College football bowl season tends to be dominated by big schools beating up on lesser competition in obscure bowls, but there are always some teams that come through with big surprises and 2013 should be no exception.
While most of the BCS bowl are considered to be pretty evenly matched, many observers tend to overrate teams from conferences like the SEC or Pac-12, regardless of the quality of their opponents.
That’s why, this year, there are three different bowl games that feature big-conference teams that are ripe for upsets by their underdog opponents.
Advocare V100 Bowl: Arizona Wildcats vs. Boston College Eagles
Both of these teams are defined by their superb running backs; Andre Williams leads the way for the Eagles, while Ka’Deem Carey carries the load for the Wildcats.
Accordingly, the difference in this one will likely come down to which defense can stop the run more effectively.
In this particular area, Boston College has a significant edge; the Eagles ranked 51st in the country, allowing just 152 yards on the ground per game.
By contrast, Arizona has struggled stopping opposing running backs, as Joe Micik of Soaringtoglory.com explains:
Without leaving it to wonder any further, how has Arizona done this season in run defense? Average at best. They are 71st overall with 169.75 yards allowed per game, but that number jumps to 186.83 away from Tucson.
In those games in road or neutral sites, the Wildcats faced UNLV (157), Washington (244), USC (249), Colorado (137), California (130), and Arizona State (204).
Generally speaking, that’s not great, and it’s worth noting that another top running back, Washington’s Bishop Sankey, hit the Wildcats for 161 yards, though on 40 carries. For all we know, Andre Williams might get 30-35 himself; his season high is 42.
While the Wildcats have an advantage through the air thanks to quarterback B.J. Denker, the Eagles will likely be content to pound the ball with Williams early and often.
If Arizona struggles to stop Williams, then the Eagles will have no trouble surprising Rich Rodriguez’s squad.
Gator Bowl: Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Neither one of these teams will be playing at anything close to full strength, as both will be missing their starting quarterbacks.
Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez will each sit this one out, so it will be key to see which backup responds.
Most experts seem to give the edge to the Bulldogs, with Georgia currently sitting as a nine-point favorite, but Nebraska could easily win this game.
Georgia’s backup, Hutson Mason, will be making just his second start at quarterback in this one, while Nebraska’s Ron Kellogg III has spent nine games filling in for Martinez this season.
Kellogg hasn’t lit the world on fire in his appearances, but he is completing 60.6 percent of his passes and has thrown six scores against three interceptions.
By contrast, Mason looked shaky in his one start against the Georgia Yellow Jackets, and he could have trouble against Nebraska’s defense, as CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli suggests.
How well will Hutson Mason perform against this Nebraska defense?
Mason had a rather mediocre game against Georgia Tech in his lone start after replacing Murray, but he'll have a month to prepare for this game as a starter.
The Nebraska defense got off to a terrible start this season but improved quite a bit before the end of the season and had one of the best pass rushes in the country, finishing 16th nationally with 2.83 sacks per game, and its sack rate of 10% was good enough to rank 7th nationally.
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah has helped carry the Huskers’ offense, piling up 1,800 total yards and 10 touchdowns. This video makes it perfectly clear how dynamic he can be.
The Bulldogs will try to lean on their own explosive running back, Todd Gurley, but Kellogg’s experience at quarterback could easily help the Cornhuskers win this one.
Outback Bowl: Iowa Hawkeyes vs. LSU Tigers
While Les Miles always makes headlines for his antics at the helm of LSU’s football program, Kirk Ferentz is a considerably quieter breed of head coach.
Accordingly, it might surprise some people that the Hawkeyes managed to finish the year at 8-4, not too far off from LSU’s 9-3 mark on the year.
Iowa definitely battled some inferior competition in the Big Ten, but even their losses aren’t too discouraging.
The Hawkeyes only lost to the Michigan State Spartans, Ohio State Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers in the conference, as well as the Northern Illinois Huskies.
It may not be quite the same as only losing to the Bulldogs, Mississippi Rebels and Alabama Crimson Tide the way LSU has, but it’s still an impressive resume.
Even Miles himself isn’t taking the Hawkeyes lightly.
"They've got a big back that runs hard, they've got an offensive line that is very disciplined and will block you," Miles told NOLA.com. "You're going to have to fight, they're a good football team. Honestly, it's exactly what we need, end the football season with a real challenge."
He’s referring to running back Mark Weisman, who has run for 937 and seven scores on the year.
When you consider that the Tigers have real trouble stopping the run, ranking just 45th in the country, that matchup could spell real trouble for LSU.
By contrast, Iowa is allowing the 17th-fewest rushing yards in the country, and that could help them pull the upset in this one.
Each of these underdogs hails from conferences—the ACC and Big Ten—that don’t get much respect from experts, and each could really raise some eyebrows.
The Eagles, Cornhuskers and Hawkeyes all have the talent to beat their opponents and have some key matchup advantages that can help them do so.
They should help liven up a bowl season that often gets bogged down by big blowouts.