Power Ranking All 70 Bowl Teams

Danny Flynn@FlynnceptionSenior Analyst IDecember 11, 2012

Power Ranking All 70 Bowl Teams

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    The much-anticipated 2012 college football bowl season is quickly approaching. 

    This year, there are 35 different bowl games spread over three weeks, starting with the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 15 and culminating with the biggest game of them all, the BCS championship bout, pitting Alabama against Notre Dame on Jan. 7. 

    There will be 70 teams competing in the postseason this year. Here's a look at how they all stack up from the worst to the best.

70. Rice Owls (6-6)

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    The combined record of the six teams Rice beat to become bowl eligible is just 20-52. The Owls score 31 points per game, but they give up the exact same amount.

    This is a team that can run the ball effectively, averaging 201 rushing yards per game. It's also a team that has quality receiving threats like Sam McGuffie, Vance McDonald and Jordan Taylor.

    The problem is, the defense gives up 6.4 yards per play, an average which ranks 115th in the nation. 

    The Owls defense is certainly going to be tested by Air Force's triple-option offense, led by RB Cody Getz, when the two teams meet in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 29.

69. Central Michigan Chippewas (6-6)

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    There aren't a ton of reasons to watch Central Michigan play 7-5 Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. But if you do happen to tune into the game on Dec. 26, keep an eye on Chippewa left tackle Eric Fisher. 

    The athletic 6-8, 300-plus pound senior is one of the best offensive-tackle prospects in the country, and he's got evident first-round potential for the 2013 NFL draft. 

    Besides Fisher, no other member of the team appears to be destined to become a high NFL draft pick. But RB Zurlon Tipton and safety Jahleel Addae are two impact players that can make game-changing plays. 

68. SMU Mustangs (6-6)

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    SMU certainly has talent—DE Margus Hunt, RB Zach Line, WR Darius Johnson and LB Ja'Gared Davis should all be picked in the 2013 NFL draft. However, the Mustangs just don't have all the necessary components to be a great team. 

    The main problem is at quarterback, where Texas transfer Garrett Gilbert has been one of the most inconsistent passers in the country this season. 

    The line can only carry the offense so far before it becomes Gilbert's job to get things done, and well, he simply hasn't gotten it done on a consistent basis this season. 

    It will be interesting to see how Gilbert fares against Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24.

67. Air Force Falcons (6-6)

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    Air Force lost a lot of veteran leaders from the 2011 season, and the lack of experience certainly showed this year. The Falcons won just six games and only one of those, a 48-31 victory over Nevada, was over a team that's bowl eligible. 

    Air Force's Flexbone triple-option offense has produced another highly productive running back, Cody Getz, who has rushed for over 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012. Getz will be the player the Falcons will be looking to ride against Rice in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 29. 

    The senior back is solid. But WR Ty MacArthur, a versatile playmaker who has caught 24 passes and also averaged 8.7 yards per carry, is the team's true offensive weapon. 

66. East Carolina Pirates (8-4)

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    East Carolina has one of the best wide receivers in the country that no one talks about, Justin Hardy; a productive back, Vintavious Cooper; and a tough, gritty inside linebacker, Justin Grove. Plus, the Pirates have a quarterback, Shane Carden, who has completed nearly 67 percent of his passes. 

    Those four players are a big reason the team went 8-4 this season. But when you look back at the Pirates' schedule, it's tough to judge just how good they really are, since none of the eight teams they beat even made it to a bowl. 

    Carden, Cooper and Hardy will give the Louisiana-Lafayette defense some trouble in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 22. But the question is, can Grove and the defense step up and contain the Ragin Cajuns' offensive attack?

65. Purdue Boilermakers (6-6)

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    This season, Purdue was about as average and mediocre as a team could possibly be. The Boilermakers went 6-6, and beat every team on the schedule they were supposed to, while losing to every team that was better than them.

    The lackluster season ended up costing coach Danny Hope his job, and now, Kent State's Darrell Hazell will be the one to take over. 

    Hope had some quality talent at his disposal, especially on defense with players like DT Kawann Short, LB Will Lucas and cornerbacks Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen.

    The unit simply couldn't get the job done, though. Purdue gave up an average of 29 points and 406 yards per game in the regular season. 

64. Ohio Bobcats (8-4)

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    Ohio started off the season with a big upset win at Penn State and then proceeded to win its first seven games. However, the Bobcats fell apart late in the season, losing four of their last five contests to finish 8-4. 

    The team has one of the MAC's best quarterback-running back tandems with QB Tyler Tettleton and RB Beau Blankenship. They're the two most important pieces of the offense, and they've combined to total 4,400 yards of offense and 32 touchdowns. 

    Tettleton and Blankenship will be the two key players to Ohio's success when the Bobcats take on Louisiana-Monroe in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 28.

63. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (7-5)

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    Western Kentucky may have lost five games this season, but four of those losses were by single digits, and three of them were by five points or less. 

    The Hilltoppers have plenty of offensive threats such as QB Kawaun Jakes, RB Antonio Andrews and TE Jack Doyle. But they lost their most valuable defensive player, DE Quanterus Smith, to a knee injury. 

    Smith's pass-rushing skills will be missed when the team takes on Central Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. But the rest of the Western Kentucky defense, led by budding star junior LB Andrew Jackson, should be able to step up and contain the Chippewas. 

62. Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6)

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    Minnesota started off the season 4-0. But then the Big Ten schedule kicked in and the Gophers faltered against tougher conference competition, going just 2-6 in league play. 

    This team lacks dangerous offensive playmakers. But they do have some solid players on the defensive side of the ball, most notably DE D.L. Wilhite, who has 8.5 sacks; DT Ra'Shede Hageman; and cornerbacks Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire. 

    The defense will certainly be tested by Texas Tech's potent passing offense in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 28. The real question, though, is can Gophers QB Phillip Nelson beat Seth Doege in a potential shootout?

61. Duke Blue Devils (6-6)

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    Duke will be making its first bowl appearance since the 1995 Hall of Fame Bowl when the Blue Devils take on Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27. 

    David Cutcliffe's squad was able to win the required six games to become eligible for the postseason, but only one of those wins, a 33-30 victory over North Carolina, is really impressive. 

    The Blue Devils have a productive offense, led by the passing combination of QB Sean Renfree and WR Conner Vernon. However, they have one of the weakest defenses in the country. It's a unit which ranks 105th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing an average of 35 points per game. 

60. Bowling Green Falcons (8-4)

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    Bowling Green relied on the stoutest defense in the MAC to compile an 8-4 record in 2012. The Falcons ranked seventh in the nation in total defense and ninth in scoring defense, allowing just 15 points and 289 yards per game.

    The defense, which is led by DT Chris Jones, LB Gabe Martin and CB Cameron Truss, is going to get tested in a big way by the San Jose State offense in the Military Bowl on Dec. 27. 

    The Falcons will likely need big performances out of QB Matt Schilz and RB Anthon Samuel in order to keep up with the Spartans' high-powered offense. 

59. Ball State Cardinals (9-3)

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    All three of Ball State's losses were to quality opponents that finished with at least 10 wins—Clemson, Northern Illinois and Kent State. Two of the Cardinals' wins were over BCS opponents, South Florida and Indiana, and three other victories came against teams that are playing in bowl games. 

    The dangerous offensive trio of QB Keith Wenning, RB Jahwan Edwards and WR Willie Snead has helped the Cardinals average 35 points and 471 yards per game. But the defense hasn't been as successful, as it's given up 31 points and 459 yards per game.

    Ball State will need a big effort from both sides of the ball when it squares off with UCF in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl on Dec. 21.

58. Iowa State Cyclones (6-6)

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    Iowa State has once again been extremely average in 2012, finishing the regular season 6-6 for the second year in a row. The Cyclones beat TCU and Baylor this year, but they lost against all the top-tier teams in the conference. 

    The team's talented tandem of linebackers Jake Knott and AJ Klein had another fantastic season in 2012. The two senior 'backers combined to total 177 tackles, including 108 solo stops. 

    Knott and Klein are the two standouts on defense. But they're going to be in for a tough challenge when the Cyclones take on Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl on New Year's Eve. 

57. Navy Midshipmen (8-4)

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    Navy barely hung on to survive and beat Army 17-13 in its season finale. The close win capped off an eight-win regular season for the Midshipmen, a year in which they battled six teams that ended up in the postseason. 

    They come into this game with the sixth-ranked rushing offense in the country, averaging 276 yards on the ground per game. Gee Gee Greene and Noah Copeland are the team's top two rushers, but QB Keenan Reynolds is also a major running threat as well. 

    We'll see how the Midshipmen's rushing attack fares against DT Will Sutton, LB Brandon Magee and the rest of Arizona State's defense when the two teams meet in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

56. Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (8-4)

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    Louisiana-Monroe's upset win over Arkansas looked a lot better at the time in September than it does now. Still, the Warhawks deserve a ton of credit for their 2012 campaign. 

    Their 8-4 record was good enough to earn the team its first-ever invitation to a bowl game. QB Kolton Browning will lead the explosive Louisiana-Monroe offense against another 8-4 team, the Ohio Bobcats, in the Independence Bowl. 

    Browning has completed 64 percent of his passes for over 2,800 yards and 27 touchdowns. The dual-threat signal-caller also leads the team in rushing with 441 yards and seven scores on the ground.

55. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-7)

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    Georgia Tech is the only team with a losing record playing in the postseason, which goes to show you just how weak the ACC Coastal division was this season. 

    The fact that the Yellow Jackets represented the division in the conference championship game without even having a winning record isn't as ridiculous as it sounds, though, considering neither North Carolina or Miami could play in the postseason. 

    This team lost to some really good opponents this season, most notably Georgia, Clemson and Florida State. The Yellow Jackets will likely fall for the eighth time to USC in the Sun Bowl. 

54. Nevada Wolf Pack (7-5)

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    Nevada fell apart after a hot 6-1 start, losing four of its last five games to finish 7-5. The Wolf Pack's late-season struggles had more to do with a mediocre defense than a lack of offense. 

    The team actually got a huge breakout season out of RB Stefphon Jefferson, who led the nation with 22 rushing touchdowns and ranked fourth with 1,703 rushing yards. 

    Jefferson was Nevada's most consistent and valuable offensive player this season. But not even he could make up for some of the Wolf Pack defense's crucial mistakes. It will be interesting to see how the so-so unit fares against Arizona's high-powered offense in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 15. 

53. Syracuse Orange (7-5)

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    Syracuse was 2-4 at one point this season. However, a strong 5-1 finish helped earn the Orange a postseason invitation. The player who played the biggest role in the team's success is QB Ryan Nassib, who really started to come into his own in the second half of the season.

    Nassib completed 63 percent of his passes for over 3,600 yards and threw 24 touchdowns compared to just nine interceptions in 2012. The senior signal-caller's favorite targets were Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales.

    The Orange are going to need big days out of all three if they want to keep pace with Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey when Syracuse plays West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29.

52. Ole Miss Rebels (6-6)

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    Most predicted that Ole Miss would have another losing record and finish in the basement of the SEC West yet again this season. However, none of the Rebels' doubters could have foreseen the type of performance that the team would end up getting out of first-year starting QB Bo Wallace. 

    Wallace added new life to the Ole Miss offense, as he stepped in and led the team to six wins, including three victories against league competition.

    The dual-threat signal-caller threw for over 2,800 yards, ran for 363 yards and accounted for 28 total touchdowns. 

    The Rebels will need another big game out of Wallace and a good defensive effort when they battle with Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 5. 

51. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns (8-4)

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    After making its first bowl appearance in over 40 years last season, Louisiana-Lafayette was able to make a repeat appearance in the New Orleans Bowl after an 8-4 campaign. 

    The Ragin' Cajuns were led by QB Terrance Broadway, who completed 65 percent of his passes for over 2,500 yards and 16 touchdowns, and also ran for 661 yards and eight touchdowns. 

    The athletic 6'2'', 205-pound sophomore will be the team's key to success when UL-Lafayette takes on East Carolina in the New Orleans Bowl.

50. Toledo Rockets (9-3)

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    At the end of October, Toledo was 8-1 and ranked in the top 25. However, two straight losses to Ball State and Northern Illinois by seven points each ended up costing the team a shot at a MAC championship this season. 

    The Rockets are still definitely a dangerous team, as evidenced by the fact that they averaged 33 points and 456 yards per game.

    RB David Fluellen, who ran for over 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, is the team's most dynamic offensive weapon. However, QB Terrance Owens also plays a critical role in the offense's success. 

    Owens, Fluellen and the rest of the Toledo offense will square off with a strong Utah State defense in the Potato Bowl on Dec. 15. 

49. Pittsburgh Panthers (6-6)

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    The first season of the Paul Chryst era at Pittsburgh certainly wasn't a perfectly smooth ride. The Panthers started the year with a shocking loss to Youngstown State and then proceeded to lose four of their first six games.

    Luckily, a 4-2 finish helped them secure a spot in the postseason, playing in the BBVA Compass Bowl against Ole Miss. 

    Pittsburgh relies heavily on the offensive quartet of QB Tino Sunseri, who showed great improvement as a senior; RB Ray Graham, who totaled 1,382 yards of offense and scored 13 touchdowns; and receivers Devin Street and Mike Shanahan, who combined to catch 124 passes and nine touchdowns. 

48. Arizona State Sun Devils (7-5)

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    Arizona State may have only finished 7-5 this season. But Todd Graham's debut season in the desert can definitely be summed up as a success, as the Sun Devils won their games by an average score of 36-24.

    Sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly was the star on offense, throwing for over 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns, while also adding another 439 yards with his legs. 

    The biggest two stars on defense were DT Will Sutton and LB Brandon Magee, who helped the Sun Devils hold opponents to just 4.7 yards per play.

    Sutton and Magee will be counted on to contain Navy's powerful rushing attack in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 29. 

47. Virginia Tech Hokies (6-6)

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    Virginia Tech was one of the most disappointing teams of the 2012 season. The Hokies entered the year as the clear favorite to win the ACC Coastal division, yet they managed to win just six games, barely reaching a bowl game. 

    Still, Frank Beamer's squad found a way to get into the postseason. Now the Hokies will have the chance to prove themselves against Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 28. 

    This season was full of mistakes and underachievement. But this team is still loaded with future NFL draft picks such as QB Logan Thomas, receivers Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller, DE James Gayle, DT Derrick Hopkins, LB Bruce Taylor and corners Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller. 

46. BYU Cougars (7-5)

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    BYU's second season in the land of independents wasn't as successful as the first. The Cougars went from nine regular-season wins in 2011 to seven in 2012. However, they did lose to some quality opponents such as Notre Dame, Boise State, San Jose State and Oregon State. 

    The defense is the team's strong point. This year, both DE Ezekiel Ansah and LB Kyle Van Noy have developed into outstanding pass rushers who are now coveted NFL prospects. 

    On offense, WR Cody Hoffman has been great, catching 90 passes for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hoffman will need to have a big game if the Cougars want to beat San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl

45. UCF Knights (9-4)

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    UCF was initially banned from postseason action because of NCAA sanctions, but an appeal allowed the Knights to make an appearance in both a bowl game and the Conference USA championship game.. 

    They came up short against Tulsa in the league title game, but now they'll be looking to redeem themselves against Ball State in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl on Dec.21.

    Safety Kemal Ishmael leads a tough defense that allows an average of just 22 points and 380 yards per game, while RB Latavius Murray and Storm Johnson lead a rushing attack that averages 4.8 yards per carry.

44. Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5)

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    Texas Tech lost head coach Tommy Tuberville, who left the team this week to become head coach at Cincinnati. Now, the Red Raiders will have to rely on senior leadership to stay focused for the matchup with Minnesota in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 28. 

    QB Seth Doege is one of the most productive passers in the country, finishing the regular season ranked sixth in the nation with 3,934 passing yards and second with 38 passing touchdowns. 

    Doege's dangerous receiver duo of Eric Ward and Darrin Moore combined to catch 156 passes and 24 touchdowns. 

43. NC State Wolfpack (7-5)

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    NC State QB Mike Glennon is one of the most talented quarterback prospects in the 2013 NFL draft class. But Glennon's senior season certainly left a lot to be desired. 

    The tall, strong-armed pocket passer had an equal number of good games and bad games, as he led the Wolfpack to a mediocre 7-5 record. 

    Glennon's the type of quarterback who can take over a game with his arm, but he has to be more assertive and more confident in his abilities. 

    It will be fascinating to see how the senior signal-caller fares against Vanderbilt's strong secondary in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 31. 

42. Michigan State Spartans (6-6)

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    Michigan State was expected to be a top contender to repeat as the winner of the Big Ten Legends division this season. But instead, the Spartans turned out to be one of the most disappointing teams of the season. They went just 6-6 with their last five losses coming by a combined 13 points. 

    Considering they had one of the best running backs, Le'Veon Bell, and one of the best defenses in the country, obviously, Michigan State should have been much more successful in 2012. The Spartans will likely rely on Bell and their stout defense when they face TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 29.

41. San Diego State Aztecs (9-3)

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    San Diego State may have lost QB Ryan Lindley and RB Ronnie Hillman to the NFL this past offseason. But the Aztecs still managed to put together one of their most successful seasons in years, winning nine games and upsetting Boise State on the blue turf. 

    The Aztecs have two of the most underrated players in the country, TE Gavin Escobar and CB Leon McFadden, who lead the way on offense and defense. They also have a rushing attack, led by Adam Muema, which averages 229 yards on the ground per game. 

    Escobar, McFadden, Muema and the rest of the team will have a tough, physical battle with BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 20. 

40. Washington Huskies (7-5)

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    QB Keith Price did not have the type of true breakout junior campaign that many were forecasting. But Washington was still able to win seven games, which included upset victories over Stanford and Oregon State. 

    Price was decent in 2012, but he got some great support from his skill-position players like RB Bishop Sankey, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and WR Kasen Williams. 

    The defense also improved dramatically, going from ranking 11th in the Pac-12 in total defense last year to third in the conference this season. 

    Washington's improved defense will be tested by Boise State's dangerous offense in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 22.

39. TCU Horned Frogs (7-5)

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    TCU certainly wasn't at full strength throughout its first season in the Big 12 conference. The Horned Frogs were without starting quarterback Casey Pachall, who left midseason after being arrested, as well as their two top rushers, Ed Wesley and Waymon James.

    Luckily, the team got some strong campaigns from QB Trevone Boykin and WR Josh Boyce, as well as a sensational freshman performance from DE Devonte Fields, who emerged as one of the best young pass-rushers in the country in his first season of action. 

    The Horned Frogs will look to end their up-and-down season on a positive note when they play Michigan State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 29.

38. Arizona Wildcats (7-5)

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    During his first season as head coach at Arizona, Rich Rodriguez looked more like the Rodriguez we saw at West Virginia than the coach we saw fail at Michigan.

    Rodriguez completely revitalized the team's offense. The Wildcats ranked second in the Pac-12 in both scoring offense and total offense, averaging 37 points and 527 yards per game. 

    The offense's two big breakout stars were QB Matt Scott and RB Ka'Deem Carey. Scott threw for over 3,200 yards and accounted for 29 touchdowns, while Carey put together an All-American campaign, totaling over 2,000 yards of offense and scoring 21 touchdowns. 

    Scott and Carey will get to flaunt their skills one last time this season against Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl.

37. Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3)

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    Cincinnati may have lost their two most important offensive players from the 2011 season, QB Zach Collaros and RB Isaiah Pead. But the Bearcats offense was still one of the most productive units in the Big East this season, averaging 31 points and 430 yards per game. 

    Coach Butch Jones played a pivotal role in developing the successful offensive attack. But Jones, who accepted the head coaching job at Tennessee, won't be around to oversee things when Cincinnati faces Duke in the Belk Bowl.

    Still, RB George Winn, WR Kenbrell Thompkins and the rest of the offense should still be ready to give the Blue Devils all they can handle. 

36. Baylor Bears (7-5)

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    Replacing a passing combination like the one Baylor had last year with Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright sounds like an impossible task. However, the Bears managed to put together another highly productive passing attack this season, even without RG3 or Wright in the lineup. 

    QB Nick Florence and WR Terrance Williams both stepped up and became key offensive leaders in 2012. Florence threw for over 4,100 yards and 31 touchdowns, while Williams caught 95 passes for 1,764 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

    The reason Baylor only won seven games with such a high-powered offense had to do with the fact that the Bears defense ranked dead last in the Big 12 in both scoring defense and total defense.

35. Kent State Golden Flashes (11-2)

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    Kent State came close to crashing the BCS bowl party this season. But the Golden Flashes ended up coming up short in the MAC championship game, losing to Northern Illinois 44-37 in double overtime. 

    Still, the teams' 11-2 campaign definitely deserves appreciation as one of the best stories of the season. Darrell Hazell did one of the best coaching jobs in the country this year, improving the team's win total by seven and adding some much-needed energy back into the program.

    Hazell's tremendous leadership skills caught the eye of Purdue, which recently hired him to replace Danny Hope. 

    Hazell won't be coaching the Golden Flashes when they take on Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. But as long as versatile weapon Dri Archer is in the lineup, Kent State has a good shot to win. 

34. Northwestern Wildcats (9-3)

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    It would be hard to find a head coach at a BCS school who is more underrated and undervalued than Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald.

    Fitzgerald has guided the Wildcats to two nine-win regular seasons and five straight bowl games since taking over the team back before the 2006 season. 

    This year, the coach relied on the dangerous rushing duo of QB Kain Colter and RB Venric Mark to win nine games, including five games against Big Ten competition. 

    Beating Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl and getting to 10 wins would obviously be a huge accomplishment for the coach and his program. 

33. Arkansas State Red Wolves (9-3)

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    Arkansas State has lost its last two coaches, Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze, to SEC West schools. But one thing the Red Wolves haven't lost just yet is QB Ryan Aplin. 

    The senior starter has one more game left to play when he and Arkansas State square off with Kent State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. 

    Aplin has been one of the most impressive players in the Sun Belt this season, completing 67 percent of his passes for over 3,100 yards and 23 touchdowns, while leading the Red Wolves to nine wins and a conference title. 

    Malzahn may be gone, but the offense will be just fine as long as Aplin's behind center. 

32. Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4)

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    There was a time this season when Mississippi State was 7-0 and ranked in the top 15. However, those days seem like an eternity ago following the Bulldogs' 1-4 slide to end the season. 

    Losses to Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M are all understandable, but a 41-24 loss to in-state rival Ole Miss in the season finale does raise some concerns. 

    Mississippi State has playmakers on both sides of the ball. On offense, RB LaDarius Perkins and WR Chad Bumphis can create explosive plays, while CB Johnthan Banks and LB Cameron Lawrence can come up with big stops on the other side of the ball. 

31. West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5)

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    West Virginia's offense may have been ready for Big 12 competition this season. But the team's defense certainly wasn't.

    The Mountaineers ranked seventh in the nation in scoring offense and eighth in total offense, averaging 41 points and 518 yards per game. But that was offset by the fact that they ranked 111th in total defense and 116th in scoring defense, giving up an average of 38 points and 469 yards. 

    QB Geno Smith and his deadly duo of receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are the key pieces for one of college football's most powerful passing attacks, which averages 340 yards per game. 

    We know West Virginia can throw the ball and put up plenty of points. But the question is, will the Mountaineers defense step up against Syracuse and slow down the Orange's potent passing game in the Pinstripe Bowl?

30. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-3)

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    It will be interesting to see what Rutgers' mindset will be for the Russell Athletic Bowl against Virginia Tech following the team's blown opportunity to win the Big East at home against Louisville in the season finale. 

    The Scarlet Knights squandered a great opportunity to make it to their first BCS bowl game by losing to the Cardinals 20-17. But they still have a lot to look back on and be proud of after winning nine games in the first year of the Kyle Flood era. 

    RB Jawan Jamison is the featured weapon who makes the offense tick, while LB Khaseem Greene plays a similar role as the leader of a defense that ranks fourth in the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 14 points per game. 

    Jamison and Greene will definitely be two players to watch for against the Hokies on Dec. 28.

29. Boise State Broncos (10-2)

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    This is not the same caliber of Boise State team that we became accustomed to seeing during the first six years of the Chris Petersen era.

    But you have to give the coach a lot of credit for leading the team to its seventh straight double-digit win season, even without the type of talent he had during the past few years. 

    The Broncos may not have had a star like Kellen Moore or Doug Martin this year. But they were still a solid all-around team that beat some tough opponents like BYU, Fresno State and Nevada. 

    RB D.J. Harper and WR Matt Miller are the top playmakers on offense, while DE Demarcus Lawrence, LB J.C. Percy and CB Jamar Taylor have all emerged as difference-makers on defense. 

    Boise State will try to win its fifth bowl game in the last seven years when it takes on Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl. 

28. Vanderbilt Commodores (8-4)

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    This year's Vanderbilt team has already solidified its place in school history by winning eight regular season games for the first time since 1982. Now the Commodores have the chance to do something that hasn't been done at the school in nearly 100 years—win nine games. 

    To get to that mark, they'll have to beat NC State in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 31. 

    The team certainly has the offensive weapons it needs to beat the Wolfpack. QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy and WR Jordan Matthews are one of the most underrated offensive trios in the country. 

    The defense isn't too shabby, either. The Commodores ranked fifth in the SEC in both scoring defense and total defense, giving up just 18 points and 326 yards per game. 

27. Fresno State Bulldogs (9-3)

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    Tim DeRuyter's first season as head coach at Fresno State turned out to be a huge success. The Bulldogs ended up having one of the most productive offensive attacks in the country, averaging 40 points per game, and they went from nine losses in 2011 to nine wins this season. 

    QB Derek Carr and RB Robbie Rouse were once again the team's two top offensive weapons. But freshman WR Davante Adams also developed into a key contributor as well. 

    Carr, Rouse, Adams and the rest of the Bulldogs will be looking to do plenty of damage to SMU's defense when Fresno State meets the Mustangs in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve. 

26. San Jose State Spartans (10-2)

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    San Jose State was one of the best stories in college football that nobody really seemed to talk about this season. The Spartans won 10 games in 2012, which is two more than they won in the three previous seasons combined. 

    New starting quarterback David Fales turned out to be the catalyst to the team's tremendous offensive success. Fales was one of the best and most efficient passers in the country, completing 72 percent of his passes for over 3,700 yards and 31 touchdowns. 

    The defense also played a big role in the team's success as well, as the unit gave up just 21 points and 354 yards per game. 

    The Spartans will play in just their second bowl game since 1990 when they take on Bowling Green in the Military Bowl on Dec. 27. 

25. Michigan Wolverines (8-4)

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    Michigan did not live up to its preseason top-10 ranking this season. 

    The Wolverines' defense certainly was good enough to win the Big Ten this season. But the offense just never seemed to come alive as many were hoping for, as QB Denard Robinson failed to step up and become a true leader in 2012. 

    Robinson has been limited by injury late in the season, but he should find a few different ways to contribute when Michigan battles South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day. 

24. USC Trojans (7-5)

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    USC garnered plenty of hype from the media once QB Matt Barkley made the decision to return for his senior season. But all of that publicity proved to be a waste, as the Trojans simply weren't as good as advertised in 2012. 

    The passing combination of Barkley and his receiver duo of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods didn't have much problem putting together explosive passing plays this season. But the team's mediocre defense failed to step up when it truly counted. 

    Although the Trojans didn't expect to be in this position, they should still put together a strong performance against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

23. Utah State Aggies (10-2)

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    Coach Gary Anderson deserves a ton of recognition for what he's been able to do at Utah State, building the Aggies into a WAC contender.

    This year, Anderson had the best team he's had during his tenure in Logan, and he was able to make the most of all the talent at his disposal. 

    Utah State won 10 games, including all six of its games against conference competition to win the WAC championship. 

    The team's top playmaker is dual-threat quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who threw for over 3,100 yards and 27 touchdowns and also ran for 527 yards and seven touchdowns as well. 

    The Aggies also have one of the strongest defenses in the country, ranking 15th in the nation in total defense. 

22. Oregon State Beavers (9-3)

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    Oregon State had one of the best turnarounds in college football this season, going from nine losses last year to nine wins in 2012. 

    The Beavers got a great performance out of their defense, which gave up just 19 points per game in 2012. But the offensive stars such as RB Storm Woods and receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks were the players who really stole the spotlight. 

    It will be fun to see how Woods, Wheaton, Cooks and the rest of the Oregon State offense fares against Texas' talented defense in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29. 

21. Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-3)

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    Nebraska reached its goal of winning the Big Ten Legends division and making it to the conference title game this season. But the Cornhuskers are now reeling after getting trashed by Wisconsin 70-31 in Indianapolis. 

    Now, coach Bo Pelini will have to rally his players and try to turn their full attention to a very tough matchup with Georgia in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day. 

    The Cornhuskers defense is definitely better than the unit we saw in the conference championship game. But they'll be tested in a big way by the Bulldogs' smash-mouth rushing attack.

20. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (10-3)

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    Tulsa didn't receive a whole lot of national publicity this season. But the Golden Hurricane was still one of the best non-AQ teams in the country.

    Tulsa's offense has a great mix of explosiveness and versatility, as the team has plenty of different playmakers that can do damage to a defense in a variety of different ways. 

    Dangerous running backs like Trey Watts, Ja'Terian Douglas and Alex Singleton and speedy receivers such as Keyarris Garrett and Jordan James will all give Iowa State's defense plenty of problems when the two teams meet in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31. 

19. Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-5)

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    Oklahoma State has managed to overcome the losses of QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon and put together another overwhelming offensive attack this season. 

    The key to the team's continued offensive success has been versatile running back Joseph Randle, who has totaled over 1,500 yards of offense and scored 14 touchdowns.

    Randle is the focal point of an offense that ranks fourth in the nation in scoring offense and fifth in total offense, averaging 44 points and 548 yards per game. 

    The explosive running back will be the key Cowboy to watch in Oklahoma State's bout with Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. 

18. UCLA Bruins (9-4)

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    Jim Mora came in and immediately changed the culture at UCLA this year. Mora made waves when he announced that inexperienced redshirt freshman Brett Hundley would be his starting quarterback in 2012. But it turned out to be exactly the right decision. 

    Hundley became one of the biggest breakout stars in the Pac-12. He completed 68 percent of his throws for over 3,400 yards and 26 touchdowns, and also added 365 yards and nine scores on the ground. 

    With the help of RB Johnathan Franklin, who put together a huge senior season, Hundley was able to lead the Bruins to a 9-4 record and a Pac-12 South division title. 

    The young dual-threat quarterback will now be looking to deliver UCLA's first postseason victory since 2009, when the team squares off with Baylor in the Holiday Bowl

17. Louisville Cardinals (10-2)

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    Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was one of the most underrated players in college football this season. Since he played in the much-criticized Big East, Bridgewater didn't get the type of respect that his play warranted.

    But that didn't seem to phase him at all, as he still led the Cardinals to a 10-2 record, a Big East championship and a berth in the Sugar Bowl. 

    The young budding star signal-caller may have been the team's most valuable player. But it also helped that head coach Charlie Strong has been able to develop a winning attitude in the team's locker room. 

    Louisville is a well-balanced and well-coached group that should exceed expectations against Florida down in New Orleans. 

16. Texas Longhorns (8-4)

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    Going into this season, Texas was hoping that it could put its two previous mediocre campaigns in the past and get back to competing for a Big 12 title in 2012. However, it quickly became apparent that this team had not quite risen back up to the level of conference contender. 

    The Longhorns ended up losing four games in 2012, including blowout losses to the top two teams in the conference, Kansas State and Oklahoma. 

    As far as talent is concerned, Texas is one of the best teams in the nation. But regardless of how many future NFL draft picks coach Mack Brown has at his disposal, he simply has to figure out the right way to get his players motivated. 

    It will be interesting to see if Brown can lead his team to a big performance against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl. 

15. Clemson Tigers (10-2)

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    Clemson won 10 games this season. But the Tigers lost the two most important games on their schedule to Florida State and South Carolina. Thus, they will not be heading back to a BCS bowl game again this season. 

    Instead, the orange-clad Tigers will take on the purple-clad Tigers of LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve. 

    We know that Clemson's offense is overflowing with great skill-position talent such as QB Tajh Boyd, RB Andre Ellington and receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. The question is, can the team's offensive line step up and handle LSU's tenacious pass rush?

14. Wisconsin Badgers (8-5)

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    Wisconsin may have only gone 8-5 this season, but you have to put that record into perspective and realize that four of those losses were by just a field goal and three of them were in overtime games. 

    The Badgers were a few plays away from another double-digit win season. But the breaks just didn't fall their way at crucial points in the year. 

    The team did, however, look like a legitimate BCS bowl team in the Big Ten championship when Wisconsin stomped on Nebraska 70-31 to seal up the team's third straight conference championship and Rose Bowl berth. 

    RB Montee Ball, this year's Doak Walker Award winner, and the rest of the Badgers will be looking to snap their two-game losing streak in Pasadena when they take on Stanford on New Year's Day. 

13. Florida State Seminoles (11-2)

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    Florida State won the ACC this season, as many predicted. But the Seminoles just didn't seem to play like the powerhouse team that many built them up to be during the summer. 

    The team's lackadaisical performances in losses to NC State and Florida really say as much about the group as its 10 wins do. 

    Jimbo Fisher's squad has plenty of elite talent, especially on defense where DE Bjoern Werner, LB Christian Jones and CB Xavier Rhodes are all physical freaks. 

    What you always have to wonder about Florida State, though, is what type of effort to expect from the Seminoles for a big, important game. 

12. Kansas State Wildcats (11-1)

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    Kansas State won 10 games in 2011. But the Wildcats still didn't impress voters enough to earn a top-20 ranking in either of the two major preseason polls for 2012. Nevertheless, QB Collin Klein and the rest of Bill Snyder's squad made their low preseason ranking seem rather silly.

    They stormed through the Big 12, winning a conference championship, earning a berth in the Fiesta Bowl and finishing the regular season with 11 wins. Klein was one of the most dominant players in the country in 2012. The 6'5'', 226-pound senior signal-caller totaled over 3,300 yards of offense and accounted for 37 total touchdowns. 

    "Optimus Klein" may have only finished third in the Heisman voting, but he'll have one last chance to prove himself when the Wildcats take on Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. 

11. Texas A&M Aggies (10-2)

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    Texas A&M was treated as a second-class citizen during its time in the Big 12. But so far its looked like a top contender in the SEC thanks to the infusion of coach Kevin Sumlin and quarterback Johnny Manziel. 

    Sumlin and Manziel have teamed up and turned the Aggies offense into a destructive attack that is capable of making any defense look flat-out foolish. Just ask Alabama's defense. 

    Nobody thought the Aggies would win 10 games in their first season in college football's toughest conference. Then again, nobody thought Johnny Manziel would become "Johnny Football."

    We'll see just how good the Heisman winner is in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma. 

10. Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1)

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    There was a sizable uproar when it was revealed that Northern Illinois would get an at-large BCS bid to play in the Orange Bowl. The Huskies are the first MAC team to ever make it to the BCS stage, and they are also the first one-loss non-AQ team to get an at-large BCS bid. 

    Sure, the team's schedule wasn't loaded with high-profile teams, but Northern Illinois is one of just three teams in the country that can say its won 12 straight games this season. 

    QB Jordan Lynch was this year's RG3. But everyone was too busy paying attention to Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel. 

    Luckily, Lynch will have chance to prove himself on the national stage, when Northern Illinois takes on Florida State in the Orange Bowl. 

9. South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2)

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    You could easily argue that DE Jadeveon Clowney deserved a trip to New York City for the Heisman ceremony more than Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o did. 

    Clowney was the most devastating and disruptive defensive lineman in the country in 2012. The star sophomore blossomed into a beast, racking up 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss. 

    The former No. 1 overall high school recruit is the face of the Gamecocks defense, but safety D.J. Swearinger is another huge impact player that can change games in an instant. 

    Wish good luck to Michigan's offense, which will run into the South Carolina defensive buzzsaw in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day. 

8. Stanford Cardinal (11-2)

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    There are up to nine NFL head coaching jobs that could potentially become open this offseason, and Stanford coach David Shaw should be the No. 1 candidate for every opening. 

    Shaw has the makings of the next Jim Harbaugh, his former mentor at Stanford. The job he's done in the post-Andrew Luck era is simply spectacular. Admittedly, it's helped that seniors Stepfan Taylor, Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov have all stepped up in a big way. 

    The 40-year-old rising star might just be coaching his last game at Stanford when the Cardinal face Wisconsin in "The Grandaddy of them All" on New Year's Day. 

7. LSU Tigers (10-2)

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    Zach Mettenberger, an offensive savior?

    No, not so much. But Mettenberger will have another full season to prove himself in 2013. The question is, which of LSU's top defenders will be back to join him? 

    Ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan, LB Kevin Minter, CB Tharold Simon, and safeties Eric Reid and Craig Loston are all coveted underclassmen NFL prospects. Who decides to stay and who decides to go will likely decide whether LSU starts next season at No. 1. 

    Before that, Les Miles' crew will have something to prove against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31. 

6. Florida Gators (11-1)

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    Many offensive linemen have tried to block Florida defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley this season, but only a few have succeeded.

    Floyd, Easley, linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic and safety Matt Elam are the foundation of a defense that ranks third in the nation in scoring defense and fifth in total defense, giving up an average of 13 points and 282 yards per game. 

    Sure, the offense lacks explosion, but the Gators have a true hammer back in Mike Gillislee. 

    A heavy dose of Gillislee and an attacking, fast-flowing defense will be the recipe for success against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.

5. Oklahoma Sooners (10-2)

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    Oklahoma feels slighted for not getting an at-large bid to a BCS bowl this season, which is certainly understandable, since the team's only two losses were to 12-0 Notre Dame and 11-1 Kansas State. 

    QB Landry Jones will have to make his final statement as a Sooner against Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4. 

    Jones, RB Damien Williams and WR Kenny Stills will certainly give the Texas A&M quite a test in Cowboys Stadium. 

    They're just three of the many future NFL players that the Sooners will have on display. 

4. Georgia Bulldogs (11-2)

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    Isaiah who?

    That's what many Georgia fans were asking after seeing the pair of true freshman running backs, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, light up the SEC in 2012. Gurley and Marshall rushed for a combined 1,983 yards and 24 touchdowns. 

    It helped that the Bulldogs also got a tremendous outing from their QB Aaron Murray and their defense, led by future first-round NFL draft picks DT John Jenkins, LB Jarvis Jones and LB Alec Ogletree. 

    Murray, Gurley, Marshall and the Bulldogs' loaded defense should be playing in a BCS bowl game, but instead, they'll take on Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day. 

3. Oregon Ducks (11-1)

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    This season, Oregon had to replace its explosive starting backfield of QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James, who both left school early for the NFL. Fortunately for Chip Kelly, he still had plenty of offensive weapons at his disposal. 

    QB Marcus Mariota looked like a seasoned veteran in 2012, even though he was an inexperienced redshirt freshman. He completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for over 2,500 yards and threw 30 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions. 

    Mariota's backfield mates, running backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, totaled over 2,900 yards of offense and scored 38 touchdowns. 

    Kansas State's defense will have the tough task of trying to slow the thrilling trio down in the Fiesta Bowl. 

2. Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1)

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    This offseason, Alabama had to replace eight NFL draft picks, including veteran stars such as RB Trent Richardson, safety Mark Barron, linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower and CB Dre Kirkpatrick.

    Luckily, Nick Saban has been a monster on the recruiting trail during his time in Tuscaloosa, so the Tide had plenty of leftover talent.

    Players like running backs Eddie Lacy and freshman sensation TJ Yeldon, LB CJ Mosley, WR Amari Cooper, DT Jesse Williams and CB Dee Milliner have all stepped up in a big way this season. 

    Most importantly, QB AJ McCarron has transformed from game manager into offensive leader.

    McCarron will have his chance to win his second straight national title when the Tide take on Notre Dame in the BCS title game on Jan. 7.

1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-0)

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    New quarterback, no star receivers, holes to fill in the secondary—Notre Dame certainly faced some sizable obstacles going into the 2012 season. But as it turned out, the Irish's defensive front seven would help the team overcome any type of offensive deficiency or weakness. 

    LB Manti Te'o, DT Louis Nix, defensive ends Stephon Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore are the standouts of a defense that ranks first in the nation in scoring defense, fourth in rushing defense and sixth in total defense. It's a unit that has allowed an average of just 10 points and 286 yards per game in 2012. 

    QB Everett Golson, running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood and TE Tyler Eifert have done enough on offense this season. Now, it will be interesting to see what Golson and the rest of the Irish offense can do against Alabama's dominant defense in the BCS title game.