BCS Bowl Games 2013-14: Keys to Victory for Every Team

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIDecember 29, 2013

The final season of the BCS brings about some great matchups in the biggest bowl games of the year. Each team has clinched a well-deserved berth in these contests and will look to finish off their seasons with a flourish.

For each of these squads, the outcome of the game will hinge on producing at the highest level. After all, any of these five BCS games could go either way.

Highlighting their own strengths and exposing their opponents' weaknesses will be crucial for each team involved. Also, limiting their opponents' strengths is necessary to win on such a big stage.

These are the keys to victory.

Let's take a team-by-team look to determine the factors that will be of the utmost importance to each of these squads in January.


Rose Bowl

Stanford: Maintain a Balanced Offense

Stanford's weapon of choice throughout the 2013 season has been running back Tyler Gaffney. He has been the workhorse, accumulating 1,626 yards and 20 touchdowns on 307 carries—good enough for 5.3 yards per carry.

However, against such a talented Michigan State defense, maintaining an offensive balance is crucial.

Quarterback Kevin Hogan has been able to shine at times this season. He has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 2,487 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He must remain careful with the football against the Spartans' ball-hawking secondary.

There may be little room to maneuver for Stanford if it attempts to keep up a ground-and-pound style of offense. Hogan must step up in a big way during the Rose Bowl. After all, keeping a balance between the run and pass is the only way to get past such a stout defense.


Michigan State: Ride the Defense

Although the Michigan State offense has been solid this season, the defense is the reason for the team's continued success. If the Spartans are to emerge victorious in January against the Cardinal, the defense will be the reason once again.

Michigan State currently owns the nation's fourth-ranked defense, according to NCAA.com. Not only are they the No. 2-ranked unit against the run, but they are stellar against the pass as well, with Darqueze Dennard featured as one of the nation's top corners.

The Spartans are only allowing 12.7 points per game. If they can keep Stanford anywhere along those lines, the offense will be able to do enough to secure the victory.


Fiesta Bowl

UCF: Stick with Blake Bortles' Hot Hand

Quarterback Blake Bortles has put together a fantastic late-season run. The Knights' success is directly related to the success of their quarterback. Bortles has been extremely efficient over the 2013 season, completing 68.1 percent of his passes for 3,280 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

His stellar play has scouts, such as NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, taking notice of him in a big way.

Baylor does have a very good pass defense, ranking 23rd in the nation, according to NCAA.com. The Bears are allowing just 207.8 passing yards per game. However, they have given up 20 passing touchdowns this season—Bortles can certainly take advantage of that.

UCF's best chance to come away victorious against a good Baylor team is to keep the ball in the air and allow Bortles to continue his hot streak.


Baylor: Win the Turnover Battle

The Baylor offense has done a great job of protecting the football this season. Quarterback Bryce Petty has only thrown two interceptions against 30 touchdown passes on the year. Due to Baylor's ability to take care of the football, it currently ranks 12th in the nation with a plus-11 turnover margin.

UCF has a high-octane offense, and this game certainly looks like it could be headed in the direction of a shootout. Creating a turnover at the right time could be all that Baylor will need to come out ahead in this contest.

The winner of the turnover battle will win the Fiesta Bowl.


Sugar Bowl

Oklahoma: Dominate Time of Possession

Against such a deep, complete team like Alabama, this is easier said than done. However, Oklahoma has been one of the nation's best teams in terms of maintaining possession of the football. According to NCAA.com, the Sooners rank 15th in the nation, averaging 32 minutes of possession per game on the season.

Alabama has one of the nation's top defenses, and its offense is prolific as well. Keeping the offense off the field will be key for Oklahoma's success.

With its offense on the field, Oklahoma will be able to slowly wear down a stout Alabama defense and keep itself in the game with a chance to pull away in the end.


Alabama: Feature T.J. Yeldon

It seems strange to suggest the ball be placed in the hands of anyone other than quarterback AJ McCarron; however, that is exactly what Alabama needs to do against Oklahoma.

Running back T.J. Yeldon should be featured heavily in this contest due to a very solid Oklahoma pass defense. In what is expected to be a defensive struggle, keeping the ball on the ground is a far better option for the Crimson Tide.

Oklahoma is allowing 138.3 rushing yards per game this season, which gives Yeldon a big chance to shine. If Yeldon is able to establish the running game, it will open things up over the top of the defense for McCarron.

Yeldon will dictate how Alabama's offense is able to maneuver during the Sugar Bowl.


Orange Bowl

Clemson: Pass, Pass and Pass Again

This is a pretty easy one for the Tigers. They have an NFL-caliber quarterback in Tajh Boyd and are facing a terrible Ohio State secondary. Boyd has thrown for 3,473 yards, 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions so far this season. He will absolutely be able to tee off against an Ohio State secondary that is allowing 259.5 passing yards per game.

Of course, Clemson should not remain one-dimensional throughout the game. After all, they do have a very talented running back in Roderick McDowell.

However, with Boyd at the helm, an explosive Sammy Watkins on the outside and a terrible secondary across from him, passing early and often seems like the way to go here.


Ohio State: Run, Run and Run Some More

Talk about two completely opposing styles of offense. Ohio State has one of the most prolific rushing offenses in the nation, as dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde are a formidable duo.

Hyde and Miller have rushed for 1,408 and 1,033 yards, respectively, in 2013 while combining for 24 rushing touchdowns. That ground game can be a valuable tool against a team with such an effective offense.

Clemson currently ranks 51st in the nation against the run, according to NCAA.com. The Tigers are allowing 152.6 yards per game on the ground this year. Miller, Hyde and co. can continue to remain successful running the football against the Tigers, which, in turn, will keep Boyd and the Clemson offense off the field.


BCS National Championship Game

Florida State: Unleash the Heisman Winner

Quarterback Jameis Winston has been incredible this season. After all, he did win the Heisman Trophy after passing for 3,825 yards, 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions over the regular season. Winston has been dynamic and efficient and will continue to propel this team going forward.

Auburn doesn't exactly have a pass defense to write home about. They rank 103rd in the nation and are giving up 260.2 yards per game—yes, that's even more than Ohio State.

Winston's arm should feature heavily during this game, as he will surely find plenty of space to hit his targets and put up some gaudy numbers to end a fantastic season.


Auburn: Triple Option for the Win

Yes, Florida State has a pretty good run defense, ranking 14th in the nation after allowing only 116.5 yards per game. However, they have yet to face an attack nearly as vicious as Auburn's triple option.

Quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason have been explosive in 2013. Mason and Marshall have rushed for 1,621 and 1,023 yards, respectively. They have also combined for 33 rushing touchdowns.

That would be difficult to stop on its own; however, Auburn adds another wrinkle in wide receiver Sammie Coates.

The third option in this scheme, Coates remains available for a pitch-style pass to the outside should the running lanes for Marshall and Mason be unavailable. This is not something for which it's easy to prepare. After all, Florida State does have a very aggressive defense and can be beaten when Coates becomes a factor.


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