The final year of the BCS is upon us. While the most polarizing postseason format in a major sport is on its way out (good riddance), it did leave us with some interesting matchups, including a national title between two of the hottest teams in the country.
Florida State and Auburn will play for it all in the BCS National Championship. Meanwhile, Ohio State will play Clemson in the Orange Bowl after the Buckeyes' loss to Michigan State knocked them out of the championship hunt.
Alabama gets Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, a game many thought should be between the Tide and Oregon, and Big 12 champion Baylor gets UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.
Finally, the Rose Bowl figures to be a good ol' fashioned slugfest between Michigan State and Stanford, the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions, respectively.
How will the five BCS games unfold before the College Football Playoff takes over next year? Let the guessing begin.
(All rankings reflect the final BCS standings. All stats courtesy of the NCAA.)
Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET
The early 1900s called. They want their awesome back.
If you like defense and ground-and-pound football, the Rose Bowl has a game for you.
“Pasadena, here we come,” said Spartans offensive lineman Fou Fonoti via ESPN.com. “I’ve got to show them In-N-Out [Burger], it’s a West Coast staple, Animal Style and all that. I’m excited.”
Michigan State brings its stingy defense, which is No. 1 overall and No. 4 in points allowed, against Stanford's run-heavy offensive attack.
The Cardinal aren't too shabby on defense either, ranking third in the country against the run and 19th in red-zone defense. In any case, there's a lot to love about both of these defenses, whether it's Stanford's ridiculous front seven or Michigan State's lockdown secondary.
So it's going to come down to which team can make just one or two more plays, whether on offense, defense or special teams.
Both quarterbacks—Michigan State's Connor Cook and Stanford's Kevin Hogan—have been playing well over the past few weeks. Will either of them have a breakout game?
It's going to be difficult—not to mention insanely fun and likely well played. In the end, the Cardinal's tough strength of schedule during the regular season prepares them for Sparty and running back Tyler Gaffney becomes the MVP.
Score prediction: Stanford 20, Michigan State 16
Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Fiesta Bowl may lack two big names, but there's a lot of potential for it to be one of the most entertaining games of the postseason.
Baylor won its first Big 12 title, thanks to a win over Texas (and an Oklahoma State loss to Oklahoma), and should be pumped about playing in the desert. UCF will be out to prove it's deserving of national recognition and not a team that got into a BCS game simply because the American Athletic Conference gets an automatic bid.
“With the Knights hearing they don’t have a chance for a month, they’re going to show up irritated,” said ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit during Sunday's BCS selection show (h/t Orlando Sentinel).
The Bears offense hasn't quite had the same pop it had a month ago, due in large part to injuries. Baylor's best receiver, Tevin Reese, has been sidelined with a wrist injury, though it's possible he may be healthy in time for the game.
UCF may be able to put up some big numbers if quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson have a good night. Baylor's defense, however, has a ton of team speed and can go sideline to sideline with anyone.
In that vein, though, neither defense allows a lot of points, so it will be interesting to see which offense breaks through.
Baylor has too many weapons, so if the Bears don't get off to a fast start, it may just be a matter of time before they pull away.
Score prediction: Baylor 49, UCF 31
Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET
Fans and media alike are probably wishing for an Alabama-Oregon Sugar Bowl—you know, that game that was supposed to be the national championship before the season started?—but the BCS is, as they say, "strictly business."
No one is more business than Alabama coach Nick Saban.
"We've had a great standing tradition with the Sugar Bowl and the University of Alabama and it's been a wonderful experience for our players and our team," said Saban on Sunday, via TideSports.com. "To play someone that has a tradition and respect that we have for the University of Oklahoma is a real honor for our team."
The Sooners are probably the quietest 10-win team in the country. They entered Week 15 already mathematically eliminated from the Big 12 title race and were blown out by Baylor and Texas. Still, a stunning win over Oklahoma State in Bedlam has Bob Stoops' group looking for some respect.
What better way to get it than by beating Alabama?
Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight suffered a shoulder injury in the win over Oklahoma State, so his availability is questionable. Knight received some Johnny Manziel comparisons before the season because of his mobility, but he hasn't been nearly as good. (He also hasn't been healthy.)
Alabama's running game should have no problem running up the middle on Oklahoma since the Sooners are especially weak up the middle of the field. The Tide are the better team top to bottom, so it becomes a question of motivation.
And who knows? Maybe Oklahoma comes out with something to prove and catches the reigning national champions off guard.
(Probably not, however.)
Score prediction: Alabama 38, Oklahoma 21
Jan. 3, time TBD
In many ways, the Orange Bowl is a chance for redemption. Ohio State failed to beat Michigan State to reach the BCS National Championship. Ending the season with two straight losses after winning 24 straight under Urban Meyer would be a major disappointment.
Clemson, meanwhile, is a bit like Oklahoma. The Tigers have 10 wins, sure, but two sore losses to Florida State (51-14) and South Carolina (31-17). Not to mention, the last time Clemson went to the Orange Bowl, West Virginia hung 70 points on Dabo Swinney's group.
Surely, the Tigers don't want to relive that game.
The game features two legit quarterbacks in Braxton Miller and Tajh Boyd. Both can run—Miller is more regarded for his running ability—but both can sling it nicely too.
But the main matchup to watch will be Ohio State's cornerbacks and Clemson's wide receivers, specifically Sammy Watkins. Michigan State was able to get behind the Buckeyes secondary a few times in the Big Ten title. That's going to have to be corrected.
Also, can Ohio State handle Clemson's tempo? The Tigers can be awfully tough to stop if they get on a roll.
The difference will be Miller, who has a big day rushing as Ohio State gets a 13-win season under Meyer.
Score prediction: Ohio State 45, Clemson 42
Jan. 6, 8:30 p.m. ET
Florida State has been the most dominant team in the country. Auburn has probably been the luckiest. Whether it's better to be lucky or good is up for debate, but in their own way, the Tigers and Seminoles forged their own paths to Pasadena.
In all likelihood, Florida State will have a Heisman Trophy winner on the field in quarterback Jameis Winston. Auburn may have a Heisman finalist in running back Tre Mason. Point is, there is going to be some serious star power on the field.
But the 'Noles are loaded up front on defense and rank 14th in the country in rush defense. Of course, Florida State hasn't faced an offense like Auburn—the Tigers are the best rushing team in the country—and have forced opponents to play from behind all season. As B/R's David Regimbal notes, the Tigers need to run, run and run some more.
If Florida State can stop, or even slow, Auburn's run game, the Tigers will have to rely on quarterback Nick Marshall to win the game with his arm. He's been able to do that a few times, but it's obviously not Auburn's first choice.
Conversely, Auburn needs to be able to stop the run. Winston gets all the hype, but Florida State has a powerful stable of running backs that can pound away at a defense.
The difference will be Florida State's front seven, which makes Auburn's running game work for every yard it gains.
Score prediction: Florida State 37, Auburn 28