Teams good enough to make it through the gauntlet of the 2012 college football season and reach the BCS haven't relied on luck alone. Every team earning a coveted place in the BCS this season has at least one play or set of plays with one player that feeds the offense.
Any dietitian can tell you that enough calories are required to lead a productive life. It's no different in football. We've scoured the season highlights of the ten teams playing in 2013 BCS bowls to find how they each get their nourishment, and put together this list of the bread-and-butter plays.
Northern Illinois made history twice over when it received an invitation to play in the 2013 Orange Bowl in Miami.
First, the Huskies became the first MAC program to bust the BCS. Secondly and most shockingly, NIU became the first-ever program from a non-automatic qualifying conference to earn a BCS berth without posting an undefeated record.
Imagine all of those great Utah, Boise State and TCU teams of years past. None was ever selected with anything but a zero in the loss column, yet Northern Illinois managed to throw one by the selection committee.
A big reason for the Huskies' MAC championship run this season was junior quarterback Jordan Lynch.
If you haven't heard of this kid yet, you might want to grab a recent stat sheet and start brushing up on your numbers. And does Lynch have some impressive numbers.
He leads all quarterbacks in rushing—setting an FBS quarterback record in the process—with 1,771 yards (which is also fourth among all FBS players). He leads the FBS in offense, accounting for 4,733 total yards—over 364 yards per game.
And get ready for this; he's accounted for 43 touchdowns this season.
Jordan Lynch essentially defines “bread and butter” this season. It doesn't matter what play he runs, if he's guiding the NIU offense, expect yards and points in bunches.
During the glorious Bobby Bowden dynasty, Florida State made its bones on the run game. Things have changed in Tallahassee, and the Seminoles have developed a potent aerial attack under head coach Jimbo Fisher.
The leading rusher for FSU, Chris Thompson, hasn't even cracked 700 yards this season. While the Noles have spread the wealth in the run game this season, it's clear that we're no longer talking about a “run-first” kind of program.
Especially after you take a peek at E.J. Manuel's passing numbers.
With over 3,100 yards and 22 touchdowns through the air, Manuel has emerged as perhaps the elite quarterback in the ACC. Manuel has developed several go-to targets this season with all four of his primary receivers accruing over 470 yards and three touchdowns, but it is Rashad Greene and his slashing crossing routs giving defensive coordinators fits.
Greene is an incredibly fast receiver, even for a Florida school, and his chemistry with Manuel has developed over the course of 2012 into that singularly indispensable play. No matter the down or distance, regardless of the score and time remaining, you can expect to see Greene cutting across the secondary with lightening speed.
And when Manuel gets the ball to him, we've come to expect big things.
Teddy Bridgewater has been the undisputed king of football in Louisville this season. Quite an accomplishment for a sophomore.
Bridgewater has amassed nearly 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns through the air this season, but just as importantly, he doesn't rely too heavily on one particular receiver—which can give defensive coordinators fits. No Louisville receiver has 725 yards this season, and none have averaged more than 60 yards per game.
But when the Cards need a score, look no further than the Bridgewater-to-DeVante Parker connection.
Parker is the leading receiver for Louisville this season with 712 yards, but it's his nine touchdowns—more than double any other Cardinal—that belies his role in the offense.
Parker has a long of 75 yards this season, and has an impressive list of 19 receptions for more than 15 yards (including 12 for more than 25).
If the Cardinals are to have any shot against a heavily favored Florida team in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, you can rest assured that Bridgewater to Parker will play a major role.
If there's one word that doesn't describe Florida's offense this season, it's “flashy.”
The Gators have put together one of the most ho-hum years we've ever seen from an offense headed to a BCS bowl. Clearly the Gators are riding their top-five defense to an automatic berth this season (under the “3-4 Rule”).
But that doesn't mean the Gators don't have a favorite go-to play to get those much-needed points.
Like many low-scoring but effective offenses, Florida loves the power run game this season. It's not complicated: put a couple of big guys behind the quarterback, hand the ball to one of them, and watch them run it down the opposing defense's face masks. It's more common in the Big Ten than the SEC these days, but Florida is adding a distinctive southern flavor to this olde tyme football.
One of the best examples of Florida's version of the power run was against Tennessee this season. Trey Burton follows the motion of a pulling offensive guard and keeps himself right behind his blocking fullback. As soon as those boys throw their blocks, Burton turns on the afterburners and flies down the field.
As great at this particular run is, the concept is a very basic one: pile blockers into an area and use and explosive burst to pick up a chunk of yards. And every now and then, that chunk turns into a massive heap of yards.
There you have it. The power run game—and Florida's 2012 offense—in a nutshell.
Wisconsin comes to the BCS as the first team with five losses on its résumé.
The Badgers backed into the Big Ten Championship Game after finishing third in the Leaders Division behind ineligible Ohio State and Penn State, but embarrassed a heavily-favored Nebraska team, 70-31, to earn yet another trip to Pasadena.
Though the Badgers' limited success in 2012, one recurring theme has been ever-present: Montee Ball.
Rather than relying on a single play, the Badgers are carried almost entirely by the record-smashing heroics of the all-time leading rushing touchdown scorer in FBS history. Heading into the Rose Bowl Game for the third-straight season, the Badgers aren't likely to shake things up now. Winning a bowl game is difficult enough without your head coach not bothering to stick around.
If the Stanford Cardinal have watched just five minutes of Wisconsin game tape from this season, they should also know what to expect from the Badgers: Montee Ball, Montee Ball and more Montee Ball.
When Andrew Luck left the farm, we—along with the rest of the nation—thought that it might be the end of something special at Stanford.
Despite losing all-around superstar quarterback Luck to the NFL, the Cardinal did something they haven't done since the 20th century: win a conference championship and earn a trip to the Rose Bowl Game.
Rather than riding one player through the season, the Cardinal program has begun to develop strong presence at many positions. The depth now being built under head coach David Shaw is becoming evident and Stanford can now claim several stars, not just one.
But that doesn't mean the Cardinal play a game of hot potato when it comes to toting the football down the field. Senior running back Stepfan Taylor is the unquestioned leader of the offense, and he's become as big of a workhorse Stanford has these days.
Taylor's 1,442 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns easily lead the team, and he even ranks fourth among Cardinal receivers with 270 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
In fact, his 1,712 total offensive yards is just five yards behinds quarterback Jose Nunes' total output for 2012.
Given those numbers, is it any mystery what Stanford's bread and butter is this season?
The Pac-12 is home to some of the top rushing attacks in the nation, and with Taylor in the backfield, the Cardinal can count themselves among that group. What stands out about Taylor isn't his speed, it's his size. While he's capable of outrunning people, he's so dangerous because the player's he can't outpace, he simply runs through.
At 5'11" and 215 pounds, Taylor is all power, and running the ball off-tackle multiple times per quarter isn't unusual. Why do the Cardinal go back to this well so often?
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
If there has been one thing on the field this season that has made Kansas State the Big 12 champion it is, it's not a scheme, it's not a formation, it's not even a particular play.
At least not a planned one.
Senior quarterback and 2012 Heisman finalist Collin Klein has been the quintessential “playmaker” this season by not only maintaining a solid accuracy rating (66.2 percent completion rate, 156.3 passer rating), but by turning scrambles into big gains, first downs and touchdowns.
If there is one particular play Klein and the Wildcats love to run over and over, it has to be the speed option.
Klein is smart enough to know when to pitch it, patient enough to wait for holes to appear and athletic enough to exploit any weakness exposed by his offensive line.
Going up against Oregon in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl will certainly test the Wildcats to their limits, but Klein will be the best quarterback the Ducks have faced all season—and we're talking about an Oregon team that ranks just 62nd in passing defense in the FBS this season.
Add in the Ducks' 47th-ranked run defense, and Klein's handyman skills with a broken play could turn into something very special this January in the desert.
The bread and butter of the Oregon Ducks is more a philosophy than a single play. Head coach Chip Kelly has transformed the Oregon program into one of the nation's more exciting offenses thanks to big plays and a high tempo.
That quick tempo, combined with the Ducks' unrivaled ability to take every yard the defense will allow, typically leads to huge halftime leads. From there, it's simply a matter of slowly allowing the prey to bleed out.
Kenjon Barner is an electric senior running back, and his 21 rushing touchdowns this season have been a big part of Oregon's 50.8 points per game. If the Ducks can feed him the ball effectively against Kansas State, the Wildcats will surely become just the latest team to wither beneath the unrelenting Oregon attack.
Opponents of the Crimson Tide are no strangers to getting knocked around the field early and often. But Alabama has a particularly potent one-two punch this season in running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.
The tandem has combined for 2,182 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns this season (Lacy: 1,182 yards, 16 touchdowns; Yeldon: 1,000 yards, 11 touchdowns). They've also contributed more than 300 yards and two more touchdowns in the passing game in 2012. Is there any question that Lacy and Yeldon make up the backbone of the Tide's offense?
The bad news is Notre Dame excels at stopping the run. The good news is even the mighty Irish will have a hard time containing two 1,000-yard rushers from the SEC. A steady diet of Lacy and Yeldon should be enough for even the most ravenous Bama fan come January 7.
When feeding time rolls around for the Notre Dame offense, the menu is a lot more varied than a few main staples.
Rather than having one bread-and-butter play, the Irish have several. From the zone run to the quarterback draw to tight-end go routes, head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin have developed an Irish attack that has been able to score as many points as necessary to win every game this season.
But it's the combination of Everett Golson to Tyler Eifert that has the ability to cause Alabama the most problems.
Senior tight end Eifert actually leads the Irish in receiving yards with 624 and shares the team lead with wideout T.J. Jones with four touchdowns. But the big number for Eifert is his 14.2 yards per catch; once the ball is in his hands, a first down is almost a guarantee.
As the season has progressed, Golson has matured by leaps and bounds, and has become more confident not only in his own performance, but the ability of his teammates to make plays for him. Where once Golson could be pressured into an interception or sack, he now is much more comfortable buying time in the backfield, dumping the ball off late in the play and allowing players like Eifert to make something happen.
There may be plays Notre Dame runs more often, but if Golson and Eifert can keep this new-found synergy humming in Miami, the Irish could walk away as national champions.