Go figure: the 2012 college football season ended with some serious BCS controversy. Some of the upstart programs from non-power and even power conferences crashed the party and busted into the premier games, perceptibly over-matched against their higher-ranked foes.
It would be unwise to dismiss these three underdogs, though, as each team has their reasons—and star power—to be able to pull off the upset under a bright, national spotlight.
Over half of this year's Bowl Championship Series matchups feature teams that don't seem to be deserving. Here is a breakdown of how their fates will shake out.
Sugar Bowl: No. 21 Louisville Cardinals vs. No. 3 Florida Gators
Two words for Card nation: Teddy. Bridgewater.
The super sophomore QB will have a formidable challenge in facing the nation's best secondary when the Cardinals take on the Florida Gators, who were this close to the SEC and national championship games.
That's really the only hope that Louisville has. Bridgewater suffered through a broken non-throwing wrist and a bum ankle to push the Cardinals to the BCS thanks to a road victory at Rutgers.
Emmy Award-winning sports anchor Adam Lefkoe of WHAS-11 Louisville has the inside scoop on just how hard Bridgewater is working to improve his health leading up to the biggest game of his collegiate career:
Lefkoe (@WHAS11Lefkoe) December 11, 2012
Talk about dedication.
No matter how well Bridgewater can fare against Will Muschamp's stingy defense, the Gators will prove to be too much of a force on both sides of the ball. The x-factor will be Bridgewater's mobility. If he is able to scramble and keep plays alive—which he couldn't against the Scarlet Knights—the Cardinals have a puncher's chance.
Otherwise, QB Jeff Driskel and RB Mike Gillislee will shrink the game and force Bridgewater to press the issue against a ball-hawking Florida defensive backfield.
Considering how phenomenal Bridgewater's effort has been to get his team to this point, it's hard not to root for Louisville to somehow upstage the Gators. But it's too bold to pick the Cardinals based on Bridgewater alone against a team that could have been playing for the national title in Miami.
Teddy has been his team's bridge over troubled waters all year long, but even he won't be able to overcome the Gators.
Final score: Florida 31, Louisville 14
Orange Bowl: No. 15 Northern Illinois Huskies vs. No. 12 Florida State Seminoles
This is the class David and Goliath story, especially with NIU head coach Dave Doeren departing for NC State before the program's most important game in school history.
Obviously, an inherent advantage will be granted to the Seminoles since the game takes place in their home state, but the Huskies pack plenty of punch at least on the offensive side to make the game interesting.
For what it's worth, Florida State struggled immensely to stop the run-based attacks of the Gators and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in their most recent outings. The Seminole defense may have similar difficulties against a dual-threat dynamo like QB Jordan Lynch.
The Huskies' signal-caller has 43 touchdowns in 2012—24 by air; 19 by ground, the exact same as Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Northern Illinois averages over 250 yards on the ground per contest, which ranks ninth in the nation.
That could be bad news for FSU, but Lynch's counterpart EJ Manuel will have himself a relatively easy matchup against the leaky Huskies defense.
Although the ACC may get some flack for not stacking up to other power conferences on the gridiron, the MAC champion Huskies haven't faced any team nearly as athletic this season.
This could turn into a surprising shootout, courtesy of another monster game from Lynch. But expect the Seminoles to redeem themselves as the favorite in a BCS bowl and their promising season on top.
Final score: Florida State 45, Northern Illinois 28
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin Badgers vs. No. 6 Stanford Cardinal
The Badgers may be from a power conference, but they certainly crashed the BCS party. Thanks to postseason suspensions for Ohio State and Penn State, Wisconsin capitalized on an opportunity to avenge an earlier loss to Nebraska in the Big 10 Championship Game—to say the least.
After a ridiculous 70-31 win in which the Badgers racked up 539 yards rushing, the team that had fallen short all year long suddenly found themselves Pasadena-bound.
The only problem is that the Cardinal are undoubtedly one of the best teams in the country, as evidenced by their ability to navigate an extremely difficult schedule and beat plenty of quality opponents along the way.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin didn't have to tread a very difficult road all year, and had considerable trouble closing out games. It's clear that the Badgers can play well as front-runners, but they haven't shown the ability to pull out tight ones.
That is something Stanford has specialized in, despite the graduation of No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck. It is a testament to the strength of the Cardinal program, reinvigorated with head coach Jim Harbaugh and continuing its excellence under David Shaw's guidance.
Speaking of head coaches, this one becomes all the more interesting with Bret Bielema leaving his post at Wisconsin to suddenly take the Arkansas coaching job.
Now, athletic director Barry Alvarez—Bielema's beloved predecessor—will man the sidelines against the Cardinal.
Unless Alvarez can find some of the old magic and out-physical one of the most physical teams in the country, the Badgers will be in trouble. A more balanced offense led by steady freshman QB Kevin Hogan and senior RB Stepfan Taylor will key the Cardinal to victory. Their run defense is also the best in the country, so don't expect a big game from All-American Montee Ball.
Final score: Stanford 21, Wisconsin 13