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Vandal Examiner's Top 25 Rankings: Week 16

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As the 2013 regular season for college football came to a close last week, I was reminded of the dozen or more football-based conversations I have had with co-workers and friends over the course of the last couple weeks. As the NFL season hit into high gear and people began to rant and rave about this team or that team, I found myself repeating one simple phrase:

“Real football is played on Saturdays.”

When student-athletes step out on the field, they are playing for honor and glory. The helmet and jersey they were makes them a part of a community unlike any other in the world. Every game has the potential to make or break a team’s season. There is no limping in to a title game with a few losses. Only the best of the best play for the title and that is what makes college football great.

It all starts down in Albuquerque as Washington State and Colorado State open the bowl season up in the New Mexico Bowl.

35 games over the course of 14 days all collimating in a battle between Florida State and Auburn to be crowned the last BCS National Champion.

Get out the shoes and the shine, the world of college football is officially going bowling.

#1: Florida State

From a pre-season 11th ranked team to playing for the national title, the Seminoles have outperformed every expectation they had coming into the season. QB “Fameis” Jameis Winston came out of nowhere to lead this team to where they are, while becoming only the second freshmen and third Florida State QB to win it, with the last being Chris Weinke in 2000. Their national title date with Auburn could end up being the toughest game of the year for them. Dominating wins over Clemson and Miami (FL) look good on paper, but with both of those teams struggling in big games; it is tough to say if they are good barometers for FSU’s ability to beat top tier teams. Auburn’s run game is powerful and the Seminole defense could have issues. Couple that idea with Auburn’s great defense, having nearly a month off the field and a freshman playing QB in the biggest game of his young career, FSU’s dream season could come to a halt at the worst possible time. The Seminoles are a great team and really earned this spot, but until they hit the field, their chances of winning are still up in the air.

#2: Auburn

Auburn’s road to the national title game is one that just can’t be made up. From the incredible games against Georgia and Alabama to the straight up domination of Missouri, nothing about the Tigers makes sense. The fact that they got in because Ohio State lost just makes matters more confusing. Although a lot of people are leaning more to Florida State being the favorite, I think Auburn’s chances of winning this game are higher than most. Schedule wise, Auburn has had to battle with some of the best offenses and defenses in the nation, while Florida State has gone virtually untested. The Tigers are a team that just doesn’t quit. Their running game is the best in the nation and can wear down defenses like nobody’s business. Will there be scoring? You can bet on that. Will it be a blow out for either team? Probably not. Expect this game to be a dandy. Fingers crossed that the SEC can open and end this BCS era with a win.

#3: Baylor

Talk about the odds ever being in someone’s favor. As the clock ran out in the Bedlam Series, the Bears of Baylor realized that Oklahoma’s win over Oklahoma State meant two things: that they were now the Big 12 champions and that they were headed to the Fiesta Bowl. This is the first Big 12 title for Baylor in school history and first conference championship since 1994 when they were part of the Southwest Conference. This will also be the first BCS bowl for the school. Baylor has been an incredible team to watch all-season long as they proved that Oregon isn’t the only school that can drop buckets of points on people. It would have been great to see the Ducks square off with the Bears, but Central Florida is the opponent we get. UCF has been a great story this season as well, but it is tough seeing them keep up with Baylor in this game. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Bears are a big favorite and this game could be over by the end of the first quarter.

#4: Alabama

Remember that scene in “The Avengers” when Captain America tells the Hulk to smash? Part of me hopes that that is the exact same speech that Coach Nick Saban gives to the Crimson Tide before their Sugar Bowl date with Oklahoma. As the result of a poorly chosen field goal attempt haunts fans, Alabama needs to come out and prove to the nation that they are the scariest program known to man. If you expect the identity-less Sooners to keep pace in this game, you must be an Oklahoma fan, because it probably isn’t happening. Watch for the Crimson Tide to crush their way to a win and take home their fifth straight post-season win in a row.

#5: Michigan State

Who would have known the Spartans would have knocked off the mighty Buckeyes? The best defense most people don’t know about, Michigan State crippled Ohio State’s offense on their way to their first outright Big Ten title since 1987. The Rose Bowl will also mark the first time since 1988 that they have played a post-season game in Pasadena and the first BCS game in school history. Not a bad time to get in to one if you ask me. Facing off against Stanford, it’s going to be a battle of defenses with the winner being the team that doesn’t slip up first. Neither of these teams are offensively gifted, so it should be a low scoring affair. With the way the Spartans shut-down Ohio State, I’m giving the edge to MSU.

#6: Stanford

Defenses win championships and that saying has never been truer than in the case of Stanford. The Cardinal picked up their second straight PAC-12 title with a win over Arizona State and will now play in their fourth consecutive BCS game. Playing in front of a relative home crowd, this will mark the 14th time in the Rose Bowl’s 100 year history that Stanford will make an appearance. Only Michigan and USC have more appearances than the Cardinal, while Washington and Ohio State has as many. As previously mentioned, this is going to be a battle of the defenses. QB Kevin Hogan and RB Tyler Gaffney really turned up their offensive game for ASU, but that might not be enough in this game. Don’t expect a scoring explosion. This game might end in the smallest margin of victory all bowl season long.

#7: Missouri

Runner-up in the SEC, the Tigers are heading to the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 2008 to face off against old Big 12 conference-mate Oklahoma State. Their first post-season appearance since beating North Carolina in the Independence Bowl in 2011, this might be the best Missouri team in a long time. QB Maty Mauk has been great since stepping in to the starting role and the defense has pretty consistent all season long with the exception of the SEC title game. OKST is going to a tough team to contain, but seeing how they locked down Texas A&M’s QB Johnny Manziel, it shouldn’t be a big deal. This could be the best non-BCS game on the post-season schedule and one that should be very hard fought.

#8: Ohio State

All season long, it was said that Ohio State was a questionable undefeated team that hadn’t really seen a difficult team in 24 games. That point was proven when they found themselves losing the Big Ten title game to a very good Michigan State squad. Winning 24 straight games is a great accomplishment and one that the Buckeyes should be proud of, but at the end of the day, it’s 24 straight wins with nothing to show. Going to the Orange Bowl isn’t a bad consolation prize for the national title they were just a game away from going to, but again we find ourselves questioning whether this is a game they can win against a good opponent. Clemson is very much like Ohio State in the aspect that their ability to win big games is also in question. This game is a toss-up at this point.

#9: UCF

Central Florida’s rise from relative unknown (nationally speaking) to AAC champion is the stuff college football fans dream of. Now the AAC might not be the toughest conference by any stretch of the imagination, but for a program to go in and win the conference in their first year is incredible. No matter how their post-season turns out, great things look to be coming in the long term for the Knights. The Fiesta Bowl will bring with it a brand new challenge, the high powered offense of the Baylor Bears. The closet thing that the Knights have seen to date that rivals the pure scoring power of Baylor was maybe Louisville. A huge underdog in this game, the Knights are going to need to play their best football yet to survive. Even that though, might not be good enough.

#10: South Carolina

Thanks in large part to Missouri; the Gamecocks enter the bowl season outside the BCS and with a tough match-up in the Capital One Bowl against Wisconsin. South Carolina, the underdog in this game, is almost like the SEC version of the Badgers. The one difference here is that QB Connor Shaw can throw and do it well when he wants to. Shaw didn’t post great numbers going down the stretch, which makes some wonder if he is still suffering from a few injuries he has received in the last couple seasons, but at times he does know how to win big games. Expect an incredibly close game and watch for South Carolina’s defense to really bring the hammer down on Wisconsin’s run game, forcing them to go to the air a bit more then maybe they are comfortable with.

#11: Oregon

The Ducks will be flying into the Alamo Bowl with a lot to prove. After weeks of having the best offense in the nation (next to Baylor of course), Oregon was unimpressive in the final two games of the regular season with a loss to Arizona and a one-point win over rival Oregon State. Taking on Texas, the big thing to watch is how QB Marcus Mariota plays. Allegedly having knee problems, Mariota struggled in those games and more or less cause the entire offense to come to a halt. While I think Oregon will win this game pretty easily, don’t forget that the Ducks aren’t that great in the post-season. They are 11-15 all-time and are 2-2 in their last four appearances.

#12: Oklahoma

The Bedlam Series proved to be a gateway to the BCS for the Sooners as their big win over rival Oklahoma State gave them a berth to the Sugar Bowl. If it wasn’t for QB Blake Bell, this team would be sitting in a mid-level bowl right now. Then again, maybe they will wish they had as the Sooners get the unfortunate luck to face a very angry and bitter Alabama Crimson Tide. Oklahoma has been notoriously bad in BCS games under Coach Bob Stoops and his visor and I doubt this game will change that. The Sooners are a heavy underdog in this game and will probably get destroyed in ways we haven’t seen before.

#13: Clemson

It’s truly difficult to know how to feel about this Clemson team. Yes, they went 10-2 this season, but their two losses came in two of the three big games they had this season. This was a team that should have been playing for a national title, but their failed to live up to the hype to a certain extent. They will still get a shot at glory as QB Tajh Boyd and the Tigers will face off against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. For Boyd’s sake, Clemson needs this win in a bad way. Boyd is looking for draft gold and his “clutch” factor could be put him under fire if they lose this one. A slight underdog, this game should be close and interesting.

#14: Oklahoma State

Those rivalry games will get you sometimes and that’s what happened to the Cowboys. A loss to bitter rival Oklahoma sent Oklahoma State from a trip to the Fiesta Bowl and a Big 12 title to the Cotton Bowl to take on Missouri. The loss to the Sooners dropped them to 7-2 in conference play, preventing them from maybe getting a shot at a BCS game. Although they handled their own against Baylor, Missouri is a whole different beast. Long time competitors back in the day, the Cowboys have won three of the last four match-ups with the Tigers. QB Clint Chelf could be in for a big game, but with how tough Missouri’s defense has been this season, he could be in for a long game as the Cowboys go into the game as the slight underdog.

#15: LSU

The New Year might be a historic one for the Bayou Bengals as LSU takes on Iowa in the Outback Bowl. One win away from their fourth straight 10 win seasons in a row, there are a lot of question marks about this team. QB Zach Mettenberger is out with an ACL injury, making back-up QB Anthony Jennings the tentative starter. LSU has the offensive tools to help Jennings in this game, but there is still a lot of pressure on him, especially with his first real start to be in a bowl game. Jennings looked good against Arkansas, so fans should be hopeful. A favorite in this match-up, the Tigers have dropped three of their last four appearances and haven’t played Iowa since a 2005 loss to them in the Capital One Bowl.

#16: Louisville

Could the Russell Athletic Bowl be the last time we see QB Teddy Bridgewater in a Louisville uniform? Well unless he is super excited at the prospect of potentially being drafted by the Houston Texans, we won’t know until after this game. The 11-1 Cardinals will be taking on the Hurricanes of Miami (FL) in a bowl game that features two teams who fell somewhat short of expectations. Losing one games isn’t a bad thing, but not grabbing the AAC title hurts a little bit. A slight favorite, this might be the best chance for Bridgewater to show off those skills for NFL scouts. Since 1933, these two teams have met 11 times, with Miami (FL) winning nine of those contests. The only time Louisville has prevailed was back in 2006. The Cardinals have won three of their last four bowl appearances.

#17: UCLA

They may have missed out on a shot at the PAC-12 title game, but UCLA is still looking good heading into their second straight bowl game in the Coach Jim Mora era. The Sun Bowl will play host to the Bruins as they square off with Virginia Tech. Never facing each other before this game, UCLA will be looking to get their first bowl win since 2009’s EagleBank Bowl. A potentially completive game, UCLA is the favorite and for good reason. The Hokies have lost three of their last five games and haven’t beaten a big time opponent since defeating Miami (FL) back in early November. If UCLA comes to play, they should win this, but that may be easier said than done. The Bruins are 2-1 when playing in the Sun Bowl with their last win coming in 2005.

#18: Arizona State

The Sun Devils aren’t smelling roses, but at least they get to play in the Holiday Bowl, right? It will be a step up from the Hunger Bowl that they played in last year. Not running into Stanford’s defense will help a lot as well as they go into this game looking to stop the sporadic Texas Tech offense. Having won their only meeting back in 1999, Arizona State should be the favorite in this one. They can match the Red Raiders offensively with having the added bonus of a good defense. This game could be a shoot-out, but nothing too far out of their control. Coach Todd Graham has done a great job of turning this program around and getting a second bowl win in two years would be a good start.

#19: Fresno State

A MWC championship might not be the BCS, it’s still a good win for the Bulldogs and a great regular season swan song for QB Derek Carr. Their second championship in two years and first outright championship since 1989, Fresno State will have a shot at giving the MWC some true legitimacy in the Las Vegas Bowl against USC. MWC teams have won only 29% of their games all-time against the Pac-12 (26% if you take out former MWC member Utah). To make matters worse, the MWC is 1-29 against USC. The Trojans aren’t nearly as good as they have been in the past, but Fresno State also has shown signs of weakness. The Bulldogs are the slight favorite, but anything could happen in this one. Fresno State hasn’t won a bowl since 2007 and have lost in four straight appearances.

#20: Texas A&M

Evil Tim Tebow and the Aggies sure aren’t where anyone expected them to be this season. It’s not like QB Johnny Manziel had a bad season with his numbers being nearly identical to last season. This season all gets put on that awful defense they have. Manziel can’t score enough touchdowns to compensate for the mistakes it has made this season. Rebuilding can have bad effects on a team and this might be a good example of that. Going into the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Duke will pose a few problems for TAMU. Not the most aggressive offense, the Blue Devil’s defense has been consistent most of the season and might bring TAMU’s offense to a halt. If the defense doesn’t step-up, they could actually lose this game, which would awful since they are the heavy favorite.

#21: Wisconsin

Following a disappointing end to their season with a loss to Penn State, the Badgers are limping in to the bowl-season after many believed they would get into the BCS for some bizarre and illogical reason. The one-dimensional Wisconsin offense might find themselves in a tough spot taking on South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. The Badgers have had no success in recent years in bowl games, losing the last three (all Rose Bowls by the way) by seven or less points. Don’t expect this game to be a scoring-fest, but do keep an eye on RBs Melvin Gordon and James White as their performance will be pivotal to the overall offensive day. Wisconsin is the early favorite, but this one could go either way.

#22: Duke

Nobody really expected the Blue Devils to be able to keep up with the Seminoles and that is exactly what happened. Florida State just had too many weapons for Duke to handle and the Blue Devils came up super short in the ACC title game. That shouldn’t take away this absolutely amazing season for this team and program as Duke tries to establish themselves as a more than one sport school. Going into the bowl season, the Blue Devils will take on Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. This will be another tough game for a team that has only won three of their nine bowl performances all-time. Taking advantage of TAMU’s awful defense will be a huge key to success, but stopping QB Johnny Manziel might be the bigger one. While it’s hard to see this one turning out well for the Blue Devils, it would be nice to see them come out with a win.

#23: Ball State

Ball State again? You aren’t dreaming my faithful readers; the Cardinals are occupying this spot on the list as their 14th ranked scoring offense and 10-2 kind of warrants it. While not the most appealing team compare to the likes of Oregon or Baylor, Ball State is still a bit entertaining. Heading to the GoDaddy Bowl, the Cardinals could have their hands full with Arkansas State as the Red Wolves are a feisty bunch. A win in this game would be a huge push for this institution as they have yet to win a bowl game in their previous six appearances dating back to 1989. Heavy favorites in this one, it feels like the right time for a big win for the Cardinals.

#24: Northern Illinois

Talk about tripping at the finish line. The Huskies were easily one game away from sending themselves to their second BCS game in a row, but Bowling Green proved to be too much to handle. The 47-27 loss was the third championship game loss for NIU dating back to 2005. To be fair though, this was NIU’s fourth straight trip to the game. The loss plummets the Huskies down the rankings and bowl list pretty hard, but doesn’t treat them too poorly in the process. NIU will head out west to take on Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego. The Huskies are currently the favorite over the beat-up and injured Aggies, but with their performance in the MAC championship game, there is some room for doubt.

#25: Notre Dame

Rounding out the Top 25 is Notre Dame. While the Irish are a long ways away from their undefeated season and trip to the national title game last year, at least they get to finish out the 2013 season with a trip to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl to face off with Rutgers. Much like Notre Dame, the Scarlet Knights aren’t having the most spectacular season either. History does favor the Irish in this match-up as they haven’t lost a game to Rutgers in four match-ups dating back to 1921. Not helping Notre Dame is their lack-luster bowl performance history as they have only won two of their last twelve appearances. This game will probably be a tough one for the Irish, but one that seems winnable.

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