NCF Nation: 2010 BCS bowl overview

Auburn Tigers (13-0) vs. Oregon Ducks (12-0)

Jan. 10, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Oregon take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas keeps things mostly close to the vest with reporters. But when a group of them expressed skepticism when running back LaMichael James said people doubted the Ducks, Thomas piped in with one word: "Masoli."

That's fair. When quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was kicked off the team during the offseason, many thought the Ducks’ chances of contending for the national title were no longer an issue. They were still a Pac-10 front-runner, but only by a little. At that point, in fact, most thought senior Nate Costa would win the starting job, not Thomas. But Thomas not only won the job, he gave the Ducks an upgrade at the position. And that has been the key this season.

Thomas and Oregon used the Ducks’ explosive, high-tempo, spread-option offense to wear down foes. They've outscored opponents by nearly 31 points a game this year. Only one team, California, came within single digits of the Ducks.

The Ducks made their first national statement with a blowout win at Tennessee, but their overwhelming 52-31 victory over Stanford proved to be a signature victory, one that grew in stature as the year went on because it would be the Cardinal's only defeat. The Ducks trailed 21-3, but then exploded and ran away with the game.

Oregon has owned the second half this season, outscoring foes 277-77, and it's yielded just 24 fourth-quarter points. The underrated defense is ranked 14th in the nation in scoring.

Auburn take by SEC blogger Chris Low: Outside of Florida and the junior college ranks, nobody really knew who Cam Newton was when Auburn opened preseason practice back in August. Even the Tigers’ coaches weren’t completely sure what they had.

Everybody knows now.

Newton, who started his career at Florida and then detoured through Blinn College, was the driving force in leading the Tigers (13-0) to their first-ever appearance in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game. The front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy, Newton passed for 28 touchdowns and ran for 20 touchdowns, taking turns beating teams with his arm and his legs.

He’s coming off an MVP performance in the SEC championship game where he threw four touchdown passes and ran for two more in Auburn’s 56-17 dismantling of South Carolina. In his last five games, he’s thrown 15 touchdown passes and just one interception.

Auburn has been comfortable outscoring teams all season. The Tigers are sixth nationally in scoring offense, averaging 42.7 points per game.

Their defense has been vulnerable against the pass, as evidenced by the fact that they rank 105th nationally in pass defense. But those numbers are deceiving, because the Tigers have made a living out of coming up with key stops and forcing turnovers in the second half. In their last two games against South Carolina and Alabama, they've given up a total of two field goals in the second half.

AllState Sugar Bowl

December, 6, 2010
Arkansas Razorbacks (10-2) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1)

Jan. 4, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Arkansas take by SEC blogger Chris Low: Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino joins two of his SEC colleagues (Nick Saban and Urban Meyer) in becoming only the third coach to take two different schools to BCS bowl games. Petrino led Louisville to a victory in the 2007 Orange Bowl.

The Hogs (10-2) charge into their Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup with Ohio State playing their best football of the season. They’ve won their past six games and are averaging 42.5 points in those six contests.

Arkansas’ résumé is equally impressive. The Hogs own four wins over teams ranked in the top 25 of the final BCS standings. They’re the only team in the country with a quarterback (Ryan Mallett) who has passed for 3,000 yards, a running back (Knile Davis) who has rushed for 1,000 yards and five receivers (Greg Childs, Joe Adams, Cobi Hamilton, Jarius Wright and D.J. Williams) who have at least 500 receiving yards.

While known for its explosive offense, Arkansas’ defensive improvement has been the real story to its success. The Hogs were 89th in the country in total defense a year ago, but enter the bowl game ranked 34th nationally this season.

This is a team playing with a lot of confidence right now and a team that showed a lot of resilience after losing a close game at home to Alabama in September and then getting toasted in the fourth quarter by Auburn a month later.

Ohio State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State ended its three-game slide in BCS bowls last January in Pasadena. Now the Buckeyes’ take aim at snapping a more sobering streak.

Most Buckeyes fans know what 0-9 means, and if they don’t, SEC fans will happily remind them. Ohio State is 0-9 against SEC teams in bowl games, including back-to-back losses in the BCS title games in 2007 and 2008 that continue to blotch the Buckeyes’ national reputation. Jim Tressel’s crew will try to overcome its SEC blues in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Arkansas.

Ohio State has been a slow-starting, strong-finishing team, both in games and throughout the season. The Buckeyes’ early stumbles against Wisconsin led to their only loss, but they won their final five regular-season games, all but one contest by 24 points or more.

Aside from the Wisconsin setback, Ohio State’s defense allowed no more than 17 points in a conference game and overcame some key injuries, particularly in the secondary. Containing Mallett is clearly Ohio State’s top priority, and the Buckeyes boast a top 10 pass defense led by cornerback Chimdi Chekwa and safety Jermale Hines.

Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor took a major step forward in the Rose Bowl and looks for another big performance on the big stage. Pryor’s mobility could be key against an Arkansas defense that applies a lot of pressure.

Discover Orange Bowl

December, 6, 2010
Stanford Cardinal (11-1) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2

Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Stanford take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: The big question for Stanford in the preseason was how would the Cardinal do without Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart. The answer quickly came: Pretty darn well.

Stanford finished 11-1 because quarterback Andrew Luck looked every bit like the No. 1 overall pick in this spring's NFL draft, the running game was nearly as good as it was with Gerhart and the defense was significantly improved. That Stanford ranks eighth in the nation in scoring should be no surprise. But the defense ranking 11th in the nation in scoring is why the Cardinal are playing in the Discover Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech. That defense has pitched three shutouts and seemed to improve under first-year coordinator Vic Fangio as the year went on.

Stanford rolled through its early schedule until it got hammered at Oregon 52-31. That loss seemed to suggest that the Cardinal still lack the overall team speed to play with the elite programs. But that would be their final loss. They played a couple of tight games with USC and Arizona State, and they dominated Arizona before winning their final two games over California and Oregon State by a combined count of 86-14.

What is most notable about Stanford is how it’s taken on coach Jim Harbaugh's tough-guy image. It's an extremely physical team, particularly on an offensive line that ranks among the best in the nation.

Virginia Tech take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Despite their current 11-game winning streak, the ACC champions still feel like they have something to prove after an 0-2 start. The Hokies will have an ideal chance to silence any remaining doubters with their matchup against Stanford, one of the best one-loss teams in the country. The ACC, which is 2-10 in its BCS bowls, needs the Hokies to represent well.

Virginia Tech will once again rely on the ACC’s Player of the Year, quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and a defense that has 14 interceptions in the past six games. Even with two starting linebackers sidelined with stingers in the ACC championship game and starting corner Rashad Carmichael out for most of the game with an ankle injury, Virginia Tech found a way to pressure FSU backup quarterback E.J. Manuel into mistakes. The Hokies will look to do the same against Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, a Heisman contender. Luck leads an offense that averages over 40 points and 200 rushing yards per game -- a challenge for Bud Foster’s defense, which has been average against the run this year. Stanford’s rushing defense has been better, and the Hokies will need all three of their running backs -- Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and David Wilson -- to contribute.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

December, 6, 2010
Connecticut Huskies (8-4) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (11-2)

Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Connecticut take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: Connecticut figures to be a heavy underdog against Oklahoma. It's a role to which the Huskies grown quite accustomed.

The Huskies have had skeptics since the school decided to jump to the FBS level for the 2002 season. Billed as a sleeper before this year, they stumbled out of the gate with a 3-4 record while losing their first two Big East conference games. Some on the lunatic fringe even called for head coach Randy Edsall's dismissal.

That adversity suited UConn well. Playing with no margin for error after that rough start, the team has not lost since.

The Huskies often make you wonder how they get it done, with a passing stats that only an option-based team could love and players most hardcore fans have never heard of. But there's no real secret to their success. They run the ball behind a mammoth, well-coached offensive line and through the nation's No. 2 rusher, junior Jordan Todman. They're solid, if undersized, on defense. And they have an outstanding kicking game, which led the way in the BCS-clinching win at South Florida.

Mostly, Connecticut just figures out ways to win and is mentally tough enough to accomplish it. Hardly anybody will give the Huskies a chance to beat the Sooners. That's just the way they will like it.

Oklahoma take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: If Bob Stoops can't win this one, well... who knows? Linebacker Travis Lewis reminded those in attendance at Oklahoma's Big 12 Championship postgame news conference the Sooners were on a one-game bowl winning streak, but it's the big ones that matter. The Sooners are back in the BCS, and will get their chance to end a five-game BCS bowl losing streak that's included three BCS National Championship games and a pair of Fiesta Bowls.

During that stretch, the Sooners have run into some pretty elite teams. Four-loss UConn wouldn't qualify. The Huskies qualified by winning the Big East, but now face the seven-time Big 12 champion Sooners. Last year, injuries to key contributors everywhere sent the Sooners to an 8-5 season and a bid in the Sun Bowl. The earlier than expected experienced play by Oklahoma's young players like quarterback Landry Jones is paying off in 2010.

A pair of fantastic defensive performances against Oklahoma State and Nebraska away from home has the Sooners back on top of the Big 12 and in the BCS, with a great chance to end the drought that's marred the second half of Bob Stoops' decade-plus tenure at Oklahoma.

The Fiesta Bowl looks like the biggest mismatch of the five BCS games, and for evidence, look no further than a comparison of losses. Oklahoma's only two came on the road to Big 12 teams who earned a share of a division title. Two of UConn's four losses came to Temple and Rutgers, a pair of teams that won't be bowling this postseason. That said, this is why they play the games. We thought the same thing when the Sooners matched up against Boise State. Considering Bob Stoops' five-game losing streak in BCS bowl games, anything could happen.
Wisconsin Badgers (11-1) vs. TCU Horned Frogs (12-0)

Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Wisconsin take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Wisconsin evolved into one of the nation’s most dominating teams down the stretch, and the Badgers were rewarded with their first trip to Pasadena in 11 seasons as they face TCU in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

Bret Bielema’s team won its final seven regular-season games and destroyed everything in its path, averaging 48.3 points during the streak and combining for 201 points in its final three games. A veteran and talented offensive line led the way, creating room for backs James White, Montee Ball and John Clay and buying time for quarterback Scott Tolzien to attack downfield with the play-action game. Arguably the only downside for red-hot Wisconsin is the five-week layoff between the end of the regular season and the Rose Bowl.

The Badgers’ offense likely faces its toughest test of the season in a TCU defense that leads the nation in fewest points allowed and ranks third against the run. If TCU can contain Wisconsin on first and second downs and force Tolzien into some obvious passing situations, the Badgers could be in trouble. As good as Tolzien has been, he hasn’t faced the type of pressure TCU might provide on Jan. 1.

Wisconsin’s defense isn’t dominant like TCU’s, but the Badgers are opportunistic, recording 23 takeaways. TCU hasn’t faced a defensive end as disruptive as Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt, who made more impact plays than any Big Ten defender and needs to heat up Horned Frogs star quarterback Andy Dalton.

TCU take by nation blogger Andrea Adelson: Well, the Horned Frogs really, really wanted to be that first non-AQ to get into a BCS national championship game, but hey, playing in the Rose Bowl is not exactly settling. They are making their second straight BCS appearance after a second straight undefeated regular season, a tremendous accomplishment under coach Gary Patterson. A big reason TCU is back on the big stage: experience. TCU returned a majority of their starters, including Andy Dalton, selected Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year. But if TCU has any shot to win, he is going to have to have a better game than the one he had last year against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. Dalton threw three interceptions in that game, including one that was returned for a touchdown, and the offense could manage little in the way of production.

They are better at running back this season with the tandem of Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker, and Jeremy Kerley is one of the best all-purpose players in the country. TCU has the No. 1 ranked defense in the country for the third straight season, and that is impressive considering the Horned Frogs lost their two best players in Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington. The heart of the defense is with linebackers Tank Carder and Tanner Brock, but the leader is safety Tejay Johnson. Runners beware against this defensive front.