BCS Rankings: Underrated Teams That Will Prove Their Worth in Bowl Games

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIDecember 7, 2012

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 24: Quarterback Devin Gardner #12 of the Michigan Wolverines leads the huddle against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 24, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The BCS picture has been settled, but there are some teams that are ready to prove they have been slighted by the rankings as they stand entering college football's postseason.

Some Cinderella stories were able to qualify for some of the biggest games in the country, namely MAC champion Northern Illinois and Big East winner Louisville. Others featured in the teens of the BCS hierarchy will have plenty of pride to play for, though.

Here is a look at the latest rankings, followed by a breakdown of the trio of teams that will show they can compete with the sport's elite on the bowl stage.

BCS Rankings

Rank Team
1 Notre Dame
2 Alabama
3 Florida
4 Oregon
5 Kansas State
6 Stanford
7 Georgia
9 Texas A&M
10 South Carolina
11 Oklahoma
12 Florida State
13 Oregon State
14 Clemson
15 Northern Illinois
16 Nebraska
18 Michigan
19 Boise State
20 Northwestern
21 Louisville
22 Utah State
23 Texas
24 San Jose State
25 Kent State

No. 17 UCLA vs. Baylor (Holiday Bowl, Dec. 27)

It may appear that the Bruins are the heavy favorite, but bear in mind that the Bears are one of the hotter teams as of late.

Baylor not only blew out former No. 1 Kansas State, but also Art Briles' bunch proceeded to use the momentum to pull out a dramatic overtime victory over Texas Tech and win over Oklahoma State to cap off the Big 12 schedule with three big home wins.

However confident the Bears may be in being able to outscore the opposition will be dispelled when they face UCLA, who is much improved under first-year head coach Jim L. Mora.

Yes, that's the same Mora who coached the Atlanta Falcons to the NFC championship game once upon a time, and he has breathed new life into the Bruins' program.

Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has done an exceptional job bringing along freshman QB Brett Hundley, who is already the best quarterback the school has had in recent memory.

Combine Hundley's dynamic running capabilities and precociously developed passing prowess with senior RB Johnathan Franklin's exceptional production, and the Bruins have an extremely formidable, balanced offense.

Those on the West Coast may see a resurgent Bruins team, but their stock is down after back-to-back losses to Stanford. It would be one thing if UCLA got beat down the second time around, yet the team showed resilience and nearly pulled out a victory in the Pac-12 Championship Game before falling short, 27-24.

Absent any other truly captivating matchups on this date (Cincinnati vs. Duke; Bowling Green vs. San Jose State), the pseudo-coming-out party for the Bruins will be impossible for the massive market of Big 12 country—and the rest of college football fans—to ignore.

No. 14 Clemson vs. No. 8 LSU (Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31)

This battle of the Tigers may not ultimately go Clemson's way, but it will go a long way in determining how much respect the Atlantic Coast Conference earns on a national stage in college football.

Les Miles' team always has one of the premier defenses in the country, but the unit will have its hands full against the likes of QB Tajh Boyd and an explosive receiving duo of Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins.

Boyd is a dual-threat quarterback, and quietly one of the best in the country. The junior has completed 66.6 percent of his passes and accounted for more than 4,000 yards of total offense and 43 touchdowns.

Guess who else has accounted for 43 combined touchdowns? Heisman Trophy front-runner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.

Yet Boyd goes a little more unnoticed due to the profile and perception of the ACC. But with weapons he has at his disposal combined with his own abilities, there is seemingly limitless potential for the junior signal-caller.

Against the likes of Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo of LSU bearing down on him, Boyd's mobility will be the X-factor. The problem Clemson faces is trying to stop the physical, run-based attack of their opponent, led by freshman RB Jeremy Hill.

Even if the SEC Tigers control the clock, Clemson has the explosiveness on offense to put points on the board as fast as any team in the nation.

Despite the fact that LSU's only two losses were to the second and third-ranked teams in the country, don't discount their 14th-ranked ACC foe. Clemson will be determined to prove itself against the best conference after a loss to rival South Carolina at home.

No. 18 Michigan vs. No. 10 South Carolina (Outback Bowl, Jan. 1)

Ever since Devin Gardner took over at quarterback, the Wolverines have looked like a different team. The development unfortunately transpired due to an injury to longtime starter Denard Robinson, but Gardner has proven to be a far more adept passer.

Gardner can also make plays with his feet—his athleticism is obvious considering he was a receiver before getting the nod under center and is second on the team with four receiving TDs.

It will be extremely interesting to see what Michigan does at QB, particularly with a narrow loss to archrival Ohio State in the 'Shoe. Lining up Robinson in the backfield while having Gardner taking the snaps seems like a most dangerous schematic concoction to throw at opposing defenses.

Michigan will need all the deception it can muster against the stout defense of the Gamecocks, who endured an absolutely brutal schedule in the SEC and came away with many scars.

Not the least of the adversity South Carolina has faced was the gruesome injury to superstar RB Marcus Lattimore, which ended his season. But the team is undefeated since then, including an impressive 27-17 victory in Death Valley against Clemson.

Sophomore QB Dylan Thompson filled in exceptionally well for senior Connor Shaw in the Tigers game, throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns.

With both teams' situations under center in flux, anything could happen.

One thing working in the Wolverines' favor is that its secondary is the second-best in the country (h/t NCAA.com), led by fifth-year senior safety Jordan Kovacs.

Like the other teams on this list, Michigan may not prevail and force everyone to hail to ring in the new year, but it's not going to be the SEC romp that many outsiders will likely predict due to the Gamecocks' conference superiority.


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