BCS Bowl Predictions 2012: Unsung X-Factors Who Will Decide Close Matchups
In the superstar-laden college football climate, it's oftentimes easy to forget about the surrounding players who make top players' performances possible. Never is that more apparent than in BCS games, where highly publicized stars adorn the rosters of top teams playing in prestigious contests.
That's not to say focusing on stars is a bad thing. Manti Te'o, Collin Klein and Kenjon Barner do deserve more credit than their second-tier counterparts. However, with most BCS teams separated by mere slivers on the talent scale, it's sometimes those secondary stars who shine the brightest on the bowl stage.
With that in mind, here are a few players who could swing close BCS matchups with their performances.
Jeremy Wright (RB, Louisville Cardinals—vs. Florida Gators in Sugar Bowl)
Wright split the carries all season with Senorise Perry, but was mostly known as the steady hand while his counterpart made most of the big plays. However, Perry suffered a torn ACL against Syracuse and the offense has suffered ever since.
Over those final few games of the season, Louisville became increasingly reliant on Teddy Bridgewater to single-handedly carry the offense. The Cardinals signal-caller threw for 339.3 yards per game over the team's final three games, as Wright struggled to carry the full-time load in the backfield.
Oh, and did I mention Bridgewater played the last two games with a broken wrist and a sprained ankle?
Bridgewater's excellence aside, it's imperative that Wright steps up in the Sugar Bowl. Florida's defense has been spectacular all season, but particularly against opposing quarterbacks. The Gators gave up only five touchdown passes all season against 19 interceptions.
That means Wright will have to find rushing lanes and make headway against the Florida front seven to open up the outside for Bridgewater. If he can, Louisville has a chance to pull off the upset. If not, it could be a long game for Charlie Strong's squad.
Martel Moore (WR, Northern Illinois Huskies—vs. Florida State Seminoles in Orange Bowl)
For all of the rightful praise that Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch receives, one has to wonder what his passing numbers would look like without Moore.
The senior wideout caught 71 passes for 1,054 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those numbers account for over a third of Lynch's completions and yards, and give Moore half of the quarterback's touchdown passes.
Obviously, strong relationships between a quarterback and wide receiver aren't a new phenomenon. But considering Northern Illinois' No. 2 receiver, Tommylee Lewis, has only 478 yards and five touchdowns this season, Moore's significance becomes even more glaring.
Facing off against their toughest matchup of the season, the Huskies will try to turn the Orange Bowl into a track meet. There's little chance that their defense can consistently halt E.J. Manuel and the Seminoles' offensive attack, so it will be up to Lynch—and by proxy Moore—to get the job done.
John Hubert (RB, Kansas State Wildcats—vs. Oregon Ducks in Fiesta Bowl)
Much like Moore, Hubert is thriving in an offense where a more famous quarterback garners the national media attention. In the Kansas State back's case, it's Collin Klein, who was a runner up in the 2012 Heisman balloting and was a favorite for much of the season.
Still, Klein's greatness on read-option plays is somewhat predicated on the respect defenses have for Hubert. The junior running back ran for 892 yards and 15 touchdowns in the regular season, but did so on just 172 carries.
Other than Klein, Hubert is the only player on Kansas State's roster with 800 or more total yards. While that fact signifies what both men mean to the Wildcats, it also shows their roster is a little top-heavy.
Against Oregon, one of the most explosive offenses in college football, there will be no room for either player to disappoint. As well-rounded as the Kansas State defense has been all season, Kenjon Barner, Marcus Mariota and De'Anthony Thomas are a threesome that is almost impossible to stop.
With a high-scoring game likely in store, Kansas State will need huge offensive performances. We know that Klein will show up and play Batman, it just remains to be seen whether Hubert can fill the Robin role.
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