Bowl Projections: Best Potential College Matchups
Santa Claus is indeed coming to town, and for this holiday season he's bringing college football fans an assortment of gifts containing some of the best bowl matchups that can be imagined.
Of course, with a few weeks remaining in the regular season, nothing is set in stone just yet.
Football fans may not know exactly which teams will face off with one another as bowl season is less than a month away, but it's never too late to begin composing a wish list of potential games that could take place during the college football postseason.
10. GoDaddy.com Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State, Jan. 8, 2012
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This year's wish list begins with an intriguing matchup that pits two teams from small conferences that just want some respect.
Played on January 8, the GoDaddy.com Bowl will also be a pleasant opening act for the national title game scheduled the following night.
With just one regular season game remaining before the MAC Championship, Northern Illinois has the seventh-ranked offense in the country. Senior quarterback Chandler Harnish leads the team in both passing and rushing yards, and has accounted for 32 touchdowns for the Huskies this season.
Arkansas State, out of the Sun Belt Conference, would have its problems trying to stop Harnish, but the Red Wolves certainly have the personnel to accomplish such a feat.
Arkansas State has held opponents to just 19.8 points per game this season. And the Red Wolves also have a dual-threat quarterback of their own in junior Ryan Aplin. Aplin has thrown for over 2,800 yards this season, and has added 570 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground as well.
This bowl game would feature two quarterbacks who have flown under the radar for the entire 2011 season, and would certainly give fans something entertaining to watch the night before the national championship.
9. Valero Alamo Bowl: Baylor vs. Arizona State, Dec. 29, 2011
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In need of some excitement prior to the New Year's festivities? RG3 has you covered.
Coming off the biggest win of his college career against Oklahoma, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III has almost every college football analyst singing his praises.
Baylor may have appeared to struggle against some inferior opponents this season, but with just three losses and the second-best offense in total yards in the nation, RG3 hopes he can give fans the school's first bowl win since 1992.
If this wish list is fulfilled, the Bears offense will have to continue putting points on the board against Arizona State in what has the potential to be one of the highest-scoring affairs of the college football bowl season.
Arizona State junior quarterback Brock Osweiler has thrown for over 3,300 yards this season and has connected with his receivers 21 times in the end zone. Similarly, Robert Griffin III has amassed 3,572 yards through the air and has an impressive quarterback rating of 191.7, throwing 33 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
This game would be an offensive explosion, as the defensive unit for both teams have continued to struggle. Baylor is ranked 114th in the country in total defense and Arizona State isn't much better, allowing 413.6 yards per game against the opposition.
8. Capital One Bowl: Michigan State vs. Arkansas, Jan. 2, 2012
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Assuming Arkansas doesn't turn the BCS picture completely on its head and given the possibility that Michigan State may not win the inaugural Big 10 Championship game, both of these teams could find themselves squaring off against one another in Orlando on January 2.
Michigan State had some difficulty against the SEC in last year's Capital One Bowl against Alabama, barely avoiding a shutout yet getting embarrassed 49-7 nonetheless. Since 1988, Michigan State has faced an SEC opponent in a bowl game five times and has come away with a victory only once.
This year's Spartans team is different, especially on defense.
The Spartans boast the best defense in the Big 10, only allowing opponents an average of 257.3 yards per game. The defense has also faced a number of different offensive looks, yet may not have seen a team as athletic as Arkansas during the regular season.
Since losing to Alabama in Week 4 in the conference opener, Arkansas has only been held under 30 points once and is averaging almost 46 points a game in the month of November.
A Michigan State-Arkansas game would pit one of the top defensive units in the country against one of the hottest offenses, making for some interesting dynamics for fans to take notice of.
7. Allstate Sugar Bowl, Michigan vs. Houston, Jan. 3, 2012
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One quarterback is known for his arm, the other for his legs.
A potential Michigan-Houston matchup would spotlight two of college football's top quarterbacks with completely opposite approaches to the game.
On one hand, Keenum can air it out. Big time. The redshirt senior quarterback has thrown for over 4,200 yards and 38 touchdowns through just 11 games. With those stats, Keenum has a shot to become the team's first Heisman winner since Andre Ware in 1989.
His team is also two wins away from entering the bowl season with an undefeated record.
Opposite Keenum is Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson isn't amassing the same stats as just one year ago, he is still only seven yards shy of reaching the 1,000-yard mark in rushing for the second straight year.
The defense for the Wolverines has also been completely revamped under first-year head coach Brady Hoke. Michigan has held opponents to only 15.6 points per game, compared to allowing opponents to score over 35 points a game in 2010.
6. Insight Bowl: Nebraska vs. Texas A&M, Dec. 30, 2011
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Just one year removed from the Big 12, the Nebraska Cornhuskers could find themselves facing a former conference foe in this year's postseason.
Now officially out of the hunt for a conference championship after suffering a devastating 45-17 loss on the road against Michigan, Nebraska hopes it can salvage a season that has been defined by inconsistency.
On a similar note, Texas A&M has had struggles of its own during 2011.
After beginning the season with high expectations, the Aggies dropped two straight games to Oklahoma State and Arkansas early in the year. The team then suffered three straight losses to Missouri, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State after rebounding from earlier woes.
Although neither team lived up to the preseason hype, they would have a chance to make lemonade out of lemons with a bowl win.
5. Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Clemson vs. Auburn, Dec. 31, 2011
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Clemson surprised everyone by winning its first eight games of the season, including a 23-3 victory over Virginia Tech, now ranked No. 5 in the BCS.
Unfortunately, reality finally caught up with the Tigers.
Dabo Swinney's team has dropped two of its last three games. And with one game left against South Carolina before squaring off with Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship, it is likely the Tigers could lose three of their last four games.
Nevertheless, several players have emerged from Clemson's success this year, including freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The freshman sensation has over 1,000 yards receiving and 10 touchdown receptions, and has given Clemson fans much hope for the future.
What makes this potential matchup between Clemson and Auburn even more intriguing is that Clemson defeated Auburn in Week 3 of the regular season.
The difference between the two teams, however, lies in the schedule of each team. Auburn has certainly been battle-tested, facing competition like Arkansas, Georgia and LSU. The Tigers also have one game remaining against No. 2 Alabama.
Clemson, on the other hand, has struggled recently against weaker opponents, as evident by its loss to NC State just one week ago.
4. Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Oregon, Jan. 2, 2012
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Both Wisconsin and Oregon have kept scoreboard operators busy in 2011.
The Badgers are ranked fifth in the nation in points per game, averaging just under 45 points a contest. The Ducks are just slightly better, averaging 45.6 points a game.
Playing in the Big 10, it is doubtful that Wisconsin has seen speed comparable to what Oregon has utilized to bewilder defenses all season.
But with Russell Wilson at quarterback for Wisconsin, it could be the first time Oregon's defense has had to deal with true dual-threat signal caller that has beaten many teams with both his legs and his arm (sorry, Andrew Luck fans).
If Santa delivers this captivating matchup, it may be hard to keep track of all the points that will be scored.
3. Champs Sports Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Florida State, Dec. 29, 2011
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Similar to other potential postseason matchups, both Notre Dame and Florida State entered the 2011 season with a "BCS or bust" mindset.
For Notre Dame, that dream ended after losing the first two games of the season to the surprise of many.
Three straight losses for the Seminoles early in the season also hindered any chance they would appear in a BCS game in January.
However, both teams have an explosive amount of talent capable of making big plays in crucial moments.
This game would also bring back memories of historic games between these two storied programs.
In 1993, the No. 2 Fighting Irish played host to the No. 1 ranked Seminoles. Although Notre Dame had a 14-point lead with 1:39 remaining in the game, Florida State star quarterback Charlie Ward connected with Kez McCorvey for a touchdown, cutting the Irish lead to just seven.
After going three-and-out, Florida State got the ball back with one last shot at tying the game. Ward drove the Seminoles down to Notre Dame's 14-yard line with three seconds remaining in the game. On the last play, Ward had his pass attempt broken up in the end zone, giving Notre Dame a stunning 31-24 victory in what has been considered by many to be one of the top games of the 20th century.
The last time these two teams squared off was in 2003. That season, Florida State handled the Irish, overcoming a loss the previous year with a 37-0 thrashing of Notre Dame.
A Champs Sports Bowl with Notre Dame-Florida State would feature two historic programs vying to return to national prominence.
2. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Stanford, Jan. 2, 2012
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Another postseason matchup featuring two of the top quarterback's in the country could occur on Jan. 2 between Oklahoma State and Stanford.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck will likely be the overall No. 1 NFL draft pick next April and has both the physical talent and intelligence to succeed at the next level.
Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden has turned several scouting heads as well during his 2011 Heisman campaign, throwing for over 4,100 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Similar to many games on this wish list, an Oklahoma State-Stanford Fiesta Bowl would likely be an entertaining shootout to watch.
With the Pac-12 North tiebreaker favoring Oregon, Stanford will likely be an at-large selection for a BCS bid.
With a win over Oklahoma on Dec. 3, Oklahoma State could capture their 10th conference title in school history and could make their first-ever appearance in a BCS bowl.
1. BCS National Championship: LSU vs. Alabama, Jan. 9, 2012
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Regardless of whether or not you want the BCS Championship to be a rematch of an SEC West clash that occurred on the first weekend in November, these two teams are unquestionably the best in the nation.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban is 2-0 in national title games in his career, having won one each at both LSU and Alabama.
Les Miles also has one national title under his belt, leading the Tigers to the 2007 national championship.
Both coaches hope to add one more title to their already impressive resume. LSU is just two wins away from entering the championship game with an undefeated record.
The Crimson Tide, on the other hand, have only lost one game all season, a 9-6 nailbiter against LSU that went into overtime on Nov. 5.
Thanks in part to a wild weekend in college football which just transpired, Alabama got some much-needed help from the upset bug and currently finds themselves ranked No. 2 in the BCS, making a rematch with their divisional rival all the more likely. This time, however, it will be for a BCS title.