The most sacred of days in college football is upon us.
And although the BCS national championship game is still six days away (and that's not the only game left on the 2012-13 slate), New Year's Day as always offers up a full day of action.
So let's break down the full lineup of games...
Rose: Pasadena, Calif. ESPN 5 p.m. Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)
Badgers running back Montee Ball started to resemble his 2011 self after a trying first month of the season. The former Heisman Trophy finalist didn't seem to be running with the same burst or mentality, and it very likely could have been related to his injury suffered when he was jumped during the offseason. But as we saw in the Big Ten title game against Nebraska, Ball is his old self again after averaging less than 100 yards per game in his first four contests. And so is an offensive line that is being overseen by a new coach after Bret Bielema made a change at the position. So the Badgers unquestionably have their power run game clicking on all cylinders, with Ball averaging over 150 yards per contest in the final nine games. And the offense faced some tough run defenses during that stretch.
US PRESSWIREMontee Ball was back to his old self when it counted for Wisconsin.
The problem is that Wisconsin will be facing a Stanford front seven that thrives on containing downhill rushing attacks. Two teams had success running the football against the Cardinal this fall: Oregon and UCLA (for the Bruins, it happened in the Pac-12 title game). Both teams went over the 170-yard mark against the Cardinal. And they were able to move the football on the ground because those offenses spread out the Cardinal defenders, using multiple-receiver sets to disperse the Cardinal front seven across the field so there would not be seven defenders in the box. Using motion and the option to move defenders and threaten the perimeter is key against Stanford.
But that's problematic for the Badgers because their offense just doesn't stray away from what they do best — and that's run from more traditional sets. The best way to move the ball against the Cardinal would be for Wisconsin to complement its power run game with either a vertical passing game or by horizontally spreading them out with the option. And the Badgers just don't run that type of offense, which is to the benefit of Derek Mason's unit.
Which team rebounds?
Capital One: Orlando, Fla. ABC 1 p.m. Georgia (11-2) vs. Nebraska (10-3)
Both teams are coming off of brutal losses in their last games — but for much different reasons. The Bulldogs fell to Alabama in an SEC Championship Game heartbreaker, which denied Mark Richt's squad a chance to play Notre Dame for the BCS national championship. The Cornhuskers, meanwhile, were obliterated by Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. So the question is will either team be motivated for this one?
Even if the Bulldogs' defense reverts back to their underachieving ways and plays as poorly as they did against South Carolina early in the season, they still might be able to slip by a Nebraska team that has turned the football over 32 times, which is more than just five FBS teams. Bo Pelini's squad lost 21 fumbles this season, and dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez has gotten off to rough starts in games this year. However, I have been impressed with the way "T-Magic" has developed as a passer and the way he has led his team to second-half comebacks. I just think it will be awfully difficult to do so in this one if the Huskers fall behind. And it could happen because Georgia ranks 22nd nationally in turnovers forced with 27. All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones alone has forced seven fumbles on the year.
Even if the Huskers protect the football, stopping Bulldogs offensive stars Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley and Co. from marching down the field will be a difficult chore. Nebraska does not exactly boast a strong pass rush, and Murray ranks second nationally in pass efficiency and has tossed just eight interceptions this year. Senior defensive end Eric Martin, who is the team's best pass rusher, might need to be a one-man show for the Huskers to have a chance.
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The best of the rest
Orange: Miami, Fla. ESPN 8:30 p.m. Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1)
Anyone who has visited this space before knows how I feel about Jordan Lynch's 2012 campaign. The NIU dual-threat signal-caller recorded 43 touchdowns, 2,962 passing yards and 1,771 more yards on the ground during his junior campaign, as he was the catalyst for the Huskies' run to the BCS. Perhaps most impressive is that until his interception in the MAC title game, he had thrown just one other pick since a September 22 game against Kansas.
On paper, Florida State is the much more talented team by a wide margin. But any team that has Lynch has a chance, especially considering the injuries across the Seminoles' defensive line and the lackluster team effort against Georgia Tech in the ACC title game. Add in the fact that we don't know how productive Jimbo Fisher's offense is going to be considering it has been inconsistent, and the Huskies can find themselves in a tight ballgame midway through the third quarter of this contest. But FSU's depth on defense and speed on offense should be too much for the Huskies to overcome as the game progresses. However, I don't think NIU gets embarassed on a national stage.
Outback: Tampa, Fla. ESPN 1 p.m. South Carolina (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4)
This isn't the same South Carolina offense without star running back Marcus Lattimore, as Steve Spurrier relies less on a power run game now and more on speed with diminutive receivers Bruce Ellington, Ace Sanders and Damiere Byrd. Sanders also has been huge for the Gamecocks on special teams, as his punt return production earned him co-special teams player of the year honors in the SEC. So while quarterback Connor Shaw and a collection of backup running backs have had to take on an increased role on the ground, the Gamecocks' offensive philosophy has shifted more toward getting those speedsters out in space. And that will be key against the nation's No. 2 pass defense: have Shaw get the ball in the playmakers' hands as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson should be able to combine for some big plays for Michigan offensively. But the Gamecocks' front seven gave Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd problems. And that doesn't bode well for the Wolverines.
Gator: Jacksonville, Fla. ESPN2 Noon Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Northwestern (9-3)
Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald will be looking to bring the NU program its first postseason victory since the 1948 Rose Bowl. The Wildcats have lost nine straight bowl games since reaching Pasadena following the 1995 season. While the 'Cats have been outmatched in some cases during postseason showdowns, they have also lost to Bowling Green. It's time for the Wildcats to finally break through, and this season they get a Mississippi State team that is not exactly an SEC power.
Northwestern's Kain Colter is a do-everything threat that will need to have a productive game if the 'Cats want to claim victory. Colter, who had 134 passing attempts this season, will more often than not give way to Trevor Siemian at quarterback and line up in the backfield as a running back or sprint to the outside as a receiver. He rushed 158 times and had 16 receptions this season. He's a playmaker that the Bulldogs must key on.
NU's offensive line will have its hands full with Mississippi State's defensive front, which features speedy ends Denico Autry and Preston Smith. In addition, Bulldogs senior cornerback Johnthan Banks won the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award, which is presented to the nation's best defensive back. Look for the Wildcats to rely on the ground attack, led by tailback Venric Mark and Colter. NU just has to make sure that if it has a lead in the second half, it avoids late collapses that led to terrible losses late to Michigan and Nebraska.
Heart of Dallas: Dallas, Texas ESPNU Noon Purdue (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5)
Oklahoma State is trying to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2005, and it shouldn't have any problem against a Purdue team that is trying to win its fourth straight following a five-game skid in the middle of the season. That losing streak ultimately helped cost Danny Hope his job, so Patrick Higgins will coach the team before handing things over to former Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell.
No matter who was at quarterback for the Pokes this season, he was protected by an offensive line that allowed only 10 sacks all season. Boilermakers end Ryan Russell and tackle Kawann Short have been disruptive this fall, but it will be awfully difficult for them to get into the Pokes' backfield in this one. Cowboys running back Joseph Randle is the Big 12’s leading rusher with 1,351 yards, while wide receiver Josh Stewart caught 96 passes for 1,154 yards and seven touchdowns. So starting quarterback Clint Chelf has two top options against a defense that will need huge plays from cornerbacks Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen to give the Boilers a chance against the pass-happy Pokes. And even if the Purdue defense steps up, can Robert Marve and this offense be consistent enough to stay in the game for four quarters? The Boilers allowed 33.1 points per game in Big Ten play, so they will give up their share of offense.