The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl will help get the new year kicked off in style on Wednesday, Jan. 1. The BCS bowl game has historically given college football fans plenty to cheer about, and there are some exciting potential matchups for this year's contest.
Heading into Week 15, Big 12 leader Oklahoma State and MAC heavyweight Northern Illinois are in position to go head to head when the Fiesta Bowl kicks off at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
However, both teams must first beat conference rivals in Week 15. Oklahoma State will take on Oklahoma, and Northern Illinois will battle Bowling Green. It'll be surprising if either team loses its final game of the regular season, but upsets occur every weekend.
Should the Sooners take down the Cowboys, however, then the Big 12 would be up for grabs. The loss would put a huge spotlight on the contest between Baylor and Texas in Week 15, since Baylor could win the conference with a victory at home.
If the Huskies lose, then it would make room for a non-conference-championship team from one of the big conferences to take on the Big 12 champs.
Here's a look at when and where you can catch this year's Fiesta Bowl, followed by a prediction for the big game and a closer look at the teams with an outside chance to receive an invitation to play.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 1, at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Oklahoma State will prevail over Oklahoma in Week 15 to secure its bid in the Fiesta Bowl with the Big 12 title, and Northern Illinois will easily prevail over Bowling Green to finish the season undefeated as the MAC champion and shoo-in for a BCS bowl game berth.
The Cowboys feature a balanced offense that has flourished since senior quarterback Clint Chelf took over the starting job in mid-October. He's been playing outstanding football the past four games in particular, scoring 15 total touchdowns (10 passing and five rushing), helping Oklahoma State average 45.25 points per game during this stretch.
The Cowboys opened up a lot of eyes taking down Baylor with authority on Nov. 23, winning 49-17. The Bears feature the top-ranked scoring offense in the nation, and Oklahoma State's defense effectively shut them down for most of the game.
Northern Illinois has been college football's Cinderella story in 2013.
The Huskies have feasted on their MAC opponents this year, winning eight conference games and four non-conference games to head into Week 15 with a perfect 12-0 record. However, this team hasn't faced a single ranked opponent all year long.
Jordan Lynch has been one of the most exciting players in the nation. The dual-threat quarterback has totaled 4,212 yards and 42 touchdowns, and he broke his own record (most rushing yards in a game) in Week 14, rushing for 321 yards against Western Michigan, as noted by CBSSports.com:
NIU's Jordan Lynch broke his own QB rushing record with 321 yards. Is it time to send him to NY for the Heisman? http://t.co/i8LfZRamJW— CBSSports.com (@CBSSports) November 27, 2013
If he's not sitting amongst the five finalists for the 2013 Heisman Trophy ceremony later this month, then the voters got it wrong.
As good as Lynch is, though, the Huskies will be hard-pressed to take down the Cowboys.
Which team would win?
Northern Illinois doesn't feature a strong defensive unit, allowing 23.6 points (No. 39 in the nation) and 412.1 yards (No. 73) per game.
Oklahoma State would have no trouble putting up points against this defense, and combined with the team's No. 12-ranked scoring defense, the Cowboys would easily run away with the game.
Projected Score: Oklahoma State wins 42-21.
Other Teams in Play
There's a chance Oklahoma will take down its Big 12 rival at home in Week 15, which would open up an opportunity for Baylor or Texas to finish the season as the conference champion. Baylor hosts Texas in Week 15 to close out the season.
The Bears come into Week 15 as the No. 9-ranked team in the BCS standings, and a win over Texas, combined with an Oklahoma State loss, would send the Bears to the Fiesta Bowl. If the Cowboys and Bears both lose, then Texas would be the Big 12 champion, sending the Longhorns to the Fiesta Bowl, instead.
At one point, Baylor was among the hottest teams in the nation, opening up the season with nine straight wins—including an impressive 41-12 blowout victory over Oklahoma (No. 10 at the time) back in the first week of November.
The only blemish on Baylor's record is the 49-17 drubbing it absorbed on the road against the Cowboys, and no team in the nation can match the offensive production of Bryce Petty's high-flying Bears offense, which averages 55.4 points per game.
Texas is a dark-horse candidate to win the Big 12 after losing two games early in the season. But the Longhorns have only lost one conference game—a blowout loss to, you guessed it, Oklahoma State.
Offense isn't a huge strength for Texas, which will be a problem against Baylor in Week 15. Quarterback Case McCoy has struggled with turnovers since taking over starting duties, and he's thrown nine interceptions in his last six starts compared to eight touchdowns.
On the other side of the Fiesta Bowl equation, Northern Illinois is keeping some big schools out of the running for this contest with its perfect record and No. 14 ranking.
A loss to Bowling Green would be utterly shocking, but if it happens, then it's likely the loser of the Pac-12 Championship Game would receive a bid instead. Stanford and Arizona State are taking the field in Week 15 to decide this conference, and the loser would be a great choice to fill in for Northern Illinois.
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