The BCS bowl games are quickly approaching, with two of the biggest contests of the 2013 college football season slated for kickoff on New Year's Day.
Due to the downtime between the end of the regular season and the start of the bowl schedule, there has been plenty of time to make conjectures about these impending matchups.
Below are updated predictions for all five BCS bowls, along with a closer look at the opening two games and the national title clash between the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles and second-ranked Auburn Tigers.
Note: Team statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com.
|Jan. 6, 2014||BCS National Championship||No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Auburn||Seminoles|
|Jan. 3, 2014||Orange Bowl||No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Clemson||Tigers|
|Jan. 2, 2014||Sugar Bowl||No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 11 Oklahoma||Crimson Tide|
|Jan. 1, 2014||Fiesta Bowl||No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 15 UCF||Bears|
|Jan. 1, 2014||Rose Bowl||No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Stanford||Cardinal|
Picks are opinion
Rose Bowl: No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Stanford
Defense is going to be a huge theme in this one. Both units are exceptional and rank in the top three in rush defense, but each offense is driven by a physical running game.
Stanford senior Tyler Gaffney has been the Cardinal's workhorse all season long, while Jeremy Langford has been the staple in Sparty's backfield that has helped drive the team's success.
Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio emphasized that the Rose Bowl is a chance for Michigan State to back up its Big Ten title victory over Ohio State and prove it belongs on the national stage, per CBS Detroit's Ashley Dunkak:
It’s an opportunity to do our thing there. So we’re just excited about it. I think our players are. Again, it will be a great challenge versus Stanford, and they’re a proven football team. But we’ll bring our guys out and see what happens...When you look at Stanford, they’re a football team that’s going to get it done fundamentally. I think they play with a tough mindset.
Despite some disappointing losses to Utah and USC this season, linebacker Shayne Skov explains how Stanford didn't let those defeats dampen the pursuit of its ultimate goal, as documented by Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com:
The key thing is we've maintained that same hunger. No one on this team takes anything for granted. We have that same desire. Instead of becoming complacent, we've become hungrier. The standard has become higher and higher. When we were on the outside looking in (after the USC loss), guys were genuinely hurt. We were disappointed in ourselves. To see how important it is for us to be dominant and to win the Pac-12 ... it's not something we're just happy about. It's an expectation. And we're upset when we don't reach those goals.
There is no question the Cardinal are formidable foes and the perfect measuring stick for a Spartans program that plays a very similar brand of football.
Thus, it should come down to the quarterback play between sophomores Kevin Hogan (Stanford) and Connor Cook, who threw for a career-best 304 yards in the Big Ten Championship win.
Co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner believes Cook needs to play within his physical faculties to get the job done in Pasadena, per the Lansing State Journal's Chris Solari:
Warner: "Connor (Cook) just needs to do what he does & not go above that." Stanford's defense complex, QB needs to feel pocket pressure.— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) December 17, 2013
Since Hogan is in the midst of his second season gaining starting experience and is more of a threat to make plays with his legs, though, he should give the Cardinal enough of an edge to pull out a tight contest.
Prediction: Stanford 20, Michigan State 17
Fiesta Bowl: No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 15 UCF
Which BCS bowl will have the closest outcome?
While the Bears may be getting a lot of attention for the turnaround head coach Art Briles has sparked, courtesy of an amazing offense, it's possible that UCF QB Blake Bortles will be discounted.
Look no further than the respect ESPN.com expert Todd McShay has for Bortles. In McShay's first 2014 NFL mock draft, Bortles is the No. 3 overall pick.
This will be a big test for Bortles with regard to the level of competition, which wasn't as formidable as what his counterpart in Bryce Petty faced in the Big 12. Petty threw 30 touchdowns to just two interceptions, while Bortles did not put up as gaudy of numbers with 22 and seven in those respective categories.
Although the Knights are 13th in the nation in rush defense, they have given up 17 touchdowns, which is bad news ahead of facing the likes of Lache Seastrunk, Glasco Martin and Shock Linwood. Even Petty has run for 11 touchdowns in 2013.
There is just a little bit too much firepower on Baylor's offense for UCF to overcome. Bortles' arm should keep the Knights in it, but this should be a showcase for the Bears' superiority more than the pro future of their adversary's signal-caller.
Prediction: Baylor 42, UCF 31
BCS National Championship: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Auburn
Now onto the main event. It will be fascinating to see whether the Tigers can continue the stunning turnaround from last year's 3-9 campaign—or if they'll come crashing to earth against what has been one of the more dominant teams in recent memory.
The Seminoles are led by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston under center, and the freshman phenom was well-deserving of the accolade.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher was asked what made Winston (3,820 passing yards, 38 TDs, 10 INTs) so special as a first-year starter, and his response was documented by CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman:
Asked #FSU coach Jimbo Fisher what impresses him the most about Jameis Winston: "How intelligent he is."— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) December 15, 2013
Between slick ball-carrier Tre Mason, who had a whopping 304 yards in the SEC title game, and swift signal-caller Nick Marshall, Auburn has the most terrifying running game Florida State has faced all season.
Opponents have scored only five rushing TDs on FSU all year, which will have to change drastically for the Tigers to have any chance in this one.
Winston has a superior supporting cast of receivers in 6'5" sophomore Kelvin Benjamin, along with seniors Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene. Plus, his backfield is stocked with talent in Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams.
Florida State's weapons are going to be too much for Auburn's suspect pass defense to contend with. Shortening the game is the Tigers' only chance at victory, but Marshall isn't a good enough passer to keep the Seminoles honest enough.
That will allow the top-ranked team in the country to hoist the Coaches' Trophy as national champions on Jan. 6.
Prediction: Florida State 31, Auburn 24