona Wildcats, two teams coming off season-ending losses to their biggest conference rivals.

    But don't let that dissuade you from tuning in, as this should be a high-flying offensive shootout worth watching.

    If Nevada (7-5, 4-4 MWC) is going to have any chance to knock off Arizona, the Wolf Pack will have to find an answer for the nation's No. 2 leading rusher, Ka'Deem Carey.

    Carey has been a force for the Wildcats this season, surpassing the century mark in nine games and setting a Pac-12 single-game record with 366 rushing yards against Colorado.

    Couple that with the fact that Nevada ranks No. 110 in the country against the run and clearly the Wolf Pack has some work to do before kickoff.  

Arizona Wildcats

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    While Nevada scrambles to fix its run-stopping efforts, the Arizona Wildcats will be stuck looking at a very similar problem.

    UNR boasts the No. 7 rushing offense in the nation, while the Wildcats come in at No. 87 in the country against the rush.

    In order for Arizona (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) to win the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, the Cats will need to corral the nation's No. 4 leading rusher in Stefphon Jefferson.

    But it's not just Jefferson that Zona will have to worry about, as QB Cody Fajardo has emerged as a top-flight dual-threat in the Wolf Pack's Pistol offense as well.

    Jefferson and Fajardo have combined for 2,648 yards and 33 TDs, numbers that are probably keeping head coach Rich Rodriguez up at night.

    Whichever team plugs up the holes in its run defense will leave Albuquerque victorious, while the other will be left licking its wounds until next season.  

Toledo Rockets

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    The Toledo Rockets have put together an impressive 2012 campaign, finishing with a 9-3 overall record in an above-average Mid-American Conference.

    But if the Rockets want to finish the season with a win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, they will need to get the ground game going against a stout Utah State defense.

    The USU defense ranks No. 12 in the country against the rush, as the Aggies have held opponents to a paltry 2.93 yards per carry while only giving up six TDs on the ground all year.

    Toledo has had success running the ball, as the Rockets possess the No. 34 rushing offense in the land, but they've yet to face a defense like Utah State.

    Leading rusher David Fluellen will need to have a big game for Toledo to be able to upset the No. 22 Aggies.

Utah State Aggies

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    Assuming the Aggies' defense holds the Rockets in check, it will be up to the Utah State offense to bring home the W in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

    Utah State (10-2, 6-0 WAC) has had an amazing season and is only five points away from being undefeated. But the blame from those two losses falls on the offense, as the Aggies fell 16-14 at Wisconsin and 6-3 at BYU.

    The USU attack has been about as balanced as it gets, as the Ags rank No. 37 in the country in both passing and rushing yardage.

    But the key to beating Toledo will be through the air since the Rockets have the No. 117 passing defense in the country.

    If the Aggies can find some rhythm on offense, and maybe toss in a few new wrinkles during bowl preparation, they should have no trouble reaching the 11-win mark for the first time in school history.

Brigham Young Cougars

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    The 2012 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl features Brigham Young and SDSU, two teams that used to share the same conference.

    But since BYU left the Mountain West for football independence, the Cougars have fallen on hard times.

    Despite boasting the No. 6 scoring defense in the nation, BYU has stumbled through an up-and-down season, finishing with a 7-5 mark.

    One of the biggest issues for the Cougars this year has been takeaways, as they rank No. 85 in turnover margin (17 for and 22 against).

    Against an efficient Aztec offense that sits No. 28 in the country in scoring, BYU can ill afford costly turnovers.

    If the Cougars hope to finish the season with a win, they will need to protect the ball and play opportunistic defense.

San Diego State Aztecs

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    San Diego State enters the postseason on a seven game winning streak and will look to make it eight in a row against the BYU Cougars.

    The crowd at the Poinsettia Bowl should favor the Aztecs since Qualcomm Stadium is about a 15 minute drive from the SDSU campus.

    Unfortunately for the Aztec faithful, that probably won't matter much against the fierce Brigham Young defense, which ranks No. 2 against the rush and No. 13 against the pass.

    SDSU comes into the matchup with the No. 16 rushing offense in the land, but an ugly No. 106 ranking in passing.

    If the Aztecs hope to please the black and red crowd on December 20, they will need to get the aerial attack off the ground.

    Look for San Diego State to mix it up on offense, trying to confuse the BYU defense with new schemes and a little bit of trickery.

Central Florida Knights

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    After falling in overtime to Tulsa in the Conference USA Championship Game, the Central Florida Knights will be looking for redemption in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl against Ball State.

    The Knights have been solid on defense this season, finishing the year with the No. 29 scoring D in the country.

    In order to knock off the Cardinals and reach double-digit wins in 2012, UCF will need to stifle the Ball State rushing attack, which ranks No. 23 in the nation.

    Since the Knights come in with the No. 64 rushing defense in the country, that figures to be a difficult task.

    Head coach George O'Leary has a little over a week to fix UCF's woes against the run, which would likely be bolstered by some new blitzing schemes that emphasize gap integrity.

Ball State Cardinals

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    The Ball State Cardinals are riding a six game winning streak and enter the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl as hot as any team in the country.

    But if the Cards hope to keep it up against Central Florida, they will need to crank up the intensity on the defensive side of the ball.

    Ball State (9-3, 6-2 MAC) ranks No. 91 in the country in scoring defense, No. 88 against the rush and No. 106 against the pass.

    That kind of porous defense won't fare well against a UCF squad that ranks No. 27 in the nation in total offense. The Knights, led by QB Blake Bortles, will be eager to take the field after losing in OT in the C-USA title game.

    If the Cardinals haven't shored up their defense by then, it'll be a long afternoon in St. Petersburg. 

East Carolina Pirates

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    The East Carolina Pirates will face the ULL Ragin' Cajuns in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on December 22.

    The Pirates finished the season 8-4, but were one win away from the Conference-USA title game. ECU finished tied with UCF for the division lead, but the Knights held the head-to-head tiebreaker with their 40-20 win.

    If East Carolina hopes to carry any momentum into the offseason, the Pirates will need to shore up a defense that ranks No. 86 in the nation, allowing 30.7 PPG.

    Louisiana-Lafayette has a balanced offensive attack that ranks No. 33 in scoring with 34.8 PPG.

    The Ragin' Cajuns average 256 yards passing per game, a number that could balloon after facing a Pirate defense that ranks No. 105 against the pass.

    East Carolina certainly has work to do on offense as well, but the defensive deficiencies are of the utmost importance right now.

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

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    Just like their opponents in the New Orleans Bowl, the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns will need to find an answer for the aerial attack on defense.

    Only 15 teams in the nation are worse than East Carolina defending the pass and ULL is one of them, ranking No. 111. Needless to say, this could be a shootout for the ages. 

    The Pirates don't have flashy offensive numbers, but they do drastically prefer the passing game, which matches up well with ULL.

    ECU ranks No. 35 in passing yardage, as opposed to its No. 93 ranking rushing the ball. WR Justin Hardy has 1,046 yards receiving with 10 TDs and figures to have a big outing against porous coverage.

    The Cajuns have to be more proficient in the secondary, which means containing Hardy. If Louisiana-Lafayette can't extinguish the passing threat, it'll be tough to keep up with the Pirates' offensive output.

Washington Huskies

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    The Washington Huskies enter the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas after losing in the Apple Cup against the rival WSU Cougars, 31-28 in OT.

    The fourth-quarter collapse ended UW's four-game winning streak and dulled the excitement around a team that looked to be trending up.

    Unfortunately for the Huskies, their stock is probably still dropping.

    The matchup with Boise State's sixth ranked defense looks to be a bad one for Washington's No. 90 scoring offense.

    UW was expected to have a prolific attack, but the Huskies haven't been able to protect the ball or finish drives. Junior QB Keith Price hasn't lived up to the preseason hype, and has continued to make mind-boggling mistakes in crucial moments.

    If Washington is going to beat the Broncos, the offense will need to improve significantly, which starts under center with Price and on the sidelines with head coach Steve Sarkisian.

Boise State Broncos

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    In what seems a stark contrast to the Boise State we all know, the 2012 Broncos won the Mountain West Conference with stellar defensive play.

    Boise State comes into the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas with the No. 6 scoring defense in the nation, allowing just 14.7 points per game. But the Broncos have been uncharacteristically poor on offense this year, and that's the reason they aren't busting the BCS these days.

    Coming into the matchup with Washington, Boise State is No. 19 in the BCS, despite an offense that ranks No. 55 in scoring and No. 80 in passing yardage.

    The Huskies don't have a terribly frightening defense, but they do generate turnovers, coming in tied for sixth in the nation in takeaways gained. The Bronco offense needs to maintain sustained drives and put some points on the board to support the defense. 

    If Boise State can't protect the ball and the defenders get overworked, it could give UW the edge it needs to sound the upset alert. 

Southern Methodist Mustangs

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    As Southern Methodist prepares for Fresno State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, the Mustangs will need to hone in on the passing game on both sides of the ball.

    SMU currently ranks No. 59 in passing offense and No. 103 in pass defense, while the Bulldogs boast the No. 4 pass defense and the No. 12 passing attack in the country.

    Clearly, the 6-6 Mustangs have their work cut out for them against high-flying Fresno State (9-3, 7-1 MWC).

    If SMU is going to finish the year with a winning record, the Mustangs will need to move the ball down the field vertically, while playing with discipline in the secondary.

    It also wouldn't hurt if SMU could get its ground game going, which only averages 130 yards per game, to help take the pressure off of QB Garrett Gilbert.

    Unfortunately for Southern Methodist fans, it looks like the Bulldogs are going to severely outmatch the 'Stangs in many facets of the game.

    But looking on the bright side, at least they get to go to Honolulu!

Fresno State Bulldogs

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    While Fresno State appears to have a distinct advantage on paper, there are still plenty of things to work on in practice for the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl against SMU.

    The most important area of focus will have to be in the running game, where the Bulldogs only average 166 yards per game, good for No. 59 in the country.

    This hasn't been much of a problem all season, as Fresno State averages 322.6 yards passing per contest, but against Southern Methodist it will matter.

    The Mustangs are extremely porous in the passing game, but they do have a top 25 rush defense, allowing just under 130 yards per game.

    If the Bulldogs can't find the rhythm in the ground game, it will allow the SMU defense to drop back and defend against the pass.

    Look for senior RB Robbie Rouse to find his footing against the Mustangs and improve on his 1,468 rushing yards in 2012.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

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    After losing head coach Willie Taggart to South Florida over the weekend, and picking up the oft-maligned Bobby Petrino in replacement, Western Kentucky faces a lot of distractions in preparation for the Little Caesars Bowl.

    But if the Hilltoppers hope to top Central Michigan, they will need to find the focus necessary to not only get good practice in, but drastically improve an offense that has been lackluster at best.

    WKU ranks No. 68 in the nation in scoring, averaging 28.8 points per game. And while the Chippewas' defense is far from menacing, the Hilltoppers need to find a more consistent scoring threat, for this game and the future.

    If Western Kentucky can improve on its No. 93 mark in passing, the Hilltoppers should be able to knock off CMU and improve to 8-5 on the year. 

Central Michigan Chippewas

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    As Central Michigan (6-6, 4-4 MAC) prepares to face Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Bowl, the Chippewas have one major area of concern to focus on: defense.

    CMU has been horrendous defensively this season, ranking No. 99 in scoring D and No. 98 against the run.

    WKU doesn't have an elite offense by any means, but the Hilltoppers' No. 41 rushing offense could pose a matchup problem for the Chips.

    Central Michigan will need to key in on the run, which Western Kentucky favors greatly, in order to have success on December 26 for the hometown fans in Detroit.

San Jose State Spartans

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    One of the biggest surprises of the season came out of the Western Athletic Conference, where No. 24 San Jose State has quietly put together an impressive campaign.

    As the Spartans get ready to face Bowling Green in the Military Bowl - Presented By Northrop Grumman (yes, that's the official name), the only serious area of need comes in the running game.

    SJSU has an impressive offense, ranked No. 11 in passing and No. 26 in scoring, but the Spartans don't have much of a run threat, ranking No. 104 by way of the rush.

    Bowling Green, on the other hand, has a sneaky good defense that ranks No. 9 in scoring D, No. 7 against the pass and No. 14 stopping the run.

    When you take a closer look, the matchup of the Falcons' defense and the SJSU offense has the makings of an exciting affair.

    And if the Spartans can keep BGSU honest by establishing presence in the run game, the Military Bowl should be explosive.

Bowling Green Falcons

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    As the previous slide discussed, Bowling Green has a great defense, one that has led the Falcons to an 8-4 record and a slot in the Military Bowl.

    If it weren't for BGSU's ineptitude on offense, the Falcons could have a whole lot more to cheer about.

    Bowling Green ranks No. 93 in scoring and No. 81 in passing, dreadful rankings that make the Falcons' No. 68 rushing offense look impressive.

    Unfortunately, San Jose State has the No. 19 rushing defense in the country, as well as a top 25 scoring defense, so the BGSU offense could be in for a frustrating night. But there is solace in the fact that the Spartans are less efficient against the pass, ranking No. 52 in the country.

    Look for WR Chris Gallon, a freshman who has come on strong in recent weeks, to shoulder the load against SJSU's main defensive weakness.

Cincinnati Bearcats

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    Just like Western Kentucky, the Cincinnati football team is dealing with distractions stemming from a coaching change.

    As the Bearcats prep for the Belk Bowl against Duke, they will need to forget about the loss of head coach Butch Jones to Tennessee, or the subsequent poaching of Tommy Tuberville from Texas Tech.

    While there is hope for the future under the offensive-minded tutelage of Tuberville, the Cincinnati attack needs to find more consistency immediately.

    The Bearcats currently rank No. 48 in scoring and No. 63 in passing yardage, though the offense moves mostly on the ground.

    The Duke defense is pretty awful, which bodes well for Cincy, but that doesn't mean the Bearcats shouldn't use their allotted practice time to get a head start on next season's offensive repertoire.

    It's a safe bet that the Bearcats' No. 12 scoring defense will show up to play, so it'll be up to the offense to carry Cincinnati to its tenth win of the season. 

Duke Blue Devils

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    As the Duke football program looks to climb out of the shadow of the Blue Devils' basketball team, there is no better place to start than a postseason bowl game.

    Despite finishing the year on a four-game losing streak, the Blue Devils ended with a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility, getting paired up with Cincinnati (9-3, 5-2 Big East) in the Belk Bowl.

    But if Duke hopes to close out 2012 with a winning record, the defense will need to improve drastically.

    The Blue Devils' defense currently ranks No. 105 in points against, as well as No. 102 in rushing defense.

    The Bearcats average a hair south of 200 yards rushing per game, so Duke will need to shore up its front seven play in a hurry.

    If the Devils fail to plug up the holes and commit to gap integrity, it should be a big day for Cincinnati RB George Winn, a senior with 1,204 yards rushing in 2012.

Baylor Bears

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    As Baylor prepares to face a resurgent UCLA Bruins squad in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, it's painfully obvious that the Bears need to improve their defense.

    Despite ranking No. 5 in scoring offensively, Baylor has stumbled to a 7-5 record because of a paper-thin defense that's ranked No. 117 in the country.

    The Bears allow 38.2 points per game, which won't fare too well against a UCLA offense that averages over 35 points per contest.

    If Baylor hopes to contain QB Brett Hundley and RB Johnathan Franklin, the defense will need to play physical at the point of attack, preventing either of these Bruins from finding open space.

    Unless there is major improvement along the Bears' defensive front, UCLA should be able to score points in droves, giving the Bruins a chance against Baylor's explosive attack.

UCLA Bruins

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    As UCLA attempts to shake off the malaise after barely missing out on the Rose Bowl, the Bruins will need to turn their focus to Baylor in preparation for the Holiday Bowl.

    And just like the Bears, UCLA needs to shore up its defense in order to end the season with a victory.

    The Bruins rank No. 55 in scoring defense, allowing just over 25 points per contest, but their passing defense has been suspect all season, ranking No. 91 in the nation.

    Most expected Baylor to take a major step back offensively after losing Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III to the NFL, but that hasn't been the case at all.

    The 2012 Bears have the No. 5 scoring offense in the country, averaging over 44 points per contest, as well as a passing attack that ranks No. 3 in the country.

    Senior QB Nick Florence has 4,121 yards passing and 31 TDs, and will be looking to take advantage of the Bruins' porous secondary play.

    If you like offense, and lots of it, be sure to tune into the Holiday Bowl on December 27, where the winner will likely surpass the 40-point barrier.

Ohio Bobcats

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    After starting the season 7-0 with a win over Penn State in Happy Valley, the Ohio Bobcats looked like a team in line for a very impressive season.

    But after falling short in four of their last five games, the 8-4 Bobcats are relegated to facing the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl.

    The matchup should be a good test for Ohio's defense, which ranks No. 52 in the country in points against, as UL-Monroe averages over 35 points per game.

    The Warhawks do most of the their damage through the air, so the Bobcats' pass defense will need to lock down in coverage.

    OU currently ranks No. 55 defending the pass, which will have to improve in order to stifle ULM's No. 26 passing attack.

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

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    Louisiana-Monroe shook up the college football world by upsetting then-No. 8 ranked Arkansas in Fayetteville in Week 2, 34-31 in OT.

    And while the Razorbacks proved to be grossly overrated by season's end, the upset victory was still a major achievement for the Warhawks' resume.

    Flash forward to December and ULM is set for a trip to the Independence Bowl to face Ohio, a team that boasts a prolific running game.

    The Warhawks' defense has left much to be desired in 2012, allowing 27.8 points per game and ranking No. 104 in the nation against the pass.

    If it weren't for ULM's No. 25 scoring offense, the Warhawks probably wouldn't have won eight games.

    Louisiana-Monroe has become the new-age rendition of the cardiac kids, winning three games in OT, but that magic will run out against the Bobcats unless the Warhawks can figure out a way to slow down the Ohio offense.  

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    The 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl features two teams with strikingly divergent paths, as the Rutgers football program is on the rise, while the Virginia Tech brand is fading.

    After making four BCS bowls in the last five seasons, the Hokies struggled to a 6-6 finish in an underwhelming Atlantic Coast Conference.

    The Scarlet Knights, on the other hand, won nine regular season games for the first time since 2006, and will look to make it double-digit wins in the Athletic Bowl.

    But if Rutgers hopes to reach the 10-win plateau, the Knights will need find an offense, as their No. 96 rank in scoring and No. 102 rank in rushing simply won't cut it.

    Va Tech has a respectable defense, ranking No. 39 in the nation in points against and No. 30 in passing defense.

    In order for Rutgers to finish strong and gain some momentum for its final season in the Big East, junior RB Jawan Jamison has to come out with a sense of urgency, fighting hard to find the end zone.

Virginia Tech Hokies

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    It's been a rough football season in Blacksburg, but there is still hope for the Hokies as they enter a matchup with Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

    The key for Va Tech to finish 2012 with a victory will be on offense, where QB Logan Thomas will have to orchestrate the Hokies' attack against the Scarlet Knights' fourth-ranked scoring defense.

    The Rutgers defense allows a stingy 14.3 points per contest, while Virginia Tech ranks No. 80 in scoring with 26.1 points per game.

    Thomas will need to protect the ball and improve on his TD-to-turnover ratio for the Hokies to have success, especially since the Knights are tied for No. 14 in the country in takeaways gained.

    Look for Virginia Tech to attack Rutgers through the air first, trying to open up a defense that ranks No. 11 against the rush, allowing just 105 yards per game.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    The 2012 Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (these names just keep getting more ridiculous) features two teams that appear to be polar-opposites of one another.

    On one sideline you have Minnesota, a team with a serviceable defense and an atrocious offense, while on the other side sits Texas Tech, a squad with an explosive offense and no defense.

    Needless to say, the Car Care Bowl figures to be an exciting matchup of evenly paired teams.

    For the Golden Gophers, the key to victory will be scoring, early and often. Minnesota ranks No. 99 in scoring and No. 108 in passing yardage, stats that will need to be better to keep up with the Red Raiders.

    Fortunately for the Gophers, Texas Tech is pillow-soft on defense, allowing 31.8 points per game, which ranks No. 93 in the country.

    But after losing leading receiver A.J. Barker last month because of locker-room issues, Minnesota looks to have a tough time, even against such a weak defense.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Considering the fact that the Texas Tech offense ranks No. 16 in scoring and No. 2 in passing yardage, there isn't too much work to be done on that side of the ball.

    But the Red Raiders' defense has been troubled in 2012, ranking No. 93 in points against and No. 74 stopping the run.

    And while a No. 22 ranking in pass defense is very respectable, it shouldn't make TTU feel comfortable, especially against a run-first Minnesota offense.

    If the Raiders are going to win the Car Care Bowl, they will need to shut down the Gophers' running offense, which means playing with more discipline in the trenches.

    Texas Tech should be able to put up big numbers offensively, so the defense will need to hold serve and carry the Raiders to victory. 

Rice Owls

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    When you think Texas football, the Rice Owls aren't the first team that comes to mind. In fact, they might not even be in the top 10.

    But as the Owls prepare for the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, only the program's third bowl game since 1961, they'll be looking to finish with a winning record and build towards the future.

    Unfortunately, Rice's match in the Armed Forces Bowl is a tough one, as the Air Force Falcons enter the game with the No. 2 rushing offense in the land.

    The Owl's defense has been a weakness in 2012, allowing 31.3 points per game and ranking No. 91 against the rush.

    Air Force employs the triple-option offense, which averages close to 330 yards per game.

    But there is hope for Rice, as the Falcons almost never pass, ranking No. 122 in the country in passing yardage.

    In order for the Owls to beat Air Force, they will need to stack the box and take away the Falcons' myriad of rushing threats.

Air Force Falcons

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    What is it with the service academies and their rushing offenses?

    As we saw in last week's Army-Navy game, the military schools just don't like to pass the ball, and that includes the Air Force Falcons.

    The Falcons rank No. 122 in the nation in passing, averaging just over 100 yards per game, but that's not exactly a problem, as Air Force's triple-option attack ranks No. 2 in rushing.

    So despite the awful passing numbers, that is not a glaring area of need for the Falcons as they prepare for the Armed Forces Bowl.

    Instead, Air Force will need to shore up its defense, a unit that ranks No. 69 in scoring D and No. 97 against the run.

    Couple those stats with Rice's No. 29 rushing offense and it could be bad news for the Falcons.

    In a battle of 6-6 teams, Air Force will need to step up and stuff the Owls' ground game if the cadets hope to finish 2012 with a winning record.

West Virginia Mountaineers

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    Perhaps no team in the country has a more glaring discrepancy between offensive and defensive talent than West Virginia.

    The Mountaineers boast the No. 7 scoring offense in the country, but rank No. 116 in points against.

    As WVU prepares to face Syracuse in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, they will have serious work to do on defense to contain the Orange's modest attack.

    The Syracuse offense comes into the matchup ranked No. 61 in scoring, which isn't great, but the Orange do have the No. 21 passing offense in the nation.

    That matchup bodes well for Syracuse because the Mountaineers have been absolutely nonexistent against the pass, ranking No. 119 having given up 3,925 yards through the air this year.

    Unless West Virginia can find some stability in the secondary, the Mountaineers will be hard-pressed to shutdown the Orange in a likely pro-Syracuse environment.

Syracuse Orange

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    While the Syracuse offense should be able to move the ball against the Mountaineers, the Orange defense will be put to the test against the high-flying West Virginia offense.

    Led by QB Geno Smith, a projected first-round NFL draft pick, the WVU offense has been virtually unstoppable in 2012, ranking No. 7 in scoring and No. 6 in passing yardage.

    The Mountaineers average 41.6 points per game, as well as 340 passing yards per game, which figures to be quite a challenge for Syracuse.

    The Orange defense hasn't been horrible this season, ranking No. 52 in points against, but Syracuse won't be able to stop West Virginia with the effort exhibited so far.

    Unless there is a drastic change, Smith and All-American WRs Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will have a field day against the Orange's pass defense, which ranks No. 62 in the nation.

    The Syracuse secondary will need to play its best game of the season to contain the Mountaineers' prolific passing attack in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Navy Midshipmen

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    As discussed in a previous slide, the military academies really don't like to pass the ball, and that includes Navy, a team that ranks sixth in rushing and No. 121 in passing yardage.

    While the Midshipmen prepare to battle Arizona State in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, they will need to focus on finding pay dirt in any way possible.

    Navy has struggled mightily in the scoring department this year, ranking No. 86 with just under 25 points per game.

    How does a team have the No. 6 rushing offense in the land, yet fail to score?

    The answer here is probably third-down conversions, where Navy ranks No. 53 in the nation with a 41 percent success rate.

    That's definitely not an awful rank, but it will have to improve against a Sun Devils defense that features consensus-All-American Will Sutton at defensive tackle. 

Arizona State Sun Devils

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    While Navy works to fine tune its offensive game plan, Arizona State will need to lock things up on the defensive side of the ball.

    Despite the presence of Sutton, a 6'2", 271-pound monster, the Sun Devils have been flawed on defense, most notably against the rush.

    ASU ranks No. 76 stopping the run, allowing 172 yards rushing per game. Unless the Sun Devils can find a way to clog up the running lanes and force Navy to pass, the Midshipmen will gladly pound the rock all afternoon.

    The silver lining for Arizona State is that Navy relies heavily, almost exclusively, on the run, so the Devils will be able to bring their defensive backs up to assist.

    If ASU hopes to win its first bowl game since 2005, the Sun Devils will need to keep their pad levels low and get good leverage, driving the Navy O-line off the block and blowing up the Midshipmen's backfield. 

Texas Longhorns

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    The 2012 Valero Alamo Bowl will be an exciting game featuring two ranked squads in Oregon State and Texas.

    The Longhorns are limping into the matchup with the Beavs after taking consecutive losses to end the season, so they'll definitely be fired up.

    But if Texas is going to upset OSU and knock off a Pac-12 team in the postseason for the second year in a row, the Horns will need to play better on defense.

    There have been a plethora of injuries in Austin this year, including the loss of All-Big-12 defensive lineman Alex Okafor, so the difficulties are understandable.

    Okafor is listed as probable for the Alamo Bowl, which would be a huge gain for the Texas defense, a unit that currently ranks No. 73 in points against.

    The Beavers' offense has been explosive this season, especially by way of the pass, ranking No. 15 in yards through the air on the back of first-team All-Pac-12 WR Markus Wheaton.

    The Longhorns, bolstered by the return of Okafor, will need to pressure the pocket with a sense of urgency, as they rank No. 53 in the nation in sacks.

    Making Mannion uncomfortable will be key, as the young signal-caller is prone to making mistakes under siege.

Oregon State Beavers

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    One of the most surprising teams in 2012 has been Oregon State, as the Beavers improved from 3-9 in 2011 to 9-3 this year.

    The sudden resurgence has earned OSU a No. 13 ranking in the BCS standings and a trip to the Alamo Bowl to face the Texas Longhorns.

    In what figures to be a hostile environment in San Antonio, the Beavs will need to get the ball moving on the ground, especially since Texas has struggled against the run this season.

    Despite ranking No. 38 in the country in scoring, Oregon State is ranked No. 101 in rushing yardage, as leading rusher Storm Woods has just 822 yards.

    The Longhorns enter the matchup ranked No. 100 stopping the run, a significantly worse mark than their No. 38 ranking in pass defense.

    Head coach Mike Riley will need add some new wrinkles and get the ground game going, which will in turn open up the vertical threat against Texas' talented defensive backfield.

TCU Horned Frogs

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    In its first season in the Big 12, Texas Christian found facing BCS opponents every week a challenge, finishing the year with a 7-5 record.

    As the Horned Frogs prepare for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan State, they will need to make major strides on the offensive side of the ball, as the Spartans have one of the best defenses in the country.

    The TCU offense has shown flashes of brilliance, especially under center with the eye-popping athleticism of QB Trevone Boykin, but has failed to find any consistency.

    The Frogs have the No. 61 scoring offense in the country, while ranking No. 55 in passing and No. 67 in rushing, which won't fare too well against MSU. 

    The Spartans' defense ranks No. 8 in rushing defense, No. 9 against the pass and No. 10 in points against.

    The best defense that TCU has faced this season was Kansas State's No. 24 scoring defense, a matchup that left the Horned Frogs with a 23-10 home loss.

    One specific area to focus on will be turnover margin, as TCU is tied for No. 99 nationally with 27 turnovers lost. An improvement in ball protection would greatly increase the Frogs' chances against the Spartans.

Michigan State Spartans

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    For a team that was ranked in the AP Top 10 early in the season, it might be difficult to show up for a consolation bowl against a mediocre opponent.

    But that's exactly what Michigan State has to do as the Spartans get ready to face Texas Christian in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

    The Spartans' defense should be fine handling the Horned Frogs, but the offense, which ranks a shockingly low No. 106 in scoring, will need to have more success.

    The MSU offense is pretty bad all around, ranking No. 74 in rushing and No. 77 in passing, which could spell disaster against a TCU defense ranked No. 35 in points against.

    The Spartans have an All-Big Ten first-team running back in Le'Veon Bell, a junior that leads the conference in rushing with 1,648 yards.

    Michigan State needs to take some of the pressure off of Bell, who has 380 touches in 2012, by opening up the passing game. If the Spartans fail to spread the Frogs out, this bowl will end up becoming a defensive slugfest.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

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    As North Carolina State prepares to face Vanderbilt in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, the Wolfpack have plenty to account for when game planning for the Commodores' stout defense.

    The Vandy defense is ranked No. 15 in points against and No. 10 against the pass, a harrowing prospect for a heavily pass-favored NC State offense.

    The Wolfpack attack ranks No. 20 in the nation in passing, but is completely lacking a running threat, ranking No. 109 in rushing.

    In all, NC State's offense is ranked No. 79 in scoring, with an average of 28.4 points per game. Frankly, that won't do against the Commodores.

    QB Mike Glennon, a senior who was thrown for 3,648 yards and 30 TDs this season, will need to navigate the Vanderbilt secondary, while also dumping it off to the RBs to keep the defense honest.

    Ultimately, play-calling falls on the coaches, most notably offensive coordinator Dana Bible.

    If Glennon is forced to do everything with his arm, it could backfire and result in turnovers, especially considering NC State is tied for No. 89 in the country with 14 interceptions thrown. 

Vanderbilt Commodores

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    The Vanderbilt Commodores have the unique advantage of playing their bowl game 12 minutes away from campus, at LP Field in downtown Nashville.

    The Dores' opponent, NC State, has to travel 535 miles to make it to the Music City Bowl, a game that actually used to be played at Vanderbilt Stadium.

    Needless to say, Vandy will have a distinct home-field advantage at this "neutral site" matchup, which will be very fortuitous for the Dores' inconsistent offense.

    Vanderbilt currently ranks No. 61 in scoring and No. 70 in passing yardage, two figures that will need to improve against a Wolfpack defense that has bordered on dominant a few times this year.

    North Carolina State's total defensive numbers won't pop out at you, but the Pack has been extremely successful in the trenches, ranking No. 10 in tackles for loss and No. 20 in sacks.

    If the Commodores and QB Jordan Rodgers can't find some rhythm in the passing game, Vandy's good-but-not-great running game will struggle against NCSU, and the largely black and gold crowd will be disappointed. 

USC Trojans

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    The 2012 season has been a tough one for USC fans, as the Trojans fell from preseason No. 1 to unranked, relegated to facing a 6-7 Georgia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.

    But there is light at the end of the tunnel, as QB Matt Barkley has been listed as probable and is expected to play against the Yellow Jackets.

    And let's not forget, the Trojans still have Biletnikoff Award-winner Marqise Lee for another year, so there's still plenty to be proud of in the Southland.

    With that said, nothing would be worse for head coach Lane Kiffin than a loss to the ACC Coastal Division "Champions" (read: third-place team).

    Georgia Tech finished the regular season 6-6, but lost to Florida State in an ugly conference title game, leaving the Jackets in need of an NCAA waiver to play in the postseason.

    But don't let that fool you. The Trojans need to come out ready to play, especially on the defensive side of the ball, where 'SC has been vulnerable this year.

    The Yellow Jackets rank No. 21 in the nation in scoring behind a powerful second-ranked rushing attack that averages 316.5 yards per game.

    Southern Cal hasn't been itself on D this year, ranking No. 45 in points against and No. 58 stopping the run.

    The Trojans' front seven will need to step up big against Tech, attacking the running lanes and containing QB Tevin Washington, a senior with 19 rushing TDs.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    As Georgia Tech attempts to rebound from a tough loss to Florida State in the ACC title game, the Yellow Jackets will need to find some answers quickly on defense.

    Tech is set to appear in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against USC, a squad that is rearing to get back on the field with its senior starter and make a statement.

    And unless the Jackets can improve on their No. 60 ranked scoring defense and No. 67 ranked pass D, it will be a long afternoon in El Paso.

    Despite struggling all season, the Trojans still have the nation's best receiver in Marqise Lee and a projected first-round NFL draft pick in QB Matt Barkley.

    Aside from a few untimely interceptions, the USC offense has been a well-oiled machine through the air, ranking No. 15 in passing and No. 16 in scoring.

    The Yellow Jackets will have to play with great discipline in the secondary, doubling-teaming Lee at every available opportunity, in order to climb back to .500 in the standings.  

Iowa State Cyclones

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    When Iowa State lines up against Tulsa in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, it'll be deja vu all over again for both squads.

    The Cyclones and Golden Hurricane already met on the gridiron once in 2012, an opening week clash that saw ISU battle back from an early hole to win, 38-23.

    But fast forward to the postseason and it seems that everything has changed.

    Iowa State took a major stumble in Big 12 play, finishing with a 6-6 record, while Tulsa went on to win 10 games and the Conference-USA Championship.

    The Golden Hurricane has a prolific offense that ranks No. 26 in rushing and No. 29 scoring, albeit against unintimidating competition.

    If the Cyclones hope to top Tulsa in the rematch, they will need to bring it defensively, as well as get something going on offense.

    So, in essence, Iowa State just needs to play a complete game, which could prove difficult for a team ranked No. 90 in scoring and No. 82 in points against.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

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    After winning the C-USA title with a thrilling OT victory over UCF, Tulsa is set to do battle with Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl on New Year's Eve.

    The Golden Hurricane has been efficient on offense this season, but has failed to find consistency in pass defense.

    Tulsa currently ranks No. 57 defending the pass and No. 64 in points against, allowing over 230 yards through the air and 27.3 points per contest.

    Iowa State enters the rematch with a sputtering offense ranked No. 90 in scoring and No. 73 in passing, so the Golden Hurricane definitely has an opportunity to shut the Cyclones down.

    It's also important to note that Tulsa's defense is ranked No. 17 against the rush, allowing just over 120 yards per game, which should matchup well with ISU's run-first offense.

    In order for the Hurricane to come away victorious in Memphis, the defense will need to support the offense by preventing the big play downfield and locking it up between the tackles. 

LSU Tigers

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    The 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl is an intriguing matchup between the LSU Tigers and the Clemson Tigers, two 10-2 squads that just missed out on their respective conference title games.

    The story for Louisiana State is the same as always, as the Bayou Bengals have a suffocating defense to go with a less-than-perfect offense.

    LSU's ground game has been successful, leading the Tigers to a No. 17 ranking in scoring, but the passing attack has been virtually nonexistent, coming in at No. 106 in the nation.

    The Clemson defense isn't very intimidating, but the Tigers are significantly better against the run than versus the pass.

    If QB Zach Mettenberger can't move the ball downfield more effectively, the Clemson defenders will be able to key in on RB Jeremy Hill and the LSU rushing attack.

    And while the SEC Tigers' defense should be just fine, it would be a huge boost for head coach Les Miles' squad if the offense can keep the chains moving.  

Clemson Tigers

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    While Clemson's defense certainly has room for improvement in preparation for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the matchup with Louisiana State's defense puts the pressure on QB Tajh Boyd to perform.

    Boyd and the Tigers' offense has been impressive in 2012, ranking No. 24 in scoring and No. 21 in passing, but they've yet to face a defense with athletes like LSU.

    Those Tigers boast a defense that ranks second in points against, No. 9 stopping the run and No. 20 defending the pass.

    Clearly, head coach Dabo Swinney will need to mix it up offensively, giving Boyd free-reign to make plays and navigate the LSU defense.

    If the Tigers fail to fine-tune their attack, which includes protecting the ball and finishing drives, they are bound to get mauled by their namesakes from the SEC.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Mississippi State came out of the gate with a bang in 2012, winning its first seven games and climbing up to No. 11 in the BCS standings.

    But after dropping four of their last five games, the Bulldogs have to settle for a date with Northwestern in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.

    The good news for MSU is that Wildcats are 9-3 and ranked, which offers up a golden opportunity for the Dawgs to make a statement in the final game of the season.

    For Mississippi State to topple Northwestern, QB Tyler Russell and the Bulldogs' receiving corps will need to make some serious noise in the passing game.

    MSU currently ranks No. 73 in scoring, but that's mostly thanks to a prolific ground game, which doesn't bode well against the Wildcats' No. 18 rushing defense.

    The Northwestern defense does have its fair share of vulnerabilities, but they will be tough to exploit unless Mississippi State can spread the field and move the ball vertically.

Northwestern Wildcats

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    Had it not been for three fourth-quarter collapses in Big Ten play, Northwestern could be playing in a different New Year's Day bowl.

    But because of the Wildcats' inability to close games, especially on the road, NU is stuck with a trip to Jacksonville to face Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.

    Despite the consolation bowl bid, it has been a very successful season for the Wildcats, one that they will look to finish off with a victory over another SEC foe.

    Unfortunately for the fans in Evanston, that might prove to be a difficult task, as Northwestern has lost nine consecutive bowl games, including each of the last four seasons.

    The losing streak is tied for the longest in NCAA history, and the Wildcats would love nothing more than to drop that dubious distinction and earn the program's first bowl win since 1948.

    In order to do so, Northwestern's No. 66 ranked scoring defense will need to play above expectations, most notably against the pass, where NU ranks No. 98 in the nation.

    The Wildcats' offense will definitely have a tough test against the Bulldogs' No. 16 ranked scoring defense, but ultimately the pressure is on the Northwestern defense to win this game, even against a sub-par MSU attack.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Like many other bowl-bound teams, Oklahoma State must wrestle with the distraction of losing one of its coaches, offensive coordinator Todd Monken.

    As the Cowboys prepare to face Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, their high-flying aerial attack will need to stay on track without the mastermind Monken on the sideline.

    Monken filled the head coaching vacancy at Southern Miss, but left a gaping hole in the OSU offense, which ranks second in the nation in scoring and passing yardage.

    But despite the massive loss, the Cowboys should be able to handle the Boilermakers' No. 63 ranked scoring defense, which has struggled mightily against the pass, ranking No. 51 in that category.

    Assuming that is the case, it'll be up to the Oklahoma State defense, a unit that ranks No. 61 in points against, to lead the Cowboys to victory.

    Purdue's offense isn't great, but the Makers do have a productive running game, one that OSU will need to contain in order to salvage the season with a bowl win.

Purdue Boilermakers

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    About a month ago, the Purdue Boilermakers were stuck in a rut, sitting with a 3-6 record after losing five consecutive games.

    At that point, bowl eligibilty seemed like a pipe dream and head coach Danny Hope's seat was on the verge of spontaneous combustion.

    But thanks mostly to a soft schedule to close the year, Purdue ran the table and reached the 6-6 plateau, earning a spot in the Heart of Dallas Bowl versus Oklahoma State.

    Unfortunately for Hope, the three game winning streak wasn't enough to cool the critics, as the fourth-year coach was shown the door after compiling a 22-27 record in West Lafayette.

    If the Boilermakers hope to honor the departed Hope with a victory, the offense will need to play with more consistency, especially passing the ball.

    Now, don't get me wrong...the porous Purdue defense has plenty of work to do prepping for the Cowboys' second ranked offense, but OSU is going to score points. That's an undeniable fact.

    With that in mind, the pressure will be on the Makers' offense to keep up with Ok State, giving the embattled Purdue defense a break.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    If you happened to catch the offensive clinic that Wisconsin exhibited in the Big Ten Championship Game, then you already know what I am going to write about in this slide.

    Nebraska needs to play defense, plain and simple. The blame falls entirely on the shoulders of the Huskers' No. 98 ranked rushing defense, which is a horrible complement to NU's top-ranked pass defense.

    Yes, that's right. The Cornhuskers are No. 1 in the country against the pass, but that doesn't mean much when the opposition can run circles around the front seven.

    In the B1G title game, Wisconsin rushed for 539 yards en route to a lopsided 70-31 victory, as three Badgers eclipsed the 100-yard mark.

    Needless to say, that's not going to cut it against Georgia's lethal RB duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

    The Huskers will need to play sound, disciplined defense if they hope to upset the Bulldogs in the Capital One Bowl and rebound from the ugly loss to Bucky.

    The key for Nebraska will be to own the trenches, an admittedly difficult task against UGA's monster linemen, but the main goal nonetheless.  

Georgia Bulldogs

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    Southeastern Conference fans usually don't complain about the BCS system, but they have a legitimate gripe with the two-per-conference policy that forced Georgia to settle for the Capitol One Bowl in 2012.

    The Bulldogs, if you recall, were about five yards away from competing for a BCS National Championship, falling 32-28 to Alabama in heart-breaking fashion.

    As a result, UGA is left out of the high-tier bowls because one-loss Florida, a team that the Dawgs beat, snagged the SEC's second BCS spot.

    Suffice it to say, Mark Richt and the Georgia players are unhappy, but that discontent can't turn to lethargy if the Bulldogs want to finish the year on a high note.

    As UGA prepares to face a bloodied Nebraska squad on New Year's Day, the Dawgs will have to focus on offense, specifically the aerial attack.

    Georgia currently ranks a respectable No. 48 in passing yards, but will have to perform better against a Cornhuskers defense that comes in No. 1 in the nation defending the pass.

    Luckily for the Bulldogs, NU has an impressively bad run defense, which should mean good things for the Georgia running backs.

    But just in case the Huskers suddenly find some solidity along the defensive line, the Dawgs and QB Aaron Murray will need to be ready to win it through the air. 

South Carolina Gamecocks

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    South Carolina, another Top 10 SEC team that was locked out of the BCS by virtue of the two-team maximum, will have to find the motivation to show up for a lower-tier bowl.

    The Gamecocks finished the season with two losses and are set to do battle with Michigan (8-4, 6-2 B1G) in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day, a lackluster prize for an outstanding season.

    But you can bet the old ball coach will have his team fired up, especially since Michigan is still the winningest program in college football history.

    In order for the Gamecocks to improve their winning streak to five straight, they will need find some semblance of a passing game.

    South Carolina currently ranks No. 95 in passing, averaging just north of 180 yards per game, stats that don't match up very well with the Wolverines' second-ranked pass defense.

    Without the services of Marcus Lattimore in the ground game, the Gamecocks will be hard-pressed to find the end zone against a UM defense that ranks No. 16 in points against.

    And if South Carolina can't get the passing attack of the ground, the Michigan defense could lead the Wolverines to an impressive upset deep in SEC territory.

Michigan Wolverines

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    As the previous slide indicated, Michigan has proven success on defense in 2012, entering the matchup with South Carolina in the Outback Bowl with lofty rankings in a few key areas.

    But if the Wolverines hope to bounce back from a tough loss at the hands of rival Ohio State, they will need to have more consistency from QB Devin Gardner.

    The junior signal-caller has become Michigan's throw-first option, while QB Denard Robinson has evolved into a run specialist, always getting involved on sweeps and misdirections.

    As great as that may sound on paper, it hasn't been getting it done between the sidelines.

    The Wolverines rank No. 58 in scoring and No. 98 in passing, two figures that will likely be exposed by South Carolina's No. 13 scoring defense.

    Clearly, the entire offensive game plan needs some retooling, and one extremely important area of emphasis will have to be ball security.

    Michigan ranks No. 100 nationally in turnover margin with 25 turnovers lost and 17 gained, which works out to a -.67 average.

    If Gardner and the UM offense can't maintain possession and grind out drives, the Gamecocks will be ready and waiting to bury Big Blue early.

Wisconsin Badgers

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    Before the B1G title game, most people had already written Wisconsin off, mainly because the Badgers were only in Indianapolis due to the ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State.

    Needless to say, Wisconsin silenced the critics and then some, absolutely dismantling a heavily-favored Nebraska squad to earn a third-straight Rose Bowl appearance.

    The future looked bright in America's Dairyland, at least until head coach Bret Bielema bolted for greener pastures down in Arkansas, leaving the Badgers wondering what happened.

    Why would an established coach leave a major Big Ten program after making a BCS bowl trip for a third year in a row?

    Whatever the reasoning, the sudden and unexpected loss will certainly take its toll as the Badgers prepare to face the Pac-12 Champion Stanford Cardinal in Pasadena.

    Unfortunately for those left in Bielema's wake, the Wisconsin offense is going to have a hard time matching up with the physicality and athleticism of the Stanford defense.

    The Cardinal D ranks No. 16 in scoring and No. 2 against the rush, which just so happens to be the entirety of the Badgers' offense.

    Unless interim coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez can get Wisconsin's No. 115 passing offense going, the Badgers could be heading for a third-straight Rose Bowl loss.

Stanford Cardinal

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    By edging UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship Game, Stanford earned its first Rose Bowl berth since the 1999-2000 season.

    The Cardinal, under the guidance of second-year head coach David Shaw, has played its way to The Granddaddy of Them All with tenacious defense and a powerful rushing attack.

    But the success of senior RB Stepfan Taylor and the recent emergence of QB Kevin Hogan hasn't translated to statistical dominance.

    Stanford currently ranks No. 71 in scoring offense, averaging 28.5 points per game, and No. 94 in passing yardage.

    Against a Wisconsin defense that ranks No. 19 in points against, the Cardinal offense will need to more efficient and capable of finishing drives.

    In order to open up the middle for Taylor, Stanford may need to stray away from its typical jumbo set and spread the field on occasion.

    Obviously, the pro-style attack has been working for the Cardinal this season, but tossing in a few quick passes and play-action fakes will keep the Badgers' defense honest.

    If Stanford hopes to win its first Rose Bowl since 1971-72, the Card will need to crank up the offensive multiplicity to jolt the offense. 

Northern Illinois Huskies

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    In college basketball, a Cinderella team that makes a deep run in the tournament is always a fan favorite.

    But on the collegiate gridiron we call them BCS busters, and they aren't too well-liked.

    This year's darling is 12-1 MAC Champion Northern Illinois, a team that snuck into the Top 16 after surviving double-overtime against Kent State in the conference title game.

    Unfortunately for the Huskies, most people were upset by their bid to the Discover Orange Bowl, as NIU's presence deprives fans of bigger, marquee matchups in the BCS.

    Nonetheless, it's the Huskies who will take the field in Miami on New Year's Day, lined up across from ACC Champion Florida State.

    Northern Illinois will have to play a near perfect game to top the Seminoles, whose defense ranks No. 3 against the pass, No. 5 stopping the run and No. 7 in points allowed.

    Despite the Huskies' impressive offensive rankings (No. 9 in scoring and rushing), they have yet to face a defense near as powerful as Florida State.

    The next best scoring defense that NIU has seen this season was Iowa's No. 33 ranked squad. The result of that game was a one-point loss, the Huskies' only blemish of the year.

    Unless Northern Illinois can find an answer for the Noles' defensive pressure, the Huskies' dream season will quickly become a nightmare.  

Florida State Seminoles

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    As Florida State readies for a date with Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl, the Seminoles must be feeling good, entering the BCS showdown as two-touchdown favorites.

    But regardless of FSU's obvious talent and size advantage, the Noles need to make good use of their bowl practices by fixing some lacking aspects of their game.

    The most glaring area of need for Florida State is passing offense, as the Seminoles rank No. 43 in yards gained through the air.

    And while the running game has carried the Tomahawk for FSU this season, a more proficient passing attack is always a good thing.

    It wouldn't be fair to omit a mention of the NIU defense, an overachieving unit that ranks No. 18 in the nation in scoring, but the Huskies haven't played anyone in 2012 so the numbers are inflated.

    As such, Florida State shouldn't have much trouble navigating the Huskies' defense, especially with a big offensive line push in the trenches. 

    With the impending graduation of senior QB E.J. Manuel, the Noles could greatly benefit from getting some extra, first-team reps in for backup Clint Trickett. 

Louisville Cardinals

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    The Allstate Sugar Bowl pits an 11-1 Florida against the two-loss Big East Champion Louisville Cardinals.

    The Gators were in the national title picture until the bitter end, finishing No. 3 overall in the BCS standings, but ultimately had to settle for a trip to New Orleans. 

    Louisville enters the matchup after knocking off Rutgers in New Brunswick, an improvement after consecutive losses to UConn and Syracuse that jeopardized the Cards' BCS chances.

    Florida and its third ranked scoring defense figures to be quite a challenge for Louisville's one-dimensional, pass-oriented offense.

    The Cardinals rank No. 24 through the air with close to 300-yards passing per game, but they have a very limited run game, coming in with the No. 100 rushing offense.

    Even though the Gators are better against the run, Louisville's lack of a big time running threat will allow Florida to play its best pass-stopping packages on defense.

    The Louisville offense will need to establish some kind of ground game to open up passing opportunities for QB Terry Bridgewater. If the Cardinals can't keep the Gators honest, they will struggle to compete in the school's first BCS game since 2006. 

Florida Gators

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    As Florida game plans for the Sugar Bowl showdown with Louisville, the Gators will definitely need to focus on fine-tuning their offense.

    UF ranks No. 76 in scoring and an unbelievably low No. 118 in passing yardage. While the Gators do average just short of 200-yards a game rushing, the inability to move the ball vertically has severely limited their productivity.

    The Cardinals have a serviceable defense that has shown flashes, allowing a respectable 23.8 points per game (No. 37).

    Assuming Florida's defense does what it should be able to do, the crowd at the Superdome might be in for a defensive struggle. Don't SEC fans just love defense?

    As much as they might, the Gators would be better off developing a passing game to spread the Louisville defenders out.

    RB Mike Gillislee should still be the offensive focus, as he is UF's only major scoring threat, but there needs to be a little more flavor in the play calling. 

Kansas State Wildcats

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    The matchup in the 2012 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is what most thought would be the BCS Championship less than a month ago.

    But, as we've learned so many times this season, the entire scope of the national title hunt can change with one unexpected result.

    And because of the outcomes on November 17, Oregon and Kansas State ended up on the outside looking in, paired against each other in what looks to be a very entertaining Fiesta Bowl.

    Despite the Wildcats' respectable No. 24 rank in scoring defense, the matchup with the Ducks is one that any team will struggle with.

    The three-headed monster of Barner, Thomas and Mariota has been making heads spin all season, finishing the season second in scoring and third in rushing yardage.

    Kansas State will have to play with discipline on defense, emphasizing gap integrity, while also controlling the edge. If KSU loses contain on any of Oregon's playmakers, the score will start to climb in a hurry.

    The Wildcats have an explosive offense of their own, but they don't want to face the Ducks in a shootout.

Oregon Ducks

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    While the media hypes up the Oregon offense in preparation for the Fiesta Bowl, a lethal Kansas State attack sometimes slips the mind. Please, allow me to refresh your memory.

    KSU ranks No. 10 in the nation in scoring offense with an average of 40.7 PPG under the command of Heisman finalist Collin Klein. The senior signal-caller has helped the Wildcats score 50 or more points in five games this season on their way to an 11-1 record.

    The Ducks' defense has been solid this year, coming into the game ranked No. 26 nationally in points against. But the Oregon defenders have been exposed at times, most notably in a 62-51 win at the Coliseum against USC.

    While UO did end up victorious behind 730 yards of offense, it's still a concern that the defense allowed 615 yards. Kansas State has weapons that can exploit the Ducks' vulnerabilities, as well as the field general that can rally the troops.

    Oregon will undoubtedly put up some numbers on offense, but the defense will need to keep pace if the Ducks want to win a BCS bowl for the second straight season.   

Texas A&M Aggies

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    In perhaps the most intriguing non-BCS bowl pairing, the Texas A&M Aggies are set to face the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2012 AT&T Cotton Bowl.

    TAMU's strengths are pretty clear, as College Station is home to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and the third ranked scoring offense in the land.

    But the Aggies' biggest flaw this season has been pass defense, an area of weakness that QB Landry Jones and the Oklahoma offense will be able to exploit.

    Unless first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin can find a way to improve on his team's No. 79 rank against the pass, the Sooners' No. 5 air attack will tear Texas A&M's defense to shreds.

    At that point, even the magic of Johnny Football won't be enough to save the Ags.

Oklahoma Sooners

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    As Oklahoma prepares to face Johnny Football in the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners' have plenty to account for in their defensive scheming.

    In addition to the electrifying freshman under center, Texas A&M has scoring threats throughout the offensive lineup. In the Aggies' season finale blowout of Missouri, six different TAMU players found the end zone.

    The OU offense should be able to continue its tear, so the game lies in the hands of the Sooners' defense and its efforts to contain Manziel's well-oiled machine.

    The Oklahoma defense has been successful against the pass this year, but the run stopping power has proven to come at a premium.

    The Sooners rank No. 81 in the country against the run, allowing 181 rushing yards per game. Needless to say, that won't do against the legs of Johnny Football.   

Pittsburgh Panthers

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    The 2012 BBVA Compass Bowl features two 6-6 teams in Pittsburgh and Ole Miss, though a .500 team from the SEC is likely stronger than an equivalent Big East squad.

    Nonetheless, the Panthers will come out with the belief that they can win the game, and given the Rebels' offensive struggles, it's pretty clear they can.

    Pitt's defense has been impressive all season, allowing just under 20 points per contest, but the Panthers' offense has been mostly dreadful (No. 74 in scoring, No. 91 in rushing yardage).

    And while Ole Miss' defense is far from terrifying, it's still made up of big, SEC athletes that would gladly put the hurt on the Panther offense.

    Since the Compass Bowl is one of those strange low-profile bowls played in January, head coach Paul Chryst has close to a month to add some new wrinkles to his offensive playbook, which just might catch the Rebs off guard. 

Ole Miss Rebels

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    The Ole Miss football team needed every game of the year to reach bowl eligibility, as the Rebels upset in-state rival Mississippi State in the season finale for their sixth win.

    Ole Miss' reward was a date with Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl, a matchup that will likely become a hard-fought, defensive struggle.

    Pitt ranks No. 24 in the country defending both the pass and the run, while the Rebs rank No. 47 through the air and No. 56 on the ground.

    In order for Ole Miss to come away victorious on January 6, Bo Wallace and the Rebels' offense will need to find success in a variety of different ways.

    If Ole Miss fails and is reduced to a one-dimensional attack, the Panthers' defense is good enough to take advantage.

Kent State Golden Flashes

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    After falling to BCS buster Northern Illinois in double overtime in the MAC title game, the Kent State Golden Flashes are set to face Arkansas State in the Bowl.

    KSU's rushing defense has been passable this year, but defending the pass has been very problematic for the Flashes, as they rank No. 108 in the country in that statistic.

    Arkansas State's passing attack comes in at No. 41 in the land, but don't let that ranking fool you; the Red Wolves can move the ball at will.

    ASU QB Ryan Aplin has piled up 3,129 passing yards and 23 TDs, while only throwing four interceptions.

    Unless Kent State can fix its woes in the defensive backfield, the Red Wolves should be able to gain big chunks of yardage by stretching the field.

Arkansas State Red Wolves

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    The story of the Bowl is coaching, as Kent State and Arkansas State both lost their head coaches to AQ programs following their successful seasons.

    Whichever interim coaching staff can get the most out of its defense figures to be the winner in this matchup, as neither squad has exhibited an especially threatening D in 2012.

    The Sun Belt champion Red Wolves only dropped one conference game this season, a 26-13 decision against Western Kentucky. In that game, the Hilltoppers rushed for 243 yards, including 215 from RB Antonio Andrews.

    Considering Kent State boasts the No. 17 run game in the nation, Arkansas State will really need to lock up the line of scrimmage and limit the Flashes' ground attack.

    If KSU is able to run free on the Wolves' No. 53 rushing defense, it could be a long day of frustrations for Arkansas State fans.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    As the saying goes, defense wins championships, and the 2012 BCS National Championship Game is far from an exception.

    Notre Dame and Alabama boast the No. 1 and No. 2 scoring defenses in the country, allowing a mere 10.3 and 10.7 PPG respectively.

    So for the Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide, the keys to victory will be getting things going on the offensive side of the ball.

    Unfortunately for fans from South Bend, the Irish look like they have the steeper hill to climb, as Notre Dame ranks No. 76 in the nation in scoring.

    If they hope to end the SEC's string of dominance in the BCS title game, the Golden Domers will have to move the ball effectively, both on the ground and through the air.

    The impetus falls on QB Everett Golson, a first-year starter, to lead the charge for ND, trying to improve up on his team's unimpressive No. 76 rank in passing yardage.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Alabama finds itself in a very familiar position this season, preparing to do battle in the BCS National Championship Game for the third time in four years.

    Led by a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, Alabama has earned its trip to Miami by pounding the ball on the ground.

    And while A.J. McCarron has had an impressive season, accumulating 2,669 yards and 26 TDs with only three INTs, the passing attack still sits with a No. 85 national rank.

    Because Notre Dame has the most stifling defense in all of college football, especially against the rush, it's a safe bet that head coach Nick Saban will emphasize the importance of passing in practice this month.

    If Alabama hopes to hoist another crystal football come January, McCarron and leading receiver Amari Cooper will need to do some serious damage over the top.