College Football Rankings 2012: Where Every Team Stands as Bowl Season Nears

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2012

COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 06:  Jadeveon Clowney #7 of the South Carolina Gamecocks celebrates after their 35-7 win over the Georgia Bulldogs at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 6, 2012 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It's the most wonderful time of the year in college football—it's Bowl Season.

Each of the 25 teams who find themselves part of the BCS standings through 14 weeks of the season will be in action, some with more favorable matchups than others (h/t ESPN).

With the first bowl games of the year set to kickoff on Dec. 15, let's take a look at what's in store for everyone in the Top 25 over the next few weeks.

All stats via unless otherwise noted.

No. 1: Notre Dame (11-0)

The Fighting Irish have a date with the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship Game at Sun Life Stadium on Jan. 7.

Notre Dame's offense will have its hands full with an Alabama defense that trails only the Fighting Irish in scoring and is first overall in total defense. Sophomore QB Everett Golson will need to be on his toes and limit his mistakes for his squad to have a chance.

Defensively, Heisman hopeful Manti Te'o must continue to be stout against the run, with the Crimson Tide rolling with two 1,000-yard rushers in Eddie Lacey and T.J. Yeldon.

No. 2: Alabama (12-1)

Hoping to defend its national championship (and win three crystal footballs in four years), the Alabama Crimson Tide will face its stiffest challenge of the year when they meet the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Miami Gardens on Jan. 7.

The Crimson Tide must keep tabs on Notre Dame's dynamic dual-threat QB Golson while their own QB, A.J. McCarron, must limit his mistakes against an Irish defense that is every bit as good as their own.

Nick Saban is sure to come up with new ways to try and befuddle and confuse the inexperienced Irish signal-caller, while sticking to what works on offense—a heavy dose of T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacey.

No. 3: Florida (11-1)

Florida is sitting pretty heading into the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 to face the champions of the Big East, the No. 21 Louisville Cardinals.

With the possible exception of quarterback, Florida simply has too much talent on both sides of the ball for its former defensive coordinator, Charlie Strong, to account for.

The Gators must be wary of the Cardinals' super sophomore QB Teddy Bridgewater, but there's little doubt that they are going to roll to a rather easy victory on Jan. 2.

No. 4: Oregon (11-1)

Oregon faces a stiff challenge in the Fiesta Bowl against No. 5 Kansas State on Jan 3 as both teams match up well against each other.

While the Wildcats have a Heisman Trophy finalist under center in Collin Klein, the Ducks' freshman phenom QB, Marcus Mariota, is just as dangerous.

K-State has an excellent RB in junior John Hubert; Oregon counters with senior Kenjon Barner and explosive sophomore De'Anthony Thomas.

Defensively, both teams allow between 21 and 22 points per game.

The Ducks will need to limit their mistakes and Mariota must rise to the occasion and take advantage of the multiple weapons he has at his disposal to get out to an early lead. Allowing Klein and the Wildcats to keep it close could be disastrous.

No. 5: Kansas State (11-1)

As Collin Klein goes, so do the Wildcats. 

If Klein puts up numbers like he has over the last three games of the season, when he completed only 55 percent of his passes and threw more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (three), Kansas State will be in for a long day against the Oregon Ducks in the Fiesta Bowl.

Defensively, K-State must prepare itself for everything and anything—Baylor's offense gave the Wildcats fits earlier this season, and Oregon has a more dynamic and explosive attack than the Bears.

No. 6: Stanford (11-2)

The Pac-12 champions, the Cardinal have a date against the Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

Stanford's defense is outstanding and they have the best group of linebackers in the country. Their ability to stop the run will be the key in their battle with the Badgers.

They'll be seeing a heavy dose of Wisconsin's senior stud Montee Ball, who is averaging nearly 160 yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns over his last eight games.

Offensively, Kevin Hogan must limit his mistakes as the Badgers have an underrated unit that is solid in all aspects of the game, and the Cardinal offensive line must open holes for Stepfan Taylor.

No. 7: Georgia (11-2)

Georgia nearly took down Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and will be playing with a chip on its shoulder against No. 22 Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day.

The Bulldogs must work on improving their run defense, which has allowed 16 touchdowns and more than 177 rushing yards per game if they hope to have success against Nebraska, who runs the ball as well as any team in the country.

No. 8: LSU (10-2)

The key to victory for LSU against No. 14 Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 is easier said than done.

LSU's defense must contain Clemson's explosive offense, which, led by QB Tajh Boyd, averages more than 42 points per game. 

Getting pressure on Boyd early and consistently is a must.

No. 9: Texas A&M (10-2)

It's a battle of former Big 12 foes when Johnny Manziel and the Aggies take on No. 11 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Jan 4.

Both teams have prolific passing attacks: Texas A&M ranks 14th in the nation, Oklahoma fifth.

While the Sooners have struggled against mobile quarterbacks this season, Manziel has struggled against big-time defenses (with one notable exception—Alabama).

Johnny Football must capitalize on every possession in this one—leaving points on the field will be a losing proposition.

No. 10: South Carolina (10-2)

Going up against the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, South Carolina must run the ball early and often.

Michigan has been solid against the pass but struggled to stop the run, and while Kenny Miles is no Marcus Lattimore, establishing the run early will allow dual-threat QB Connor Shaw to have room to make plays.

Defensively the game plan is simple: unleash Jadeveon Clowney and contain Denard Robinson, who will be all over the field—under center, in the backfield and split out wide.

No. 11: Oklahoma (10-2)

The Sooners have the unenviable task of going up against America's new sweetheart, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4.

Texas A&M has struggled to defend the pass this season while the Sooners have one of the most prolific aerial attacks in the country.

Landry Jones must take advantage of mismatches and get the ball into the hands of his trio of excellent receivers in Kenny Stills, Justin Brown and Jalen Saunders.

Defensively, Oklahoma must contain Johnny Football, who is as much a threat to run as he is to pass.

No. 12: Florida State (11-2)

Florida State's defense will rule the day on Jan. 1 when they face off against No. 15 Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.

The best team that Northern Illinois faced all year was Kent State, and its entire offense is dynamic dual-threat QB Jordan Lynch.

The Seminoles defense is simply far too talented for the Huskies to give them much trouble.

Offensively, QB E.J. Manuel must limit his mistakes and make quick, intelligent decisions with the football. Losing the turnover battle is the only thing that can stop the Seminoles.

No. 13: Oregon State (9-3)

Oregon State will be going up against not only a solid team in No. 23 Texas, but a hostile crowd as well, with the Alamo Bowl being played roughly 100 miles away from the Longhorns' campus.

If the Beavers' front four on defense can win the battle in the trenches and stop Texas from running the ball, forcing either David Ash or Case McCoy to beat them with his arm, they'll be in good shape to win their first bowl game since 2008.

No. 14: Clemson (10-2)

The Tigers' potent offense struggled mightily against No. 10 South Carolina in their last game of the season, and the defense they'll face in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl is far more dangerous.

Clemson must learn from its mistakes against the Gamecocks if its have any chance of taking down the No. 8 LSU Tigers. If QB Tajh Boyd starts turning the ball over as he did against South Carolina, this one will get away from Clemson.

No. 15: Northern Illinois (12-1)

If Northern Illinois has any chance of finding success against No. 12 Florida State in the Orange Bowl, it must win the turnover battle.

The Seminoles are going to key in on QB Jordan Lynch, who is essentially the Huskies' entire offense.

Florida State QB E.J. Manuel has been erratic and prone to make mistakes. Forcing Manuel to turn the ball over and giving Lynch a short field to work with is key.

No. 16: Nebraska (10-3)

Dual-theat QB Taylor Martinez and RBs Ameer Abdullah and Rex Burkhead have carried Nebraska to the eighth most potent running game in the country, averaging nearly 255 yards on the ground per game.

They'll need to continue to produce against a stiff Georgia defense that has struggled to stop the opposition on the ground.

Defensively, the Cornhuskers got gashed on the ground by Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game—to the tune of 539 yards and eight touchdowns.

Georgia has two excellent backs in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, both capable of running right through Nebraska.

Nebraska must stop the run and force Bulldogs QB Aaron Murray to prove that he can come through in big games, something he's struggled with throughout his career.

No. 17 UCLA (9-4)

Having not played Oregon in the Pac-12 this season will prove to be a blessing and a curse for the Bruins.

It's a blessing because, let's be honest, who wants to go up against Oregon's offense? Nobody.

But it's a curse because the Bruins haven't faced an offense quite as explosive as Baylor's, which averages more than 44 points and 350 passing yards per game.

UCLA has struggled to defend the pass all year long. Allowing Baylor QB Nick Florence to get into a groove will be deadly.

The Bruins must match Baylor point-for-point and hope that they can either get a stop or have the ball last.

No. 18 Michigan (8-4)

Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they drew the No. 10 team in the land, South Carolina, as their opponent in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1.

The Wolverines have struggled against the best defenses that they've faced this season in Alabama and Notre Dame. While South Carolina's defense isn't quite on that level, it isn't far off.

Michigan must win the battle up front, get multiple bodies on South Carolina's dynamic defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and give Devin Gardner time. Failing to do any of those things will result in a long afternoon for the Wolverines.

No. 19: Boise State (10-2)

Boise State makes its third consecutive appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl, taking on a Washington squad that is better than its 7-5 record would indicate.

The key for the Broncos is simple—stop Washington's offense from getting going. Boise State ranks ninth in the country in total defense, while Washington has struggled against stiff competition to get on a roll offensively.

No. 20: Northwestern (9-3)

Facing off against Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day, the key for the Northwestern Wildcats is clear: run the ball.

The Bulldogs defense ranks 56th in the nation at defending the run while the Huskies have the 14th-most prolific rushing attack in the country, picking up just over 230 yards per game on the ground.

A steady dose of Venric Mark and Kain Colter will allow Northwestern to eat up clock—and keep the Bulldogs' outstanding junior QB, Tyler Russell, standing on the sidelines where he can't hurt them.

No. 21: Louisville (10-2)

The Big East's representative in the BCS picture this season, the Cardinals will have their hands full with No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

As previously mentioned, the Gators simply have too much talent on both sides of the ball for Louisville to handle. If Teddy Bridgewater is able to get time and move the ball downfield against a stiff Gators defense, they've got a chance.

No. 22: Utah State (10-2)

Taking on the Toledo Rockets in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on December 15, Utah State's recipe for success is clear: a heavy dose of Kerwynn Williams.

He's the Aggies' version of the New Orleans Saints' Darren Sproles—a little guy who has the moves to get past linebackers as a ball carrier, the speed to get past defensive backs as a receiver and the ability to break the game open every time the ball is in his hands.

No. 23: Texas (8-4)

Against the No. 15 Oregon State Beavers in the Alamo Bowl, it all comes down to who is under center for the Longhorns.

David Ash gives the Longhorns a better chance of establishing the run game than Case McCoy does, and with Oregon State having an excellent front four, establishing the run early to open up the passing game is of monumental importance.

No. 24: San Jose State (10-2)

The Spartans take on the Bowling Green Falcons in the Military Bowl on Dec. 27 at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C.

San Jose State has one of the elite passing attacks in the nation behind junior QB David Fales, who has completed more than 72 percent of his passes on the season for 3,798 yards, 31 touchdowns and only nine interceptions.

Bowling Green has been excellent against the pass this year, allowing 173 yards per game and nine passing touchdowns on the season.

If Fales can get going early, the Spartans should be able to cruise to victory in this one.

No. 25: Kent State (11-2)

It's the bowl for the Golden Flashes, taking on the Arkansas State Red Wolves on Jan. 6.

Arkansas State has a formidable offense that ranks 21st in rushing yards (217.4) and scoring (36.4), and it put up 34 points against No. 5 Oregon in its first game of the season, which it lost 57-34.

Kent State will need to tighten up a defense that has allowed nearly 420 yards of offense per game to avoid being upset by the Sun Belt champions.


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