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College Bowl Preview IV
By Jonathan Hull

It's interesting how quick opinions can be changed. 

Before the season started, we all knew USC QB Matt Barkley was going to win the Heisman and be the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft. A few weeks into the season, we all knew West Virginia QB Geno Smith was Barkley's biggest challenge for the Heisman and was likely at least the No. 2 pick of the draft.

In the end, neither player even received a vote for the Heisman and neither is now considered a contender for the No. 1 pick overall. The frustration with the 2013 draft's top two QB prospects has carried over into bowl season. Smith was nothing spectacular in West Virginia's blowout loss against Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl last week, although the weather had plenty to do with that. Still, he did nothing to gain any momentum in the evaluation process.

Turns out, Barkley has already played his final college game. The USC QB has been ruled out of today's Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech, ending any hopes he had of re-solidifying his draft stock. 

It hasn't been a friendly season for draft prospect QBs all year, though. Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas was once thought of as a first-round pick, but he had an absolutely dreadful season filled with far too many poor decisions. Oklahoma's Landry Jones was supposed to be a first-round prospect two years ago, but a poor junior year eliminated those hopes. Jones was better as a senior and he's honestly a bit underrated at this juncture.

There's only one QB playing today or tomorrow who has a chance of being a first-round pick and that's Georgia junior Aaron Murray, who finally started to live up to expectations this season. But Murray very well could return for his senior season with hopes of contending for a national title next year. 

But say Murray has an unbelievable game in the Capital One Bowl and just shreds Nebraska. It might be in his best interest to leave school early. The title of No. 1 QB in the 2013 draft is up for grabs, and Murray could nab it with a big-time performance on a national stage.

I did not do well in my last batch of bowl predictions, posting a 5-7 record, which now makes me 11-8 overall. Hopefully my fortunes are better in 2013. 

Happy New Year, folks.

Music City Bowl

N.C. State (7-5) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4)

Noon Dec. 31, ESPN

Last bowl appearances: N.C. State 31, Louisville 24 (2011 Belk); Cincinnati 31, Vanderbilt 24 (2011 Liberty)

Last meeting/series: Vanderbilt 7, N.C. State 0 (1946); Vanderbilt leads series 1-0.

2013 draft prospects: N.C. State, CB David Amerson, QB Mike Glennon, FS Brandan Bishop, SS Earl Wolff, OC Camden Wentz, WR Tobias Palmer; Vanderbilt, WR Jordan Matthews, QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, CB Trey Wilson, DT Rob Lohr

Reasons to watch: Vanderbilt is basically playing a home game while making its second straight bowl appearance. It's the first time in the program's history the Commodores have played in a bowl game in back-to-back seasons. The combination of QB Jordan Rodgers -- younger brother of elite NFL QB Aaron Rodgers -- and standout WR Jordan Matthews powering the Commodores to this significant milestone. That said, their defense is ranked 17th in the nation and allows just 18.25 points per game. Vandy comes in playing its best football right now, too, with six straight victories. N.C. State was considered a dark horse in the ACC this season, but could never play consistently enough on a week-to-week basis to embrace that role. The Wolfpack do have a prolific pass offense with senior Mike Glennon at QB. Glennon averages 304 passing yards per game and has thrown 30 TDs compared to 14 INTs.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 33, N.C. State 20 -- Vandy is ranked fifth nationally in pass efficiency defense, meaning the Commodores routinely force opposing QBs to play beneath their talent. The matchup between Vandy WR Jordan Matthews and N.C. State CB David Amerson is going to be a great one to watch, but expect Matthews to get the better of it.

 

Sun Bowl

Georgia Tech (6-7) vs. USC (7-5)

2 p.m. Dec. 31, CBS

Last bowl appearances: Utah 30, Georgia Tech 27, OT (2011 Sun); USC 24, Boston College 13 (2009 Emerald)

Last meeting/series: USC 23, Georgia Tech 6 (1973); USC leads series 2-1.

2013 draft prospects: Georgia Tech, OG Omoregie Uzzi, CB Rod Sweeting, RB Orwin Smith; USC, QB Matt Barkley, WR Robert Woods, CB Nickell Robey, FS T.J. McDonald, DE Morgan Breslin, OC Khaled Holmes, DE Wes Horton, RB Curtis McNeal, SS Jawanza Starling

Reasons to watch: There seems to be nothing tougher than being labeled a Heisman favorite and potential No. 1 overall pick prior to the start of the season and then living up to those expectations. USC QB Matt Barkley is just the latest in a long line of players who failed to play up to that status. Barkley wasn't even in consideration for the Heisman and has seen his draft stock plummet over the past few months. And there's no rise coming, either. Barkley will not play against Georgia Tech, and freshman Matt Wittek will get the start. Wittek's got the nation's best tandem of WRs with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee to help him against a poor Ga. Tech defense, too. The off-the-field issues continue for USC as well. Apparently the Trojans haven't embraced being in El Paso, and the complaints from the city's residents are piling up on the Trojans. At some point, one has to wonder when Lane Kiffin takes more responsibility for how the team has acted on and off the field. It seems he's been able to dodge the bullets thus far, and it's unclear as to how. Georgia Tech technically isn't bowl eligible and had to receive a waiver from the NCAA to be considered for this game. It's the second straight year the Yellow Jackets have brought their traditional triple-option offense to El Paso. It's been a disappointing season for Ga. Tech as well, but Yellow Jackets still rank fourth in rushing yards per game and have managed to earn a bid to their 16th straight bowl game.

Prediction: USC 45, Georgia Tech 17 -- This might be the worst matchup of the bowl season, or maybe I'm still overrating USC. On paper, this one shouldn't be close. The Trojans outmatch Ga. Tech in every phase, and it seems likely the Yellow Jackets will lose their eighth consecutive bowl game. But the game isn't played on paper. Just ask Matt Barkley.

 

Liberty Bowl

Iowa State (6-6) vs. Tulsa (10-3)

3:30 p.m. Dec. 31, ESPN

Last bowl appearances: Rutgers 27, Iowa State 13 (2011 Pinstripe); BYU 24, Tulsa 21 (2011 Armed Forces)

Last meeting/series: Iowa State 38, Tulsa 23 (2012); Iowa State leads series 2-0.

2013 draft prospects: Iowa State, LB A.J. Klein, QB Steele Jantz; Tulsa, FS Dexter McCoil, LB DeAundre Brown, DE Cory Dorris

Reasons to watch: This is the only rematch of a game that happened earlier this season, when Iowa State defeated Tulsa 38-23 in the first game of the year for both teams. But no team is the same at the end of the season as it was at the beginning. Iowa State LB A.J. Klein is the best draft prospect in this game, and chances are he's going to draw the responsibility for mirroring Tulsa's best player at times. Junior RB Trey Watts is the most dynamic player on the Golden Hurricane's roster. Watts is not only Tulsa's best player on offense, though, he's one of the best return specialists in the nation as well. But despite Watts averaging 161.83 all-purpose yards per game, he doesn't find the end zone very often and has accounted for just five TDs this season. But as has been the case for several seasons now, the Golden Hurricane still have a prolific offense. The offense is now based more on Watts and the ground game whereas the pass dominated Tulsa's offense in the past. On paper, Iowa State doesn't appear to do much of anything well. The Cyclones are one of the best coached teams in the country, though. Paul Rhoads finds a way to get Iowa State to win routinely with inferior talent. Each season Iowa State pulls out a couple victories against teams it probably shouldn't defeat. Just ask Baylor and TCU about the Cyclones this season. The Cyclones also had Kansas State pretty nervous.

Prediction: Iowa State 33, Tulsa 28 -- Tulsa will play the Cyclones a little closer this time around. Many will look at the game and ask how Iowa State is winning because Tulsa will have better athletes in several positions. Iowa State will simply make the right plays at the right times. There's no other explanation for it. There's also the fact that Tulsa is 0-2 against major conference opponents this season, which includes a 19-15 loss to struggling Arkansas.

 

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Clemson (10-2) vs. LSU (10-2)

7:30 p.m. Dec. 31, ESPN

Last bowl appearances: West Virginia 70, Clemson 33 (2011 Orange); Alabama 21, LSU 0 (2011 BCS Championship)

Last meeting/series: LSU 10, Clemson 7 (1996 Peach Bowl); LSU leads series 2-0.

2013 draft prospects: Clemson, WR DeAndre Hopkins, RB Andre Ellington, DE Malliciah Goodman, FS Rashard Hall, OC Dalton Freeman, TE Brandon Ford, SS Jonathan Meeks, LB Jonathan Willard, CB Xavier Brewer; LSU, DE Barkevious Mingo, DE Sam Montgomery, FS Eric Reid, CB Tharold Simon, OT Alex Hurst, LB Kevin Minter, WR Russell Shepard, DT Josh Downs, OC P.J. Lonergan

Reasons to watch: This bowl matches up one of the nation's elite offenses against one of the best defenses in the country. It also does something SEC haters have been waiting to see -- one of that conferences great defenses tested by a prolific offense. Many SEC naysayers believe the conferences defensive prowess is overrated due to a lack of strong offenses in the league. LSU has produced as much NFL talent on the defensive side of the ball as any other team in the country in recent years. This year's team is no exceptions. Defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery are both likely to be first-round picks, while safety Eric Reid has an outside shot of also sneaking into the first round. LB Kevin Minter should be taken no later than the third round. But for the last two years, Clemson has been putting up some big numbers on offense. This season, the Tigers rank ninth in total offense and average 42.33 points per game. Much of that is centered around junior QB Tajh Boyd, who is an effective runner and passer. Boyd ranked fourth in passing efficiency this season and eighth in total offense. He's got a multitude of weapons around him including speed receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. Not to mention a talented RB with Andre Ellington. On paper, it appears Clemson has all the tools to challenge LSU's defense.

Prediction: LSU 30, Clemson 20 -- Clemson's offense looks good on paper, but in reality it hasn't fared well against the SEC. Clemson faced two SEC teams this season, defeating Auburn 26-19 and losing to rival South Carolina 27-17. Both of those point totals were well below Clemson's 42.33 per game average. The other issue is Clemson doesn't play well as a complete defensive unit so even a struggling offense like LSU's can put up points. Although, freshman RB Jeremy Hill is starting to look like the remedy for LSU's offensive woes.

 

Heart of Dallas Bowl

Oklahoma State (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)

Noon Jan. 1, ESPNU

Last bowl appearances: Oklahoma State 41, Stanford 38, OT (2011 Fiesta); Purdue 37, Western Michigan 32 (2011 Little Caesar's Pizza)

Last meeting/series: Purdue 33, Oklahoma State 20 (1997 Alamo Bowl); Purdue leads series 1-0.

2013 draft prospects: Oklahoma State, RB Joseph Randle, P/K Quinn Sharp, CB Brodrick Brown, OG Lane Taylor, DE Nigel Nicholas; Purdue, DT Kawann Short, CB Josh Johnson, RB Akeem Shavers, WR Antavian Edison

Reasons to watch: When reexamining Oklahoma State's season, it's clear the Cowboys weren't far off from being 10-2 this season, which could have put them in the BCS consideration. Perhaps the scariest part of Oklahoma State's season, though, is how young they are at several positions, particularly QB. The Cowboys have had three players start at QB this season. Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf have each started games this season and the offense has been prolific regardless of who has lined up behind center. It is fair to say Walsh and Chelf have been more productive than Lunt, who was the starter a the beginning of the season. Chelf is getting the start against Purdue, but expect to see Walsh in some goalline situations in a Wildcat type of formation. One big benefit the OSU QBs have had this season is the presence of junior RB Joseph Randle, who could be a second or third round pick in April if he leaves early. Randle is electric each time he touches the ball. Purdue DT Kawann Short is capable of being as dominant as any player at his position in the nation, but due to a lack of help on the front line, Short is often double teamed, and has disappeared at times this season because of it. He's still a first-round pick. Purdue's offense has been bulimic at times this season, but seemed to find its groove late in the year with RB Akeem Shavers and QB Robert Marve.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 38, Purdue 24 -- Expect Oklahoma State to be very impressive in this game and announce its candidacy as a favorite for the Big 12 title next season. It's truly remarkable what coach Mike Gundy did with a very young team this season. The Cowboys were on the verge of being a 10-win team this season, they'll be a 10-win team in 2013.

 

Gator Bowl

Northwestern (9-3) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)

Noon Jan. 1, ESPN2

Last bowl appearances: Texas A&M 33, Northwestern 22 (2011 Meineke Car Care); Mississippi State 23, Wake Forest 17 (2011 Music City)

Last meeting/series: This is the first meeting between the two programs.

2013 draft prospects: Northwestern, OG Brian Mulroe, OT Patrick Ward, LB David Nwabuisi; Mississippi State, CB Johnthan Banks, OG Gabe Jackson, DT Josh Boyd, LB Cameron Lawrence, CB Darius Slay, CB Corey Broomfield, WR Chad Bumphis

Reasons to watch: This is the first of three SEC-Big Ten matchups that will be played New Year's Day afternoon. It's probably the least appealing of the three as well. Mississippi State didn't play well down the final stretch of the season. In the Bulldogs final five games, they won just once and allowed 33.6 points per game. In fact, the Bulldogs haven't beaten a team with a winning record this season. There's no denying Mississippi State has been a much better team over the past two seasons under coach Dan Mullen, but it lacks a signature win this season, and was blown out by every team with a winning record it played this season. Northwestern, on the other hand, could have easily been undefeated this season. The Wildcats lost to Nebraska by 1 point and fell to Michigan in overtime. They led Penn State 28-17 before giving up 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to lose 39-28. The Wildcats will likely use two QBs in the game with junior Kain Colter being a running option, while sophomore Trevor Siemian is a pure passer. Colter and and RB Venric Mark make for a volatile backfield for Northwestern, and it's when the two are on the field together Northwestern has looked its best. Ironically, while Northwestern has looked better this season on paper, it's Mississippi State with more NFL Draft prospects. Some think CB Johnthan Banks and OG Gabe Jackson could each be first-round picks in April, while DT Josh Boyd and LB Cameron Lawrence are also likely to be drafted.

Prediction: Northwestern 31, Mississippi State 30 -- Maybe the Big Ten was down this season, and Mississippi State plays in the always strong SEC, but Northwestern is definitely on the Bulldogs' level. This one is almost a coin toss, and the Wildcats get the edge due to their experience playing in close games this season. They were 3-2 in games decided by 8 points or less this season.

 

Outback Bowl

South Carolina (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4)

1 p.m. Jan. 1, ABC

Last bowl appearances: South Carolina 30, Nebraska 13 (2011 Capital One); Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20, OT (2011 Sugar)

Last meeting/series: Michigan 34, South Carolina 3 (1985); The series is tied 1-1.

2013 draft prospects: South Carolina, DE Devin Taylor, FS D.J. Swearinger, LB DeVonte Holloman, OC T.J. Johnson, LB Shaq Wilson; Michigan, QB Denard Robinson, OT Taylor Lewan, SS Jordan Kovacs, DE Craig Roh, LB Denny Demens, CB J.T. Floyd, WR Roy Roundtree.

Reasons to watch: This is one of the best coaching jobs Steve Spurrier has done in his career. When the Gamecocks lost stud RB Marcus Lattimore for a second straight season, it would have been easy for them to pack in the season. But South Carolina rallied around QB Connor Shaw, and the Gamecocks found a way to still finish with 10 wins. Lattimore has apparently played his last game in a Gamecocks uniform as he'll be unavailable for the Outback Bowl and has announced he's headed to the NFL. South Carolina's offense has been solid without Lattimore in the backfield. Shaw finished the season as the 13th best QB in the country in terms of passing efficiency. South Carolina is more about its defense, though. Sophomore Jadeveon Clowney might be the best DE in the nation, ranking second in the nation in sacks (13) and tackles for loss (21.5). Clowney's last game against Clemson was the best of his career as he recorded 4.5 sacks. The matchup between Clowney and Michigan OT Taylor Lewan will be one of the most watched by NFL scouts this bowl season. Lewan could end up being a top 10 pick in April should he perform well against Clowney and grade out well in the rest of the evaluation process. The Wolverines have been using two QBs late in the year as Denard Robinson has struggled with injury. Junior Devin Gardner is a better passer than Robinson and has provided a different facet of the game for the Wolverines. It's likely Michigan's best chance of keeping up with South Carolina is with Robinson on the field, though. He remains one of college football's most electric players.

Prediction: South Carolina 23, Michigan 20 -- Neither team is likely to put up a ton of points in this game. South Carolina's prowess on defense is well know, but what is less known is how good Michigan's defense has been this season. The Wolverines rank 10th in total defense this season. South Carolina is 11th. Michigan hasn't fared well against Big Ten teams in the past few years, and South Carolina is likely to frustrate the Wolverines offense for a prolonged period of time.

 

Capital One Bowl

Nebraska (10-3) vs. Georgia (11-2)

1 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN

Last bowl appearances: South Carolina 30, Nebraska 13 (2011 Capital One); Michigan State 33, Georgia 30, 3OT (2011 Outback)

Last meeting/series: Nebraska 45, Georgia 6 (1969 Sun Bowl); Nebraska leads series 1-0.

2013 draft prospects: Nebraska, RB Rex Burkhead, FS Daimion Stafford, LB Will Compton, DE Eric Martin, DT Baker Steinkuhler, DE Cameron Meridith, PK Brett Maher; Georgia, LB Jarvis Jones, QB Aaron Murray, FS Bacarri Rambo, SS Shawn Williams, LB Alexander Ogletree, WR Tavarres King, DT Abry Jones, CB Sanders Commings, LB Cornelius Washington, CB Branden Smith

Reasons to watch: It seemed almost automatic Nebraska would be playing in the Rose Bowl a little more than a month ago. The Cornhuskers were the obvious favorite heading into the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin, which was only in the conference title game because Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible. The Badgers proceeded to hang 70 points on the Huskers. Nebraska's loss was the Capital One Bowl's gain as it now has one of the premiere non-BCS bowl matchups. If it wasn't for the rule that says only two teams from a conference can be in the BCS, Georgia would certainly be in one of the big bowl games. But the Bulldogs aren't in the BCS despite beating Florida, which is playing in the Sugar Bowl. Georgia was close to playing in the BCS Championship, but couldn't hang on to a 21-10 third quarter lead against Alabama in the SEC Championship. After a disappointing loss to South Carolina early in the season, the Bulldogs have really come together, particularly on defense. LB Jarvis Jones has a chance to be the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft after leading the nation with 22.5 TFL to go with 12.5 sacks. Jones is a constant disruption in opposing backfields, and has forced seven fumbles this season. On offense, freshman RB has emerged as a great complement to junior QB Aaron Murray, who finally started to live up to expectations this season. Murray was the No. 2 passer in the country in terms of efficiency. Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez made great strides as a passer this season after being very limited in that regards as a freshman ans sophomore. Martinez threw for 21 TDs compared to just 10 INTs, while still rushing for 973 yards and 10 more scores. The Huskers will also have a healthy Rex Burkhead in the backfield for probably the first time this season, though sophomore Ameer Abdullah had a nice season filling in for Burkhead. Nebraska's defense has been lacking, however. Don't be fooled by the Huskers' No. 1 rated pass defense. All of the Big Ten teams have an elevated pass defense ranking due to the lack of a true passing offense in the conference. The Nebraska secondary is for more the most part untested, but expect Murray and the Bulldogs to take some shots deep early.

Prediction: Georgia 35, Nebraska 24 -- Expect the game to be close for a while, but Georgia has far too much firepower on both sides of the ball for Nebraska to keep up. The Big Ten was so terribly weak this season, it's hard to imagine even one of the best teams from the conference being able to keep pace with a Bulldogs squad that could have been playing for a national title.

 

Rose Bowl

Wisconsin (8-5) vs. Stanford (11-2)

5 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN

Last bowl appearances: Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38 (2011 Rose); Oklahoma State 41, Stanford 38 (2011 Fiesta)

Last meeting/series: Wisconsin 17, Stanford 9 (1999 Rose); Wisconsin leads series 4-0-1.

2013 draft prospects: Wisconsin, RB Montee Ball, OT Ricky Wagner, CB Devin Smith, LB Mike Taylor, LB Chris Borland, WR Jared Abbrederis; Stanford, LB Shayne Skov, LB Chase Thomas, RB Stepfan Taylor, TE Zach Ertz, OC Sam Schwartzstein

Reasons to watch: Stanford was 11 points away from an undefeated season. The Cardinal's two losses very easily could have been wins. They lost to Washington 17-13 and then fell to Notre Dame in overtime, 20-13, two weeks later. They've since rolled off seven straight wins. To be fair, though, Wisconsin has an argument it too could easily be undefeated this season. All five of Wisconsin's losses came by 7 points or less with four coming by a mere field goal. Three occurred in overtime. This might be the most frustrating season Badgers fans have ever endured. With expectations high this year, Wisconsin barely managed to limp into the Big Ten Championship almost by default, but the Badgers made the most of the situation and blew out Nebraska 70-31. Wisconsin is playing in its third consecutive Rose Bowl, but its first without coach Bret Bielema, who left the Badgers to take over the program at Arkansas. Former Utah State coach Gary Andersen has been tabbed to replace Bielema, but legendary Wisconsin coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez will lead the Badgers into the Rose Bowl. One player Alvarez will have at his disposal is senior RB Montee Ball. Wisconsin's struggles kept Ball out of the national spotlight this season, but he still rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 TDs, becoming the NCAA FBS all-time leading scorer. Ball and the Badgers' ground game remains the focal point of the Wisconsin offense as they've had a carousel at QB this season. The defense was also quietly impressive for the Badgers, ranking 13th in total yards allowed. Stanford is also known for a physical style of play on both sides of the ball. The Cardinal's offense is built around senior RB Stepfan Taylor, although the emergence of freshman QB Kevin Hogan has given the Cardinal an added dimension late in the season. Stanford also has the best TE in the country with Zach Ertz, who is a constant matchup problem, although Wisconsin's Mike Taylor and Chris Borland give the Badgers a chance at defending him. One thing is for certain in this game, it will be an old-school physical battle.

Prediction: Stanford 20, Wisconsin 17 -- The Cardinal can be quite vulnerable on defense to the pass, but rank third in the nation in run defense. Wisconsin's run defense hasn't been bad, either, ranking 21st nationally, but Stanford can do more than just run the ball now and Wisconsin can't. Chances are this will be a close game, and Wisconsin is 1-5 in game's decided by 7 points or less this season. Stanford is 6-2 in close games. Advantage, Cardinal.

 

Orange Bowl

Northern Illinois (12-1) vs. Florida State (11-2)

8:30 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN

Last bowl appearances: Northern Illinois 38, Arkansas State 20 (2011 GoDaddy.com); Florida State 18, Notre Dame 14 (2011 Champs Sports)

Last meeting/series: This is the first meeting between the two programs.

2013 draft prospects: Northern Illinois, DE Sean Progar, DE Alan Baxter; Florida State, QB E.J. Manuel, CB Xavier Rhodes, DE Bjoern Werner, DE Cornellius Carradine, DT Everett Dawkins, FB Lonnie Pryor, WR Rodney Smith, PK Dustin Hopkins, DT Anthony McCloud

Reasons to watch: Northern Illinois junior QB Jordan Lynch has been receiving a lot of acclaim since leading the Huskies to a BCS bowl bid. He is literally almost all of NIU's offense, having rushed for 1,771 yards and passed for 2,962 yards while accounting for 43 TDs. He's also thrown just five interceptions. Lynch is NIU's only hope of pulling off an upset against Florida State, and if he can do so, he would make NIU a more serious threat as a BCS buster next season. However, Lynch is yet to see a defense as talented as the Seminoles'. Lynch rushed for at least 100 yards in every game except one this season. That on was against FCS squad Tennessee-Martin in a game where NIU didn't really need Lynch to make a big impact. The Huskies need their junior QB to have his best performance of the season against FSU. The Seminoles are loaded on defense to put it mildly. While the unit has struggled at times this season, it's hard to not be impressed with the overall talent of the nation's second-ranked total defense. The best talent on the Seminoles' defense is at DE where Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine make up the best DE tandem in the nation. Werner and Carradine have made Brandon Jenkins an afterthought. Jenkins was supposed to be the elite player on the FSU defense this season, but an injury ended his year after one game. Werner and Carradine have stepped up beautifully. Many think Werner will be a top 10 draft pick, while Carradine has received some first-round grades as well. Senior DTs Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud will be playing on Sundays next season as well, helping FSU make up the best DL in the nation. They also have a stellar CB in Xavier Rhodes, who could end up being a late first-round pick himself. Offensively, FSU QB E.J. Manuel has been overrated for a good portion of his career. Some saw him as a first-round pick two seasons ago, but now he's more of a middle-round selection. Manuel struggled late in the season, throwing six INTs in the final four games, including three against rival Florida.

Prediction: Florida State 32, Northern Illinois 17 -- While NIU's DE tandem of Sean Progar and Alan Baxter had productive seasons in the MAC, the rest of NIU's defense isn't much of a threat to shutdown Manuel. Lynch will have a few big plays in the game, and perhaps NIU can make some believe an upset is coming early in the game. The closest example of a QB to Lynch who Florida State has faced is Clemson QB Tajh Boyd. Boyd had a pretty good game against the Seminoles, but didn't really gouge them in the ground game. While Lynch is a better runner than Boyd, it's hard to imagine him consistently torching the Seminoles like he did his MAC opponents. In the end, Florida State's depth on defense will be more than NIU is ready for.

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