|Will Jadeveon Clowney make his first move toward the Heisman in the Outback? (US Presswire)|
With some time to turn away from the Silly Season for a moment and to peruse the bowl match-ups, here are our 10 most intriguing questions for the bowl season:
1. Can Notre Dame snap the SEC's amazing BCS title run at six? There is a lot of compelling stuff piled into the BCS title game in South Florida: Can Nick Saban make it three titles in four years? Can AJ McCarron shred the stout Irish D just like he did to LSU's top D in last year's title game? Will Everett Golson burn the big Bama D like Johnny Manziel did? Are the Irish really back for good as a national powerhouse? But above all is this business of the SEC's dominance of college football. There are many people down there who believe, despite Notre Dame's 12-0 record that the Irish would only be the seventh-best team in the SEC. We'll see how accurate those folks are. As I wrote the day after the SEC championship game, this is no David and Goliath matchup. Know this: The Irish -- as big and physical as any SEC team -- won't be scared. They've also been a big underdog before this season and won. (Remember the road trip to Oklahoma.)
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2. How will Oklahoma try to contain Johnny Heisman? Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and OU's Bob Stoops have been close for years, and now their teams meet in the Cotton Bowl. I'm curious what answers the Stoops brothers have for Sumlin's offense and his breakout star. Bob Stoops tabbed Mike Leach to bring in the Air-Raid offense when the coach took over the OU program in the late '90s. A&M runs a version of the Air-Raid, but it has changed some under OC Kliff Kingsbury and taken some new twists to suit the Aggies' dynamic young QB's skill set. And after talking to Kingsbury the other night at the Heisman ceremony, expect more wrinkles to come. Keep in mind, the Johnny Manziel, who lit up the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa is a far different QB than the one LSU saw earlier in the season or the one Florida faced in the opener.
3: Does Jadeveon Clowney's Heisman campaign ramp up Jan. 1? Manti Te'o might not have won the Heisman, but it is worth noting that Te'o became the third defender invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony, and had a legit shot to win the stiff-arm award. My hunch is we'll see a defensive player win the Heisman within the next five years. We've moved into a different era for the college football awards platform. Voters are more open-minded. Ten years ago, I'm not sure how many of them knew what a TFL was. Now, most do. The biggest thing that hampered a defensive player's chances had been the limited number of individual stats that voters can use to gauge the merits of a player. Clowney had 21.5 TFLs and 13 sacks, including 4.5 in South Carolina's final regular-season game, and the 6-foot-6, 265-pound sophomore did all that despite being hobbled for much of the season. Of course, voters will still have a hard time factoring in "impact" if Clowney gets double- and triple-teamed. Tip to Gamecock Sports Info: Keep track of how many holding flags Clowney draws from here on out, starting with the Outback Bowl vs. Michigan.
4. Can Northern Illinois hang with Florida State in the Orange? As if the MAC champs didn't have enough motivation to bring their "A" game, they got ripped on national TV when the bowl pairings were announced by ESPN. On top of that, the Huskies also will be without coach Dave Doeren, who is off to NC State. NIU has a great QB in Jordan Lynch, who will face the nation's No. 2 defense. Then again, this is also an FSU team that had its hands full with 6-7 Georgia Tech last time out, lost to NC State and is coping with its coaching staff shuffling around the past month.
5. How does Wisconsin respond to Barry Alvarez' leadership? Bret Bielema is gone to Arkansas. His former boss, 65-year-old Barry Alvarez, who hasn't coached a game since leading the Badgers to a 10-3 record in 2005, is taking over against Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Alvarez knows something about winning Rose Bowls. He's 3-0 in them, including a win over the Cardinal in the 2000 Rose Bowl. He is 8-3 all-time in bowl games.
6. Is this Chip Kelly's final college game? There has been growing speculation, including from many close to the Oregon program, that the Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State will be the Ducks coach last college game before he heads to the NFL.
7. How many yards do Ryan Nassib and Geno Smith combine for in the Pinstripe? Put two future NFL QBs against the country's No. 119 (WVU) and No. 93 (Syracuse) ranked units in pass efficiency defense and we're bound to get some fireworks. I'll say they combine for at least 900 yards through the air.
8. Can Clemson handle a big, bad SEC D? Last time out, Clemson came into their rivalry game against South Carolina, No. 4 in the country in scoring at 45 points per game, but the Gamecocks bottled up the Tigers and star QB Tajh Boyd, winning 27-17. This season, the only two times Clemson has been limited to fewer than 37 points is against SEC opponents. Auburn, which went 3-9 and had the second-worst D in the SEC, held Clemson to 26 points. In the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Boyd and Company face LSU, which has the nation's No. 8 defense.
9. Can the Big East champs handle an SEC powerhouse? The only better way to top off the news that Charlie Strong is staying at Louisville would be if he leads the Cards to a win in the Sugar Bowl over his former school, Florida. If the Cards beat the 11-1 Gators (ranked No. 4 in the country), expect Teddy Bridgewater's Heisman stock to soar. The Gators lead the country in pass efficiency defense and they're No. 3 in scoring defense.
10. Can Bo Pelini get the Huskers D to respond after getting embarrassed? Nebraska's showing against a five-loss Wisconsin team two weeks ago in the Big Ten title game was jaw-dropping. Nebraska surrendered 539 rushing yards and 70 points to the Badgers and exited the game ranked No. 96 in the nation against the run. Georgia freshman standout Todd Gurley probably can hardly contain himself at the chance to face the Huskers in the Capital One Bowl. On the same day as the Badgers were rolling over Nebraska, Gurley ran for 122 and two TDs against Bama's top-ranked run defense.