Bowl Predictions 2012: Underrated Stars Who Will Shine in the Spotlight
Networks and sponsors often use the guise of "giving teams the honor" as justifications for having an inordinate amount of bowl games every season.
While most fans can see through that facade, the best part of second-tier bowls is that they are an opportunity to be introduced to underrated players that wouldn't have otherwise gotten a national run.
No matter how strident a fan or analyst is, it's impossible to sift through every minute of college football film on a weekly basis. And based on some of the play we saw at supposedly elite schools like Auburn this season, that's probably a good thing.
However, bowls are a good source of entertainment and allow those players who slipped through the cracks to have their moment in the sun. Which ones will excel under the spotlight? Here is a look at a few unsung stars that will produce huge bowl performances.
Jordan Lynch (QB, Northern Illinois Huskies)
The scintillating junior quarterback essentially had his coming out party in the MAC Championship Game, but will get his first real opportunity on a national stage against Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
In his first year as a starter, Lynch took the MAC by storm on a weekly basis. Throwing for 2,962 yards and 24 touchdowns against five interceptions, the Huskies' signal-caller was an apt thrower and completed less than 60 percent of his passes in only two games all season.
However, it was his scintillating ability in the run game that made him a star. Lynch gained 1,771 rushing yards on the season, which leads all FBS rushers and broke Denard Robinson's record for most by a quarterback in a single season.
With a matchup against the Seminoles' top-notch defense in store, we'll finally get to see if Lynch is an elite college quarterback or simply took advantage of his weaker competition. Something tells me Northern Illinois will follow the Tajh Boyd blueprint to success.
Conner Vernon & Jamison Crowder (WR, Duke Blue Devils)
Duke may have backed into its bowl game with four consecutive losses to end the season, but its underrated receiving corps certainly wasn't at fault.
The leader of the scintillating duo is Crowder, who emerged as a focal point underneath this season. A sophomore, Crowder finished the regular season with 70 receptions for 1,025 yards and eight touchdowns, each number ranking inside the top-four among ACC pass-catchers.
Not to be outdone, Vernon wasn't very far behind his co-top target. Continually underrated during his time in Durham, Vernon finished his senior regular season with 75 catches for 955 yards and seven touchdowns. Like his counterpart, those were all top-five numbers in the conference.
All told, Vernon and Crowder accounted for 59.4 percent of Duke's receiving yards on the season and helped Sean Renfree have his best season behind center.
With a matchup against Cincinnati coming in the Belk Bowl, both Vernon and Crowder should have great games. The Bearcats had the second-worst pass defense in the Big East this season, giving up 243.5 yards per game.
Though the secondary was good at not breaking for touchdowns, it's possible that both Duke wideouts end their 2012 campaign with 100-yard games.
Beau Blankenship (RB, Ohio Bobcats)
Perhaps best known by the mainstream fan for torching Penn State for 181 yards in Week 1, Blankenship quietly carried Ohio to an 8-4 record this season. With that distinction comes a trip to the Independence Bowl and a matchup against early-season sensation Louisiana Monroe.
On the season, Blankenship has rushed for 1,500 yards (ninth in the FBS) and scored 11 touchdowns all while sharing the load with Ryan Boykin and to a lesser extent Tyler Tettleton.
If the Bobcats hope to get back on a winning path, though, Frank Solich will have to pound the rock early and often with Blankenship. In two of Ohio's four losses on the season, Blankenship had fewer than 20 carries and the team suffered from that fact.
UL Monroe comes into the Independence Bowl 31st in the FBS in run defense, so it will be necessary that Blankenship breaks that trend and comes away with a huge performance. Based on how he's played this season, there's little reason to think that won't happen if Solich gives his back an the opportunity.
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