This season’s BCS bowl games have plenty to offer.
The SEC will be looking to win a borderline ridiculous eight consecutive national titles, two of the best defenses in the country will lock horns at the Rose Bowl, two high-octane offensive attacks will light up the scoreboard at the Orange Bowl, and two of the best programs in the history of college football will tussle at the Sugar Bowl.
Let’s dig into some early predictions on the final scores and top X-factors for each of the five games.
Prediction: Baylor 51, Central Florida 24
Baylor and Central Florida will both be playing in the first BCS game in program history, so it seems almost fitting that they are pitted up against each other.
The biggest X-factor in this one is the health of Baylor. The Bears were decimated by injuries in the season’s final weeks, which ultimately contributed to the end of their national title hopes and almost their Big 12 championship aspirations until Oklahoma stunned Oklahoma State.
If critical contributors like Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese return to form, Baylor will simply have too much firepower for the Knights to match. Look for the Bears to win this one going away.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Oklahoma 17
On paper, Oklahoma’s rush-oriented offense doesn’t match up well with Alabama’s stingy defense. However, that’s assuming the Crimson Tide are motivated to play in a bowl game that isn’t for the national title following the heartbreaking loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
That is the biggest X-factor. As long as Alabama comes to play (which wasn’t the case in the 2009 Sugar Bowl loss to Utah), the Sooners are far too one-dimensional to beat Nick Saban’s bunch.
A victory in the Sugar Bowl will have Alabama poised to sit near the top of the initial rankings in the 2014 season.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Clemson 35
If you are a fan of offense, make sure to tune in as Ohio State and Clemson match wits in the Orange Bowl.
The Buckeyes are fourth in the nation in scoring offense, while the Tigers check in at 12th. What’s more, both defenses have looked incredibly pedestrian against worthwhile competition this year, so points should come early and often.
The X-factor here is Carlos Hyde. Both sides have a litany of superstars, but Hyde is best suited to control the clock and keep the opposing offense off the field. If Hyde can eat up chunks of yards and continue to move the sticks, it will keep Tajh Boyd and Co. on the sidelines in the game’s critical moments.
Prediction: Michigan State 24, Stanford 20
In today’s age of no-huddle and fast-paced offensive attacks, it’s almost refreshing to see two old-school power teams facing off in college football’s most traditional bowl game.
Michigan State and Stanford both rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense and rely heavily on the rushing attack. However, the X-factor will be which quarterback can make a play when the game is on the line.
Kevin Hogan and Connor Cook are often asked simply to preserve a win while the defenses and running backs take care of business. However, it is nearly impossible to earn a win at the Rose Bowl without a quarterback making a critical play in the fourth quarter. Look for Cook to do just that off play action on Michigan State’s final drive.
BCS National Championship Game
Prediction: Florida State 35, Auburn 17
The SEC may have seven consecutive national titles, but Florida State is simply the better team with the nation’s best college football player.
Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston will lead a Seminoles attack that ranks second in the nation in scoring offense against an Auburn team that leads the country in rushing yards. On paper, it is an offensive showdown that should feature plenty of fireworks.
However, that isn’t taking into account the X-factor of Florida State’s defense. That unit doesn’t get as much recognition, but the Seminoles rank first in the country in opposing points allowed and will slow Auburn’s one-dimensional attack enough to take home the crystal football.
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.