Ultimately, the final college football rankings are meaningless for teams that aren't holding the crystal football on Jan. 7—just don't tell that to the young men playing in bowl games this season.
For those players and teams, the final ranking signifies where they stand among the nation's best. Sure, they may not be Notre Dame or Alabama, but that number is an acknowledgement of all the hard work the players and coaches delivered in 2012.
Having a high ranking is also about the simplest of all factors: competitive bragging rights. You know UCLA fans will have the Bruins' final ranking painted on their chests to taunt the USC faithful in next season's battle for Los Angeles.
With that in mind, here is a look at a few teams that should be pleased with their final rankings after a bowl victory.
No. 17 UCLA Bruins (Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl vs. Baylor Bears)
Though the Bears' scintillating late-season run makes them one-point favorites over the Bruins (per Vegas Insider), the oddsmakers have become prisoners of the moment.
Sure, Baylor eviscerated the then-No. 1 Kansas State Wildcats on Nov. 17, but that was the team's only notable win by more than a touchdown all season. Giving up 38.2 points per game, the Bears rank 117th out of 126 FBS schools and have allowed 30 or more points in eight of their last 10 contests.
Granted, the Baylor offense has helped make up for the defensive deficiencies, but it won't happen against UCLA.
The Bruins came within a missed field goal of going to overtime for a chance at a Rose Bowl berth. Led by scintillating running back Johnathan Franklin, UCLA busted open Stanford for 284 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. Yes, the same Cardinal defense that stifled Kenjon Barner and Oregon's vaunted running attack.
With Brett Hundley playing better behind center every week, look for the Bruins to win a high-scoring affair by two scores.
No. 18 Michigan Wolverines (Outback Bowl vs. No. 10 South Carolina Gamecocks)
The Outback Bowl will pit two teams against each other that lost a superstar this season, but with two completely different results.
Since losing Marcus Lattimore in a win over Tennessee, South Carolina has managed to win three straight games, including a victory over rival Clemson. But when the overpowering junior running back dislocated his knee, that injury all but stifled the Gamecocks' offensive identity.
In the three games since, Steve Spurrier's squad has relied on a mostly weak schedule and a stalwart defense. Quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson stepped up on separate occasions, leaving Spurrier with a bit of a controversy heading into the Outback Bowl, but neither has shown much consistency.
On the other hand, Denard Robinson's injury not only reinvigorated the Michigan offense, but also the young man's career as well. Robinson had been struggling mightily from the quarterback position, completing just 53.6 percent of his passes and having as many interceptions (nine) as touchdowns.
In comes Devin Gardner at quarterback, and the Wolverines suddenly have life again. Robinson has since returned and become a hybrid running back-quarterback-wide receiver threat that provides an interesting dynamic whenever he's on the field.
South Carolina's defense is top-notch but won't be able to hold Michigan down the whole game.
No. 20 Northwestern Wildcats (Gator Bowl vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs)
Exuding the quiet confidence of their head coach Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern will make its fifth-straight bowl appearance in the Gator Bowl. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the first four attempts came up short, as they have ended their season with a loss the past four years.
That changes against Mississippi State. Northwestern's offense has been improving throughout the season and is now one of the most interesting attacks in the nation. Kain Colter has been a brilliant dual-threat all season, combining with running back Venric Mark to gain over 2,100 yards on the ground.
With Trevor Siemian helping out with passing duty when needed, it's difficult for teams to prepare for the Wildcats.
On the other side of the field, Mississippi State is reeling after losing four of its last five games to end the season. After catapulting into the national forefront with a 7-0 start, the Bulldogs collapsed against their toughest opponents.
Look for Northwestern to keep the bad times rolling for Mississippi State and get the first bowl win of the Fitzgerald era.
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