Our top three
1. Florida State: Seminoles pass the eye test, but they’re on track to face the weakest schedule of any team to reach the BCS championship game.
2. Ohio State: The offense passes the eye test, not the defense. And, like FSU, the schedule’s soft. But a 24-game winning streak counts for something.
3. Auburn: To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. The Tigers did that, but how much incredibly good fortune can one team possibly have?
Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State): The 6-foot-5-inch, 234-pound redshirt sophomore has developed into Jameis Winston’s favorite red-zone target, with 45 catches for 838 yards and 12 TDs. He didn’t start playing football until he was in high school, but he’s making up for lost time. Benjamin has seven TD catches in the past four games and is known for his acrobatic, highlight grabs.
A TV viewer’s guide to the seven conference title games, with the true jewels rating five diamonds:
SEC ♦♦♦♦♦ 5-Missouri (11-1) vs. 3-Auburn (11-1): Something bold, something fresh from America’s No. 1 conference. Two sets of Tigers picked to finish near the bottom offer a new look in Atlanta. Methodical Mizzou never won a Big 12 title but can win one in the SEC in just its second season. Magical Auburn, with the slickest option game around, keeps discovering creative ways to pull rabbits out of its hat.
Big Ten ♦♦♦♦♦ 2-Ohio State (12-0) vs. 10-Michigan State (11-1): The classic matchup of irresistible force vs. immovable object. The Buckeyes send RB Carlos Hyde, Urban Meyer’s first 1,000-yard rusher, QB Braxton Miller and the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense against the Spartans, who rank No. 1 nationally in total defense, rush defense and pass-efficiency defense. Oh, and a BCS title bid is on the line for the Bucks.
Pacific 12 ♦♦♦♦ 7-Stanford (10-2) at 11-Arizona State (10-2): To the winner goes the Rose. Cardinal workhorse RB Tyler Gaffney, a Pittsburgh Pirates outfield prospect, ran for 1,485 yards and 17 TDs while averaging 23.6 carries per game. He’s up against DE Will Sutton, a two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year, and a Sun Devils team that landed 16 players on various all-league teams.
ACC ♦♦♦ 1-Florida State (12-0) vs. 20-Duke (10-2): David, meet Goliath. The Blue Devils, with their first winning season in 19 years, are 29-point underdogs. They’re on an eight-game winning streak with a team that rotates quarterbacks and running backs and has three first-team all-ACC defenders. The Seminoles are No. 2 nationally in scoring, No. 1 in points allowed and have blown away the competition by a combined 644-132.
MAC ♦♦♦ 14-Northern Illinois (12-0) vs. Bowling Green (9-3): A hidden gem Friday night with a BCS bid, even Heisman hopes, on the line for the Huskies and QB Jordan Lynch, whose team is only a three-point favorite. NIU, an Orange Bowl team last year, will likely make the Fiesta with a victory. Lynch, the all-time FBS rushing leader for a QB, has run for 1,755 yards this year and accounted for 42 TDs.
C-USA ♦♦ Marshall (9-3) at Rice (9-3): Few folks have any idea that these two are in a title game, with the winner heading to the Liberty Bowl. The Thundering Herd has exciting QB Rakeem Cato and the No. 6 scoring offense (44.6) in the country while the Owls rush for 240 yards a game, with Charles Ross (1,143) and Vista Ridge’s Taylor McHargue leading their read-option offense.
Mountain West ♦ Utah State (8-4) at 23-Fresno State (10-1): CBS is showing the first MWC title game in prime time late Saturday, but it lost some luster when the Bulldogs were knocked out of the BCS picture last week. Fresno’s Derek Carr, the younger brother of former Texans QB David Carr, leads the nation in passing yards and is a potential high NFL draft pick.
Big 12 final four
In a stroke of genius (or luck), the Big 12 serves up its top four teams on championship weekend:
17-Oklahoma at 6-Oklahoma State: The Sooners lead Bedlam 83-17-7 and have won nine of the past 10, but they are 10-point underdogs to the Cowboys, the most well-rounded team in the league.
25-Texas at 9-Baylor: The farewell to Floyd Casey Stadium will be the de facto title game if Oklahoma State loses. Are the Bears running out of gas or just not the same on the road? At home, they have averaged 65.3 points.
First to the party
Central Florida (10-1, 7-0) will become the first team to clinch a BCS berth, as the American Athletic Conference champion, if Cincinnati (9-2, 6-1) loses at Louisville (10-1, 6-1) on Thursday. If the Bearcats win, the Knights can lock up the BCS bid by beating SMU (5-6, 4-3) on Saturday. The Sugar Bowl is their likely destination.