When it comes to bowl games, it's exceedingly rare that many people concretely remember results that aren't the BCS National Championship Game.
Sure, fans of every school can give you a detailed list of accomplishments. But while nearly everyone can rattle off the past decade of national champions (granted, it's not that hard to say Alabama over and over), can you do the same for Rose Bowls? Fiesta Bowls? Sugar Bowls?
That's not to degrade those contests whatsoever; this happens in every sport. You don't remember the teams that made it to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, because it's mostly frivolous information you could find on Wikipedia if it's needed for a crossword puzzle or something. They say that second place is first loser for a reason.
What stands out are the individual performances. The players who use the stage as a pulpit to announce their arrival to the nation or simply affirm the assumptions we've had all along.
And, for some, it's a chance to prove us all wrong. To show NFL scouts that they do deserve first-round consideration or that the BCS bowl stage is not too big. Here is a look at a few players who will have a ton to prove in BCS games, each of whom has a good chance at coming through.
Tajh Boyd (QB, Clemson)
"Clemsoning: 1. The act of failing miserably on a grand athletic stage, or when the stakes are high. 2. Record-setting failure, usually reserved for college football."
That is how the Clemson football team is best known nationally, according to UrbanDictionary.com. You could put any number of Clemson players on this list, have them represent the whole program and nod along in agreement. There were some who hoped the act of "Clemsoning" would die following the Tigers' opening-week victory against Georgia, but tell that to their 51-14 loss to Florida State and 31-17 defeat against rival South Carolina.
Given what we know now about the Bulldogs—that they were wildly, wildly overrated in the preseason—you could easily surmise Clemson has had a typically Clemson year. In games that actually mattered, the Tigers were outscored by a combined 51 points. In games that didn't, Dabo Swinney's squad looked like one of the best teams in college football.
Tajh Boyd has unsurprisingly fallen right along these tracks. Against Florida State and South Carolina, the senior quarterback was a combined 36-of-64 (56.3 percent) for 381 yards and one touchdown against four interceptions. Boyd completed at least 60 percent of his passes in every other game, had only one more multi-interception contest (against Syracuse in a game he also threw five touchdowns) and looked like a Heisman contender.
Clemson and Boyd still somehow backed into a BCS bowl game, for the simple reason of conference limits and the Orange Bowl's relationship with the ACC. It's Boyd's second opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game, the first ending in a 70-33 absolute embarrassment against West Virginia two years ago.
With only 60 more minutes left in his Tigers career, Boyd's last impression may be his most important. Scout evaluations vary on the Clemson quarterback, with some excited about his ability to impact the game through the air and ground while others think he's a career backup—nothing more. Boyd even admitted that he's looking forward to the Orange Bowl as a partial showcase.
"I think everything toward the end of this process is going to be a deciding factor in how high I go (in the 2014 draft)," Boyd said, via WLTX.com.
Luckily, Clemson and Boyd will face an Ohio State team that has its own fair share of questions that need answering. The Buckeyes' 24-game winning streak was snapped by Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, a loss that proved some folks' theory that their run was all smoke and mirrors.
Two teams, plenty of questions, all fun.
Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
I'm not sure when Blake Bortles stopped being a meme and began getting No. 1 overall pick hype. All I know is that I love it so very much. ESPN's Todd McShay had Bortles going third overall in his latest mock draft, ahead of Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney and about 5,000 other people who were expected to be drafted higher in the preseason.
This, for any number of reasons, is awesome. First of all, Blake Bortles is a mythical creature who only appears when you say "Bortles" six times fast while throwing a Nerf football into a mirror. Second of all, it's great because the day Blake Bortles goes inside the top five is the day the Internet officially becomes our all-knowing overlord.
But in order for Mr. Alta Vista to ascend to the presidency, Bortles has to, you know, play well and stuff. Despite the McShays of the world bloviating about his ascent, the American Athletic Conference doesn't provide the best weekly showcase for NFL prospects. It's why some aren't even quite sure that Teddy Bridgewater is deserving of the No. 1 overall pick, despite being an elite prospect at every level dating back to his diaper years.
Opinion on Bortles is far more fractured. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com had an evaluation of Bortles that came back with the verdict "not elite," citing shoddy mechanics and a raw skill set that is more exciting in theory than anything. Brooks compared him to Nick Foles, which is pretty darned good considering the way Foles played this season—right until you remember how dreadful he was in 2012.
Well, what better way to introduce the world to #BortlesBall than a Fiesta Bowl matchup against Baylor? To be fair, Central Florida and Baylor were the ugly ducklings of the BCS selection process. Neither has a storied history or a massive national following, so it'd be a pretty big shock if this weren't the lowest-rated BCS contest.
But Bortles aside, it should be a thrilling offensive showcase. Both UCF and Baylor boasted prolific offenses, with the Bears averaging over 60 points per game for much of the season. We'll have to see how both defenses, which are underrated in their own rights, respond to the difficult matchup.
And, in particular, Bortles' matchup against an actual football team should be fun. He looked solid against South Carolina earlier in 2013 but also threw two interceptions in the 28-25 loss. Baylor isn't quite on that level defensively, but scouts are going to need to see a stellar performance on the national stage to sell this kid to their management.
Tre Mason (RB, Auburn)
Let's completely eliminate whatever NFL prospects Mason has. They are null and void for this conversation. As a collegiate running back, Mason has been everything and more to Auburn this season. He rushed for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns, getting stronger and stronger as the campaign went along.
When Auburn needed him most, Mason came through with a couple sterling individual outings. He rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown as the Tigers took down mighty Alabama, and then there was his christening at the SEC Championship Game. Facing a Missouri defense that ranked inside the top 20 against the run heading in, Mason rushed for an SEC title game record 304 yards and four touchdowns.
It was the second-best rushing performance in Auburn history.
So when I say Mason has something to "prove," it doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as the others. He doesn't have recent historical connotations going against him or NFL scouts watching his every move. Mason and Gus Malzahn are the figureheads of Auburn's revival after the dreadful 2012 season; anything he does from here will just be gravy.
Mason's journey in the national championship game is more basic: Can he do it again? Asking for another 300-yard performance is out of the question, obviously, but can Mason strap Auburn to his back one more time and take down one of the most dominant college football teams in recent history.
Because of the ACC's relative weakness in 2013, Florida State's historic dominance has gone under-covered. The Seminoles have beaten opponents by an average of 41.8 points. That's more than all but seven FBS teams scored this season. Should they win the national championship, it's fair to wonder where this team ranks among the all-time greats.
And while Jameis Winston deservedly got the credit with a Heisman Trophy, Florida State's defense has been every bit as good as its offense. No team allowed fewer points during the regular season, and opposing teams threw 25 interceptions against just 12 touchdowns when facing Jeremy Pruitt's secondary. Considering every Nick Marshall pass is an adventure itself, that means the onus will be on Mason arguably more than it ever has.
Being the 13th-ranked run defense in the country isn't exactly a weakness, but it's as close as Florida State has. If Auburn has any chance of winning, Mason will have to prove once more that his Tigers are truly the team of destiny.
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