BCS Rankings 2013: 5 Biggest BCS Impact Games of Week 15

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2013

BCS Rankings 2013: 5 Biggest BCS Impact Games of Week 15

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    The clock has almost struck midnight on the 2013 college football season and, in turn, the sordid 16-year reign of the BCS system.

    Just one weekend of football separates now from the final-ever batch of BCS rankings, which will determine not just one last national title game but a number of other prestigious bowls behind it.

    But this final weekend should be a fun one. Four of the five major conferences have a championship game left to play, and three—the Big Ten, ACC and SEC—have potential national title implications.

    The other major conferences will sort out their BCS destinies in Week 15 also, as will the MAC, which might send Northern Illinois to a signature bowl for the second consecutive season.

    In preparation for the week at hand, here's a look at the five biggest BCS impact games on the schedule, complete with a short preview of each. 

5. Northern Illinois vs. Bowling Green

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    Ball State was probably the best and most complete team on Northern Illinois' schedule, but Bowling Green isn't far behind—and since this game will be played on a neutral field, instead of in DeKalb, Saturday's contest will pose the toughest test NIU has faced all season.

    "[Bowling Green is] probably the finest football team we have played to date," NIU coach Rod Carey said, according to Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune. "All three phases fit perfectly. You can tell they have been together as a (coaching) staff for a while. The systems haven’t changed. They have just gotten better."

    In order to beat what Carey calls the finest team on his schedule, NIU will need another mammoth game from senior QB and Heisman sleeper-candidate Jordan Lynch. Last time the Huskies took the field, Lynch rushed for 321 yards against Western Michigan, the most by a quarterback in FBS history.

    Bowling Green has held its last four opponents to 229 rushing yards on 116 carries, a microscopic average of 1.97 yards per attempt. If Lynch wants to carry his team to another BCS bowl, he'll have to do it with some talented defenders on his back.

4. Florida State vs. Duke

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    It's weird: When these two teams play in basketball, the impartial world is rooting for scrappy Florida State to beat longtime magnate Duke, sheerly for the sake of chaos; in football, it's the total and complete opposite.

    But good luck with that, FSU antagonists. The Seminoles have been one of the most dominant teams in college football history this year, perhaps boasting both the top offense and top defense in the country.

    There's a reason they're favored to win by 29.5 points on Saturday.

    There is but one lonely storm cloud casting a pall over FSU's season: the pending sexual assault case surrounding freshman quarterback (and Heisman favorite) Jameis Winston. Head coach Jimbo Fisher, however, says that the ordeal has not distracted his team in the slightest.

    "It hasn't altered (preparation) in any way," Fisher said on Sunday's ACC teleconference, according to Nicole Auerbach of USA Today. "Our team is not insulated from it. We deal with it. We address those issues. We control what we can control—how we prepare and how we play. That's how we go about it."

    A decision from the state on whether to charge Winston is not expected before the ACC Championship Game on Saturday, so if Florida State can zone out the distraction once again, it will be headed to Pasadena to play for a national title.

    If that is indeed the case, do not expect this story to go away.

3. Arizona State vs. Stanford

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    As far as BCS implications are concerned, it doesn't come any more straightforward than this one: The winner goes to the Rose Bowl, the loser goes somewhere outside the BCS.

    If the Sun Devils want to be the victor, they will need to continue their current hot streak. Which is to say, they will need to play nothing like they did the first two times these teams met, all the way back in September.

    Stanford raced out to a 29-0 lead in that one, responding to an ASU touchdown with 10 more points before the break and heading into the locker room up 39-7. The Cardinal took their foot off the gas in the second half, allowing ASU to lose by just 14 points, but the statement they made was massive.

    Things are different now, however, with Arizona State probably among the hottest teams in America. By virtue of their strong finish, the Sun Devils will get to host Saturday's game, which head coach Todd Graham thinks could make the difference.

    "[Home-field advantage] is the most underrated thing in college football," said Graham, according to Dave Dulberg of Arizona Sports. "For the offense to have to operate with it loud like that, it makes it difficult to audible and to operate. It's a major benefit for the defense. Obviously, the way our defense is designed, it's a big plus."

    Star running back Marion Grice is out of the lineup, so ASU's defense can feed off the crowd and make a giant impact. Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan can be rattled, and his performance on Saturday could prove to be decisive.

2. Ohio State vs. Michigan State

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    Of the 24 wins (to zero losses) Urban Meyer has enjoyed since joining Ohio State, none was closer than last week's nail-biter against Michigan. Before that, though, back in 2012, Michigan State played the Buckeyes to a 17-16 loss in East Lansing, finding some success against OSU's vaunted offense.

    It's important to note that last year's Spartans went 6-6 in the regular season, while this year's version went 11-1. The record in 2012 was deceptive—this year's team is just slightly, not discernibly better—but it remains important.

    If OSU barely beat a struggling Spartans team, how will it beat one that just stormed through the Big Ten undefeated, beating every opponent by double-digits?

    That holds especially true if Ohio State is focused elsewhere. The narrative written this week has been about whether Auburn, should it beat Missouri, would pass Ohio State, should it beat Michigan State, in the BCS rankings and play for a national title. But Meyer won't hear any of it—at least not yet.

    "No conversation about it, no social networking about it," Meyer said, according to Zack Meisel of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. "Our focus is on this game and that's it. It'd be a disservice to our players if I went and worried about it. We have to move the ball against a great defense, and that's my focus."

    Calling MSU a 'great defense' might sound, at first, like coach-speak...but it's not. The Spartans lead all of FBS football in yards and points allowed per game.

    OSU's offense has its work cut out for it.

1. Auburn vs. Missouri

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    This is without a doubt the least likely matchup in SEC Championship Game history, featuring a pair of Tigers that combined to go 2-14 in conference play last year. What's more, should Michigan State beat Ohio State, whichever team wins will likely head to the national title game.

    Auburn has survived in miraculous, emotionally draining fashion in two of its past three games, leading some to believe that it's due for a letdown. How could a team possibly keep up the adrenaline after such demanding wins over Georgia and Alabama?

    But Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn does not anticipate a problem. "I really believe that any time you get a chance to go to Atlanta [for the conference championship game]....you shouldn't be distracted.," Malzahn said, according to Joel Erickson of AL.com. He trusts that his team will wake up.

    If that's the case, Missouri will have, for the second consecutive week, a mammoth task on its hands defensively. The Tigers bottled up Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense last week, but there they had the aide of a boisterous home crowd in Columbia.

    On a neutral field, with the season on the line, will Gary Pinkel's team be able to stand up and stuff Auburn's rushing attack? If not, it stands little chance of winning.