BCS Bowl Outlook: Keys to Victory for Each BCS Team
The 2011-2012 installment of the Bowl Championship Series is upon us. Despite the revolt against an LSU/Alabama rematch for the national title, each BCS bowl provides interesting storylines and a unique matchup of styles.
There are schools looking to burst onto the BCS scene. There are other schools who want to finally break through with their first BCS bowl victory.
This article outlines what each BCS team needs to do in order end their year on a good note and, perhaps, set the stage for even more success next season.
Virginia Tech Hokies: The Return of Beamer Ball
The Hokies head to New Orleans with a very bitter taste in their mouths after being trounced in the ACC Championship game by Clemson—their second blowout loss to the Tigers in 2011.
Some questioned if Va. Tech even deserved an at-large bid. Nevertheless, they will play a very experienced, energetic and confident Michigan squad in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
There was no point this season when you sat back and looked at Virginia Tech and said, "This team is pretty good."
There is a huge reason why: no blocked punts or field goals, no opportunistic defense, no huge kickoff returns—in short, no "Beamer Ball."
Successful Hokie teams in the past thrived on game-changing plays by their special teams and turnovers at key moments by their defense.
There has not been much of that this year in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech has really relied on the maturation of sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas and the explosiveness of playmakers David Wilson and Jarrett Boykin.
If they want to slow down "Shoelace" Denard Robinson and Michigan's sparky offense, Bud Foster's defense will have to make plays.
More importantly, Beamer Ball needs to show up, whether it's a big punt return or a blocked field goal.
Michigan Wolverines: Shoelace's Supporting Cast
Michigan is riding high coming off an emotional victory over despised rival Ohio State. Brady Hoke was indeed the right hire for the Wolverines. They are definitely on their way back to national prominence.
First things first, they must finish off this 2011 season with a bowl victory.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl will also mark the finale of one of the most unique quarterbacks in recent college football history. Denard Robinson has meant so much to the Michigan program. He has shown Heisman potential many times during his Wolverine career.
In order for Shoelace to ride off into the sunset, he will need all the help he can get from the rest of his offense. Throughout the season, Denard has handled most of the load, throwing for over 2,000 yards and rushing for another 1,100-plus yards.
The supporting cast has been good, but they will need to be great to bring Michigan its first BCS bowl victory since the 2000 Orange Bowl (over Alabama).
Running back Fitz Toussaint has rushed for over 1,000 yards. Down the field, Robinson will look for deep target Junior Hemingway, along with Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon.
If all of Robinson's supporting actors come to New Orleans ready to play, Michigan will take the Sugar Bowl trophy back to Ann Arbor.
Clemson Tigers: Another Game, Same Attitude
Dabo Swinney set the tone from the beginning of the season, defeating Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech consecutively.
He has lit a fire under the entire Clemson family. His enthusiasm has rubbed off on the rest of his team, as they finished the season by steamrolling Virginia Tech (for the second time this season) in the ACC Championship game.
However, the issue with Clemson at times this season has been complacency. They have consistently played down to their competition. The Tigers squeaked out wins against Wofford and Wake Forest.
An embarrassing loss to ACC bottom feeder N.C. State had fans questioning the team's heart. After a loss one week later to rival South Carolina, there was serious doubt that the Tigers would be where they are now, playing West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
Clemson is faster than West Virginia. Clemson is more talented than West Virginia. Dabo Swinney is a better coach than Dana Holgorsen.
All the Tigers have to do is show up and believe they are better—then prove it.
If they go to Miami with the same attitude that won three straight games against ranked opponents, the Discover Orange Bowl should be no contest.
If Dabo's team shows up with no urgency, West Virginia will produce one of the major upsets of the entire bowl season.
West Virginia Mountaineers: Perfection Required
Geno Smith leads the Mountaineers, who are sporting one of the nation's top passing attacks, into the Orange Bowl. Receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin both have 1,000 yards.
West Virginia will need every bit of that to keep up with Clemson's high-powered offense. Their recipe for success comes down to a simple concept: perfection.
The Mountaineers cannot turn the ball over. They cannot give up many big plays. They cannot squander golden opportunities.
Clemson will score points, and quickly. West Virginia must use its running game to keep the quick-strike Tigers off the field.
If the Mountaineers can play mistake-free football, they will keep this bowl game interesting.
If they manage to make one or two more plays than Clemson, they could take the bowl of oranges back to Morgantown.
Stanford Cardinal: Defense, Defense, Defense
At the beginning of the season, Andrew Luck was destined to walk away with the Heisman Trophy. With a high preseason ranking, the Stanford Cardinal were destined to play for a national championship.
However, with a rough triple-overtime victory over USC, followed by a trouncing at the hands of the Oregon Ducks, destiny for Luck and Stanford disappeared.
Those two games versus the Ducks and Trojans were undoubtedly against two of the most prolific offenses in the nation. With the Cardinal heading into the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against another prolific offense in Oklahoma State, Stanford must depend on its defense to make a few stops to give them an opportunity to win.
USC scored 48 points in its loss to Stanford. Oregon repeatedly gashed the Cardinal defense on its way to racking up 53 points.
Stanford gets one more chance to stop a power offense. If they want to send Andrew Luck out in winning fashion, the defense must make one last concerted effort to keep points off the board.
Oklahoma State Cowboys: Prove the Voters Wrong
For the Oklahoma State Cowboys, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is about one thing: respect.
It was lack of respect for Mike Gundy and his football team that kept the Pokes from playing for a national championship.
Their overtime loss to Iowa State put a black eye on an otherwise impressive resume. Even though Oklahoma State trounced their in-state rival, the previously top-ranked Sooners, the Cowboys were not able to surpass No. 2 Alabama.
A showdown with Stanford is the next best thing. Oklahoma State may not be playing for it all. However, a victory over the Cardinal would prove they deserved to compete against the best team in the country. Furthermore, they could possibly move FBS college football that much closer to some type of playoff.
First things first. The Cowboys need to go to Tempe on a mission. They must make this game personal and execute—and earn just a little more respect.
Oregon Ducks: Convert Opportunities
Chip Kelly and LaMichael James have led Oregon to three consecutive Pac-10/12 championships. However, they have not been able to bring home a BCS trophy.
In order for the third time to be a charm, they must take advantage of the golden opportunities that their offense will create.
Let's face it. Oregon had plenty of opportunities in the red zone in last year's BCS Championship against Auburn. Their inability to put the ball into the end zone was ultimately the reason they were not national champions.
In this year's Rose Bowl, Oregon will try to score against one of the nation's toughest defenses in Wisconsin (who allowed 17.0 points per game, which ranked sixth).
Nonetheless, Michigan State was able to expose Wisconsin's defense a bit. Sparty used their speed in the form of screens and used their big receivers down the field.
Oregon has no "big" receivers. However, they do have speed—a lot of speed, which they will definitely have to shove down the Badgers' throat.
If the Ducks want to break their BCS losing streak and win the school's first Rose Bowl since 1917, they must take advantage of every red zone opportunity, scoring touchdowns instead of field goals.
Wisconsin Badgers: Control the Time of Possession
Wisconsin flirted with being a national championship contender this season. However, their main goal became getting back to the Rose Bowl after a couple last-minute losses earlier in the year. They are there now, looking to remove the bad taste in their mouth after losing last year's Rose Bowl to TCU.
This year, the Badgers will try to stop Oregon's lightning-fast offense. They may not be able to stop the Quack Attack, but they may be able to contain Darren Thomas, Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James by keeping them off the field as much as possible.
Led by Russell Wilson and touchdown machine Montee Ball, Wisconsin and their "Big Uglies" should be able to wear down Oregon's smaller defense.
Oregon is prone to score quickly. If Wisconsin can minimize the number of possessions using the run game and methodically move the ball down the field, the final score will smell like roses for the Badgers.
Alabama Crimson Tide: Special Teams, Baby!
Alabama did what it needed to do in order to get another crack at LSU. Now, in order to win the national championship, all three phases need to perform.
We know what the offense brings to the table. Trent Richardson will be the best offensive player on the field in this game.
We know what the defense is made of. The Crimson Tide defense allowed 8.8 points per game, first in the nation.
Will we have another 9-6 slugfest? Probably not. However, at some point during this game, if not at the very end, Alabama will have to put its special teams unit on the field. And they must come through.
Two months ago, Alabama kickers Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley combined to miss four field goals—the final one in overtime gave LSU the victory.
The BCS Championship game will be another knock-down, drag-out fight. In order for Alabama to win its second national championship in three years, the special teams will need to make the difference.
Call it poetic justice. Call it irony.
For Shelley or Foster, sweet redemption can bring Alabama another title.
LSU Tigers: Repeat the Recipe for Success
The LSU Tigers have played nearly flawless football the entire season.
No question, they're the best team in the country. The offense has playmakers that make hardly any mistakes.The defense is tough and fast and forces opponents to break down on a regular basis. And, of course, you have the Mad Hatter Les Miles and his "go for it" attitude.
A bowl rematch doesn't happen often. Teams that succeed do so because they do two things: They make adjustments and execute better.
LSU does both very well.
It's no secret what the Tigers need to do to beat Alabama again. It will be the same recipe that they have used the entire season.
Balanced, finessed offense.
Game-changing plays by the special teams.
Les Miles' grit bleeds through his entire team. If they execute their same game plan one more time this season, they will be BCS National Champions.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @MrSmiles19.