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)
US PRESSWIREAce Sanders was co-special teams player of the year in the SEC.
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.
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