Can Manti Te'o lead No. 1 Notre Dame to a national championship?
Several weeks and plenty of 2012 bowl games still remain on tap until college football's BCS slate helps to ring in the new year. That means there is plenty of time to speculate as to how the marquee matchups of the season will play out.
With a couple of unlikely bids in Louisville and especially Northern Illinois crashing the typical party of national powerhouses, there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the BCS aside from the always prevalent rankings controversies.
Here is a breakdown of all the Bowl Championship Series games, including a final score prediction for each.
Wisconsin Badgers vs. No. 6 Stanford Cardinal
A couple of non-power conference teams headline the BCS shockers of the year, but expectations were fairly low at various points in 2012 for both of these teams set to clash in Pasadena.
Few believed that Stanford would win the Pac-12 after graduating No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck, but it happened. After a disappointing regular season record-wise, the Badgers backed into the Big Ten championship game courtesy of Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible for the postseason.
Suddenly, the Wisconsin ground game absolutely exploded against Nebraska for a ridiculous 539 yards and eight touchdowns.
Wisconsin endured many heartbreaking losses all year long—including a 30-27 defeat in Lincoln—the Badgers took out all their frustration in one emphatic statement game. But the man who coached them to this point, Bret Bielema, has taken the job at the University of Arkansas.
Even with AD and former head coach Barry Alvarez returning to the sideline (h/t CBS Sports), it's difficult to prognosticate the Badgers pulling the monumental upset in this one. As blindsiding as the conference championship was against the Cornhuskers, this Stanford defense is a bit of a different organism.
The Cardinal have the third-ranked rushing defense in the nation (h/t NCAA.com), and they did enough to hold the high-powered Oregon Ducks to 14 points in an overtime victory in Eugene. That alone speaks for itself, and it isn't good news for All-American running back Montee Ball.
A much more balanced attack led by senior RB Stepfan Taylor and a very composed redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan under center gives the Cardinal more angles to attack the Badgers.
The brutal schedule Stanford faced all year will give David Shaw's bunch an edge against Wisconsin, and ultimately result in a hard-fought, physical and relatively low-scoring Rose Bowl victory.
Final Score: Stanford 20, Wisconsin 13
No. 12 Florida State Seminoles vs. No. 15 Northern Illinois Huskies
Another surprising team has been abandoned by its head coach.
In this case, it was the Huskies' Dave Doeren, who left Northern Illinois for N.C. State shortly after a pulse-pounding double-overtime victory in the MAC championship over fellow BCS hopeful Kent State.
Other than a season-opening, one-point loss at home to Iowa, the Huskies are undefeated on the year. The opposing Seminoles were ironically scarred by a one-point loss to the same Wolfpack program that Doeren is headed to and were ranked No. 3 in the nation at the time.
That was the only blemish for the Seminoles until being blown off the field in the fourth quarter at home by the rival Florida Gators in the final regular-season game. FSU then proceeded to have a surprisingly close call in the ACC Championship Game against sub-.500 Georgia Tech.
While these teams took very different paths to get to this point, it will certainly make for an exciting matchup on New Year's Day.
The inherent geographic advantage of proximity-to-school goes to the Seminoles, the Huskies have never been in this position before, and they are sure to draw as many fans as possible.
What makes the Huskies so dangerous? It all starts with their incredible dual-threat QB Jordan Lynch. His 24 touchdown passes and 19 scoring runs on the ground are an exact match with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.
Hard to believe, but true.
However, E.J. Manuel is a viable, athletic quarterback himself for Florida State, and he will present problems for a Huskies defense that hasn't faced the caliber of talent it will in Miami.
The outcome may be closer than expected, but the Huskies just aren't in the same league as the Seminoles, and they would need a ridiculous game from Lynch and outstanding performance from the defense to have any chance.
Final Score: Florida State 31, Northern Illinois 23
No. 3 Florida Gators vs. No. 21 Louisville Cardinals
Teddy Bridgewater's performance in a 20-17 Big East victory over Rutgers that lifted the Cardinals into the BCS was nothing short of spectacular. He battled through a bum ankle and a broken non-throwing wrist to muster 263 yards and two touchdowns despite not starting the game.
But against as tough of a defense as the Gators present, one of the biggest keys for Louisville is to remain balanced on offense.
Bridgewater rightfully gets all the headlines, and his spectacular play has helped open up running lanes for the backfield duo of Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry, who have each run for over 700 yards and a combined 20 touchdowns.
The physical, run-first style of the Gators may keep the Cardinals offense off the field for long periods of time, which makes it all the more important to establish some sort of running game.
It will be interesting to see how Bridgewater can use his feet in the context of his injury. Although not typically known to take off and run, the Louisville signal-caller does cause problems thanks to exceptional mobility and can keep plays alive with his feet.
Cardinals head coach Charlie Strong has history with Florida, serving on Urban Meyer's staff as an assistant until taking the Louisville job in 2009 (h/t Orlando Sun-Sentinel). But none of that is likely to help much, as the Gators have undertaken a whole new identity under Will Muschamp.
As Scott Carter of GatorZone.com points out, Florida has handled its share of dynamic quarterbacks, including holding its own against Johnny Manziel—although it was his first start in college.
The biggest problem for Strong's team will be the Gator ground game overpowering his leaky defense, which will force Bridgewater into obvious passing situations and likely playing from behind.
Expect the spectacular from Bridgewater, who led the Cardinals to their first-ever 9-0 start, but also expect some mistakes. He won't have the time in the pocket nor the time of possession to orchestrate the upset in this one.
Final Score: Florida 27, Louisville 17
No. 4 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 5 Kansas State Wildcats
This should be the highest-scoring BCS game of them all, as the matchup pits two gifted quarterbacks in the Ducks' Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein, who was leading the Heisman race earlier in the year.
These teams were ranked first and second late in the season, only to be undone by losses down the stretch. The Wildcats loss was a bit more of a shocker in Waco to unranked Baylor, while Oregon lost to the Stanford Cardinal at home by just three points in overtime.
It was a bit of a down season for the Big 12, which doesn't really give the Wildcats any sort of competitive advantage in Glendale, Ariz. The schedule for Oregon was deemed fairly soft throughout the year, but the Wildcats featured just two teams in the current BCS Top-25—the same number as the Ducks.
What makes this showdown most intriguing is that Kansas State leads the country with a turnover margin of plus-21, while Oregon is third with a plus-19 ratio. So while Klein has the perceptive edge in the quarterback matchup, the Ducks are tied for the national lead with 38 takeaways, which could force the Kansas State QB into some mistakes.
The Ducks also have many more weapons than the Wildcats do on offense—and have a superior No. 1 senior running back in Kenjon Barner as opposed to KSU's John Hubert.
Between second-leading receiver and third-leading rusher De'Anthony Thomas and plenty of running backs to spell Barner when necessary in Chip Kelly's relentlessly up-tempo attack, the Ducks have the upper hand.
Speaking of Kelly, massive pulls from interested NFL teams will likely result in this being his final game at the helm for Oregon (h/t NFL.com). His players would no doubt like to cap off the season—and potentially send off their program's architect—on a high note.
An opportunistic defense and lightning-fast offense that the Wildcats will be hard-pressed to simulate in practice will be enough to push the Ducks to victory against Kansas State.
Final Score: Oregon 49, Kansas State 41
Will the SEC reign superior in the BCS title game?
No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide
After a breathtaking 32-28 victory over third-ranked Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, the Tide have weathered the conference storm well enough to get a crack at repeating as national champions.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame is fighting to prove that its storybook season isn't just the luck of the Irish, and that it legitimately belongs back in the conversation amongst college football's premier programs both in tradition and current results.
Manti Te'o won the Maxwell Award, for the most outstanding player in college football. There's no denying that the All-American linebacker has been the catalyst for taking the Irish back to the sport's promised land.
These two teams are first and second in the BCS rankings and hold the same national positions in terms of points allowed per game. That should lend itself to a knockdown, drag-out battle in the trenches in an era where pass-happy offenses have headlined the college football landscape.
Whether fans view that as "boring" or a nice deviation from what's become the norm is a legitimate debate. But throwback football purists will be salivating before the kickoff of this game.
With two very stout defenses and deep, fantastic backfields, this matchup will come down to quarterback play—as football often does, since it's the most important position.
Everett Golson finally took the starting job for the Irish as the season unfolded. That prevented head coach Brian Kelly from resorting to a two-QB system as he did when he took the Cincinnati Bearcats to a BCS bowl.
On the Tide's side, there has been no question who the man has been all year long, and AJ McCarron has had defining moments in the team's two biggest wins. At LSU, the junior QB shook off a horrendous second half to drive the Tide to victory. In the SEC title game, he heaved a game-winning, 45-yard bomb to Amari Cooper with just over three minutes left.
As much trouble as Johnny Manziel gave the Bama defense in their only loss, Golson's dual-threat capabilities are nowhere near those of Johnny Football.
I trust McCarron more than Golson in this game, and that will prove to be the difference as Nick Saban guide the Tide to their second consecutive championship.
Final Score: Alabama 17, Notre Dame 13