Bowl Games 2012: Breaking Down Best Non-BCS Matchups
Theoretically, the BCS system is meant to pit the best teams against one another in the nation's most prestigious bowl games. In practice, that rarely happens, as automatic-qualifying procedures hogtie the BCS bowls into taking undeserving teams that aren't on par with their counterparts.
Yes, I'm looking at you, Louisville, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.
While that undoubtedly takes some of the excitement out of the hallowed January bowls, it also allows other games to reap the rewards and host matchups of the top BCS snubs.
The 2012 slate will see three contests between talented clubs inside the Top 16 in the final BCS rankings.
With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of the best non-BCS bowl matchups.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: No. 8 LSU Tigers vs. No. 14 Clemson Tigers
Of all the games on the bowl schedule, the Chick-fil-A Bowl may provide the most interesting dichotomy between its teams.
LSU is a team almost strictly led by defensive excellence. The Tigers come into their postseason matchup giving up just 16.9 points per game and have only given up more than 20 points in three games all season. They also rank in the top 10 in the nation in both total yards (297.8) and rushing yards per game allowed (103.1).
Meanwhile, Clemson boasted one of the most prolific offenses in the FBS this season. Spurred by scintillating dual-threat quarterback Tajh Boyd and running back Andre Ellington, Dabo Swinney's squad scored 42.3 points per game, only going below the 30-point mark in its first and last contests of the regular season.
Boyd was particularly spectacular. After he accounted for 43 total touchdowns and over 4,000 total yards this year, one has to wonder whether he would have gotten some Heisman love had the ACC not been so weak.
There's just one small problem for Boyd and Clemson in general: Their two worst offensive outings have come against SEC schools. In games against Auburn and South Carolina, Clemson put up a total of 43 points while Boyd threw for under 200 yards per game and had as many interceptions (three) as total touchdowns.
Considering that LSU's defense is statistically superior to South Carolina's, the transitive property puts Les Miles' team in a good position to win.
Look for a close game that comes down to the wire, but ends with Clemson's third disappointing performance against the SEC.
Score Prediction: LSU 24, Clemson 20
Capital One Bowl: No. 7 Georgia Bulldogs vs. No. 16 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Both teams had vastly different experiences in their conference championship games, but the biggest takeaway is the same: Neither Georgia nor Nebraska can consistently stop the run.
In their down-to-the-final-gasp 32-28 loss to Alabama, the Bulldogs allowed the Crimson Tide to rush for 350 yards, as Nick Saban essentially dared Georgia to stop his running backs. Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron threw the ball just seven times in the second half, yet the Tide dropped 21 points and came back from down 11 to capture a berth in the national championship game.
On the other hand, Nebraska just got plain eviscerated by Wisconsin. The Badgers dropped 70 points on the Huskers, catalyzed by 538 yards and eight touchdowns in the running game, which included two Wisconsin running backs going over 200 yards.
Two teams, completely similar problems. It just so happens that Georgia's embarrassing defensive performance came against the No. 2 team in the country, while Nebraska's came against a squad that has five losses.
In what could be a shootout, look for the Bulldogs to prevail behind strong performances from Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley.
Score Prediction: Georgia 42, Nebraska 31
Cotton Bowl: No. 9 Texas A&M Aggies vs. No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners
It seems like every season the Cotton Bowl matches up two squads worthy of BCS selection, and this year is certainly no different.
Heisman finalist Johnny Manziel leads a Texas A&M squad that has surprised everyone in its first SEC season. By now, everyone knows the legendary story of Johnny Football. The unassuming freshman barely wins a preseason quarterback battle and then proceeds to put up one of the best dual-threat seasons in college football history.
Coming into the Cotton Bowl, Manziel has 4,600 total yards and 43 touchdowns and may wind up as the first freshman ever to win the bronze statue. With a regular season win over Alabama, this Texas A&M team also has a battle-tested pedigree that puts it on par with just about every squad in the BCS games.
Oklahoma's season doesn't quite read like a bad Disney sports movie. Quarterback Landry Jones and head coach Bob Stoops simply helmed a top-tier 10-2 team, the Sooners' third-consecutive season with double-digit wins.
All told, these are very similarly skilled teams. Jones and Manziel should be able to march up and down the field against the two middling defenses, leaving this a classic "who has the ball last?" matchup.
In coin flips, it's always a good idea to ride the best player. Manziel finishes his storybook season with a last-minute drive down the field, and Texas A&M gets a thrilling victory.
Score Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Oklahoma 35
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