BCS Bowl Games 2012-13: Underdogs That Will Cover Projected Spreads

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIDecember 22, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 24:  Everett Golson #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish lines up over center during a 22-13 win over the USC Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 24, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

There are several BCS busters that will boldly march in as heavy underdogs and cover the super-sized projected spreads held against them by the oddsmakers.

As safe as it is to yield to the notion that the Southeastern Conference is the nation's best, their two representatives in the Bowl Championship Series will have a more difficult time crushing their non-SEC opposition than the spreads suggest.

Oh, and the MAC champion—crazy, right?—is going to cover a 13.5-point spread against the ACC champion.

How is this wackiness possible? Find out why this trio of perceived mismatches will actually turn out to be the most competitive of clashes to round out the 2012 college football season.

(Note: Spreads courtesy of SportsBook.com)


Sugar Bowl: No. 21 Louisville (+13.5) vs. No. 3 Florida

Everything starts and ends with Teddy Bridgewater for the Louisville Cardinals—and there hasn't been much wrong with that so far.

The superb sophomore signal-caller has enjoyed a phenomenal year, capped off by a Big East championship-clinching win on the road at Rutgers.

What made it all the more impressive was that Bridgewater didn't start the game, but finished it strongly in going 20-of-28 for 263 yards and two touchdowns despite a bum ankle and a broken non-throwing wrist.

Although Teddy can bridge his Cardinals over almost any troubled water, he will certainly have his work cut out for him in Miami when he tries to swim through the Gators' swamping secondary.

Then again, this is just the challenge Bridgewater relishes, and with his combination of arm strength, accuracy and decision-making—and hopefully returned mobility—he will be able to complete more than the 51 percent of passes Florida yields on average to their opponents.

Louisville's biggest challenge on defense will be stuffing the physical, ground-and-pound Gator attack led by senior RB Mike Gillislee. Complicating matters is the dual-threat nature of quarterback Jeff Driskel.

That makes play-action all the more effective, and the Cardinals will have an impossible time matching up with standout tight end Jordan Reed, who is Florida's leading receiver. But if the Cardinals can load the box and stuff Gillislee—who is nursing some banged up ribs (h/t USA TODAY)—Driskel will be forced into obvious passing situations where he tends to be a liability.

If Jeremy Wright can give Bridgewater just a little bit of balance on offense, this game could be closer than the experts might predict. Again, it's a bit bold to say Louisville will pull the upset outright, but Bridgewater gives the Cardinals a chance no matter the circumstances.


Orange Bowl: No. 15 Northern Illinois (+13.5) vs. No. 12 Florida State

Just based on the Seminoles' recent history, the Huskies are a worse matchup than may be expected when looking at the teams' respective track records.

This is obviously a classic David vs. Goliath tussle, but Northern Illinois has quite a big rock in their slingshot in junior quarterback Jordan Lynch. He has thrown for 24 touchdowns and run for 19 more, directly matching Heisman winner Johnny Manziel—but obviously not generating nearly as much hype.

What makes Lynch dangerous is that he is extremely judicious with the football, as his 24 TD throws are offset by just five interceptions. Lynch hasn't thrown more than one pick in a single game in 2012.

Meanwhile, FSU quarterback EJ Manuel is the most efficient passer in school history, but has looked shaky in his past couple of outings. Manuel bursts with potential, but is inconsistent with his reads. A bad read and a blown pass protection led to two of his three costly interceptions in a home loss to Florida in the regular season finale.

He played much more conservatively in the conference championship against Georgia Tech, hitting on 16-of-21 throws but for just 134 yards, no TDs and a pick in the Seminoles' 21-16 victory.

That makes this quarterback duel one of the most interesting and probably most underrated to watch in the entire bowl season, much less the BCS.

Florida State had trouble defending the run-based offenses of the Gators and the Yellow Jackets, and will likely face similar challenges matching up against Lynch despite their athletic superiority to their Mid-American Conference foes.

Lynch gives the Huskies a puncher's chance, though, and if Northern Illinois can shorten the game and put the pressure on Manuel to make the big plays, a massive upset special may be brewing in Miami.


BCS National Championship: No. 1 Notre Dame (+9.5) vs. No. 2 Alabama

It looks a little strange that the team with the first-place distinction to its left is more than a touchdown underdog to the second-ranked Crimson Tide.

But that's the reality for the Fighting Irish, who hadn't been taken seriously in prior years as an elite college program. They were considered a has-been.

No longer is that the case, because Brian Kelly has reinvigorated the Irish, and has guided them to a perfect 12-0 campaign, a national championship appearance and won AP National Coach of the Year in just his third season at the helm.

Although Kelly received praise in his previous stops at Central Michigan and Cincinnati for grooming quarterbacks that thrived in the spread option system, it's been the other side of the ball that has been the key to Notre Dame's storybook season.

Led by Maxwell Award winner and Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te'o at linebacker, the Irish have the top scoring defense in the country.

Bama happens to rank second in that category, and at that against the tough, talented offenses of the SEC.

Let's not confuse the Irish's independent affiliation—or lack of membership to the SEC or another power conference—for a lack of physicality, because the run-based offensive attack Notre Dame sports is absolute smash-mouth football.

With sophomore QB Everett Golson finally taking the reins as the starter and showing improvement throughout the year, he should be able to keep the Tide's defense just honest enough to open up holes in the running game. Golson himself can run, as can RBs Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III.

That kind of depth will make life tough for Alabama, but the Tide do have their own stable of running backs in Eddie Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon who are both outstanding. That was showcased in the conference title win over Georgia, when Lacy ran for 181 yards and Yeldon for 153.

That's not too shabby against a Bulldogs defense full of future NFL players.

This one will likely come down to quarterback play, and the unflappable AJ McCarron does give the Tide an advantage.

Even bearing that in mind, though, this is the national championship, and Notre Dame is desperate to prove itself on the biggest stage imaginable that their program belongs back among the elite. The Irish may ultimately fall short, but it won't be by more than a touchdown.


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