The big stars will have all the attention before the BCS bowl games begin, but by the time clocks strike zero on the 2013 college football season, a group of unlikely heroes may have surfaced.
The Baylor Bears, Alabama Crimson Tide, Stanford Cardinal, Ohio State Buckeyes and Florida State Seminoles are all favorites to win their respective bowl games. Some are bigger favorites than others.
The underdogs will not only have to rely on their best players to upset the odds, but they will also need key contributions from lesser-celebrated guys.
Here's a look at potential X-factors for each underdog in the BCS bowl games.
Fiesta Bowl - Baylor Bears vs. UCF Knights
P, Caleb Houston
Against a high-powered offense like Baylor's, the Knights can't afford to turn the ball over or give the Bears a short field when they begin their possessions.
Obviously, limiting interceptions and fumbles is the key to the first aspect of the concept. Field position is another important factor. Punting effectively will go a long way in ensuring Baylor at least has to sustain lengthy drives to score points.
Houston is a freshman punter whose punt yardage average is 42.38 this season. He'll need to improve that number in an effort to push Bryce Petty and the Bears offense deep into their own territory.
Rose Bowl - Stanford Cardinal vs. Michigan State Spartans
WR, Keith Mumphery
All the talk about the Spartans is usually about their defense. Everyone expects Michigan State to at least contain its opponents. The concern—especially in the Rose Bowl—is with whether or not the Spartans score enough points to win.
Be on the lookout for junior wide receiver Keith Mumphery. He has big-play potential, and a deep pass could be the play that breaks open what figures to be a defensive struggle.
In the Big Ten title game, Mumphery caught a 72-yard touchdown pass in the first half to give the Spartans a 10-0 lead. Against Stanford, he could be a major weapon.
Orange Bowl - Clemson Tigers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
RB, Roderick McDowell
Can Clemson slow down Ohio State's dominant rushing attack? Probably not. The Buckeyes ran for 273 yards against the Spartans in the Big Ten title game. The Spartans have the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation.
Perhaps the best way for Clemson to combat the Buckeyes' running game is to establish one of its own. McDowell is the Tigers' leading scorer, but he has yet to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this season. Clemson likes to air it out, but quick scores and/or three-and-out drives aren't the best ways to keep its defense fresh.
Getting McDowell the ball early and often could give the Buckeyes a new wrinkle to consider and elongate Clemson's drives. The Tigers' front seven is going to need all its energy to contain Ohio State's running game.
Sugar Bowl - Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Oklahoma Sooners
DE, Charles Tapper
The Alabama run game will be the most important weapon against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. The only chance the Sooners have to slow it down is to load the box with extra defenders to win the numbers game.
If the Sooners can keep Bama from running wild, it'll force A.J. McCarron to make plays with his arm. He's proven he can do this, but the Sooners defensive line—led by Tapper—must win its one-on-one matchups to apply pressure on McCarron.
Tapper leads the team in sacks, but he has just 5.5 this season. If he can generate a two-sack performance, he'll have done his part in Oklahoma's effort to beat Bama.
BCS Title Game - Florida State Seminoles vs. Auburn Tigers
QB, Nick Marshall
Auburn is going to run it—and then run it some more. That's the philosophy that has gotten it this far. The Tigers had success with this approach against Bama's vaunted defense in the Iron Bowl. It stands to reason, similar success could be had against the Seminoles.
The difference between the 'Noles and Bama is that the former has more dynamic weapons in the passing game.
At some point, Marshall is going to have to make some plays with his arm if Auburn is going to keep pace. There is no doubt as to whether Marshall can be a factor as a runner. He needs to come up big as a thrower to allow Auburn to complete its dream season with a national championship.
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