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Projected NCAA Bowls, Top 25: Matt Barkley, USC Aiming For No.1

Mario Puig

Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.

I can't claim to be an NCAA-certified bowl eligibility or schedule logistics expert, but the rankings and bowl projections you'll find below are nonetheless based on a game-by-game look at all the teams involved, including conference championships when applicable. Even if there's a mathematical impossibility or two in here, I do like the general look of the product.

The winners of bowl games are italicized and underlined.

1. LSU (14-0)
2. USC (13-1)
3. Georgia (12-2)
4. Alabama (11-2)
5. Oklahoma (11-2)
6. Oregon (11-3)
7. South Carolina (11-2)
8. Florida State (11-3)
9. Michigan (11-3)
10. Mississippi State (10-3)
11. Texas (10-3)
12. Virginia Tech (11-3)
13. South Florida (10-3)
14. TCU (10-3)
15. Arkansas (9-4)
16. Michigan State (10-3)
17. Ohio (13-1)
18. UCF (12-2)
19. Notre Dame (9-4)
20. Vanderbilt (9-4)
21. West Virginia (9-4)
22. BYU (10-3)
23. Georgia Tech (9-4)
24. Utah (9-4)
25. Clemson (9-4)

(Ohio State goes 12-0)

BCS National Championship

LSU (13-0) vs. USC (13-0), Score: 34-25

USC will have a super-powered offense with Matt Barkley throwing the ball to Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, but the LSU defense will be ready with stars like Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Tyrann Mathieu applying heat. The Tigers also boast the nation's deepest group of running backs and bring back most of a talented offensive line. Look for quarterback Zach Mettenberger to be an upgrade over Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. Bowl

Ohio (11-1) vs. Florida International (9-3), Score: 27-21

FIU brings back 10 starters from a defense that allowed 19.5 points per game last year, and the Golden Panthers should complement that solid defense with a productive and multidimensional running game. Ohio has eight returning starters on their own solid defense, however, and quarterback Tyler Tettleton is one of the nation's most masterful conductors.

BBVA Compass Bowl

Texas A&M (6-6) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6), Score: 34-27

Both of these programs are excited about their new coaches – Kevin Sumlin with A&M and Paul Chryst with Pittsburgh – but it might take everything they have to remain bowl eligible in 2012. Virginia Tech, Louisville and Rutgers are intimidating home matchups for Pittsburgh, and it has to deal with Syracuse, Notre Dame and South Florida. The Aggies, meanwhile, are implementing a Houston-style offense as they arrive in the SEC with a new starter at quarterback and their star running back dealing with an ACL tear recovery. For this matchup, in any case, A&M would simply prove to be too fast.

AT&T Cotton Bowl

West Virginia (9-3) vs. Mississippi State (9-3), Score: 28-27

These are two teams with brutal schedules but have enough talent to meet the challenge. Geno Smith returns at quarterback for the Mountaineers and will lead a high-powered offense, with wideouts Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey providing the wheels. Meanwhile, new starter Tyler Russell allows the Bulldogs to turn from a run-heavy spread-option to a more balanced attack, giving some firepower to complement the team's physical defense. The Mountaineers would make some plays in this one, but Mississippi State's better defense would make the difference.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Oklahoma (10-2) vs. South Florida (10-2), Score: 34-27

South Florida should get the Big East BCS Bowl berth thanks to a strong defense bringing back eight starters, as well as one of the nation's deepest groups of receivers. In this matchup, though, the Bulls would likely be overwhelmed by Oklahoma's superior talent.

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Georgia (11-2) vs. Texas (10-2), Score: 27-20

The Longhorns are set for a major bounce-back season in 2012. Not only does the team have a very talented and improving defense, but success will be much more easily accessed with quarterbacks Robert Griffin and Brandon Weeden no longer around. Georgia, though, would have the upper hand thanks to star quarterback Aaron Murray.

Discover Orange Bowl

Florida State (11-2) vs. Alabama (10-2), Score: 31-24

Florida State has been putting together some ridiculous recruiting classes lately, but I think they're still a year away from making a serious push for the National Championship. They lost four games a year ago, and quarterback E.J. Manuel hasn't shown the ability to produce against good defenses. In this matchup, Alabama's superior running game would wear out the talented Seminoles defense.

Rose Bowl

Michigan (10-3) vs. Oregon (10-3), Score: 36-31

Michigan brings back the most important components of last year's 11-2 squad, and with Ohio State ineligible for bowl games the Wolverines should have easy access to the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately for them, a disciplined and lightning-fast Oregon squad will be waiting. The Ducks could have a bit of a quarterback controversy between Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota, but both players look like potential stars for the Ducks, and Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas are absolute killers who will wear out a Michigan defense built for power rather speed and misdirection.

Outback Bowl

Iowa (9-3) vs. Arkansas (8-4), Score: 38-27

Iowa should bounce back in 2012. Despite all the discipline issues the Hawkeyes have had lately, Kirk Ferentz is still a very good coach, and quarterback James Vandenberg should be one of the nation's best after scoring 28 touchdowns in 2011. Arkansas, though, would be too big and fast for Iowa.

Capital One Bowl

Michigan State (9-3) vs. South Carolina (10-2), Score: 28-17

Even with starting quarterback Kirk Cousins gone, Michigan State should remain tough thanks to a defense that brings back eight starters and boasts a number of top talents. South Carolina boasts a strong defense of its own, though, headlined by emerging superstar Jadeveon Clowney, and is likely to eventually overpower the Spartans in the running game. Gator Bowl

Wisconsin (8-4) vs. Florida (7-5), Score: 31-21

Stars like Montee Ball and Chris Borland should keep the Badgers competitive in the Big Ten, but the team's defense is not impressive and Danny O'Brien is no Russell Wilson. A much bigger, faster and stronger Gator squad would win this one.

TicketCity Bowl

Nebraska (7-5) vs. SMU (6-6), Score: 31-14

Nebraska figures to struggle against any good teams, but SMU wouldn't qualify as such. Rex Burkhead and Taylor Martinez would run through and around the Mustangs and get an easy victory.

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Virginia Tech (10-3) vs. Tennessee (8-4), Score: 31-28

The Hokies lost an elite playmaker in running back David Wilson, as well as their top two receivers and nearly all of their offensive line, but they bring back a swarming defense and standout quarterback Logan Thomas, providing the foundation for another strong season in 2012. Quarterback Tyler Bray should lead Tennessee to a strong season, as well, but he won't have Thomas' defense.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

UCF (11-2) vs. Connecticut (7-5), Score: 28-24

Connecticut's passing game should get a boost this year from quarterback Chandler Whitmer, but UCF counters that with a solid defense and a dynamic running game led by running backs Latavius Murray and Storm Johnson.

Hyundai Sun Bowl

North Carolina State (8-4) vs. Washington (7-5), Score: 34-31

Quarterback Keith Price and his standout pass catchers will keep Washington ahead of most opponents, but the weak Huskies defense would be the team's undoing against a North Carolina State squad that boasts a strong defense in addition to its competent offense.

Franklin Amer. Mort. Music City Bowl

Boston College (6-6) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4), Score: 31-17

Boston College brings back a lot of experience this year, but not enough talent to keep up with a Vanderbilt squad that should be competitive in the SEC.

Valley of the Sun Bowl

Baylor (7-5) vs. Purdue (8-5), Score: 38-31

Purdue should be more competitive than most expect this season, bringing back 15 of its starters on offense and defense. The Boilermakers probably can't keep up with Baylor's faster squad, however, as players like Lache Seastrunk and Terrance Williams will prove too explosive.

Valero Alamo Bowl

Stanford (8-4) vs. TCU (9-3), Score: 31-27

Brett Nottingham looks like a solid replacement for Andrew Luck and the Cardinal bring back its trademark high-powered running game, but in this matchup TCU would come out ahead. The Horned Frogs have one of the nation's best quarterbacks in Casey Pachall, and running backs Waymon James and Matthew Tucker can match Stanford’s ground output.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Texas Tech (6-6) vs. Rutgers (7-5), Score: 31-28

Rutgers will more than likely suffer from weak quarterback production, but an improving running game and strong defense should make them competitive in the Big East. Texas Tech's helpless defense would make the Scarlet Knight quarterbacks look just good enough in this one.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

Utah State (8-4) vs. Washington State (7-5), Score: 38-28

Look for coach Mike Leach to get off to a good start at Washington State, as the Cougars have good personnel for implementing the Air Raid offense. They have a couple good quarterbacks to choose from, two elusive tailbacks and a deep group of receivers headlined by Marquess Wilson, who could be the nation's most productive wideout in 2012.

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl

Southern Mississippi (8-4) vs. Boise State (7-5), Score: 27-21

Coach Peterson should have the Boise program back to its imposing ways soon enough, but the Broncos just lost too much talent to not take a huge step back in 2012. Kellen Moore, Doug Martin, Tyler Shoemaker, Nate Potter, Shea McClellin, Tyrone Crawford, Billy Winn, Byron Hout and George Iloka are all gone, and you can't replace all of that in one offseason.

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

Oklahoma State (7-5) vs. Illinois (7-5), Score: 31-21

Losing Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon means Oklahoma State will take a big step back this year, but even with true freshman Wes Lunt at quarterback the Cowboys should be able to handle an Illinois squad that badly lacks talent on offense.

Russell Athletic Bowl

Notre Dame (8-4) vs. Clemson (9-3), Score: 34-31

Notre Dame has a tough task in implementing a new starter at quarterback and replacing top defensive contributors like Harrison Smith, Darius Fleming and Robert Blanton, but I like the continuity they bring on offense, wideout Michael Floyd's departure aside. Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick make a strong running game, and the guy I think will win the quarterback competition (Everett Golson) can do a decent Braxton Miller imitation. In this matchup I would take the Irish over a Clemson team that isn't as consistent as it should be.

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl

North Carolina (8-4) vs. Missouri (6-6), Score: 34-28

North Carolina got lit up by Missouri in their bowl matchup from last year, but with an extra year of experience and a better coach in Larry Fedora, I think Bryn Renner would win the rematch with a James Franklin-led Missouri squad fresh off a year of SEC pummeling.

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl

Utah (8-4) vs. Kansas State (7-5), Score: 27-24

Collin Klein is monstrously productive, but his defense isn't good enough to make a greater sum than that of Ute quarterback Jordan Wynn and the Utah defense.

Belk Bowl

Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Louisville (8-4), Score: 28-24

Louisville is a program that's clearly on the rise, but they have a lot of work to do in the running game, and Georgia Tech's steamrolling ground attack would limit the opportunities of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater while exhausting the Louisville defense.

Military Bowl

Arkansas State (8-4) vs. Virginia (6-6), Score: 35-27

Ryan Aplin and Gus Malzahn figure to concoct a potent Arkansas State offense, but the Red Wolves bring back just three starters on defense, which would undo them against a Virginia offense that boasts a strong running game in Perry Jones, Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson.

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

Northwestern (6-6) vs. Northern Illinois (9-4), Score: 38-31

Northern Illinois should have an explosive offense despite the renovation of its offensive line, but their MAC defense probably wouldn't be able to sufficiently slow a Northwestern offense that's engineered by Mick McCall, a coach who has done a remarkable job grooming quarterbacks and has an athletic playmaker this year in Kain Colter.

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl

Houston (10-3) vs. Air Force (7-5), Score: 42-31

Even with the loss of Case Keenum and seemingly a million talented receivers, the Houston offense will still be highly explosive in 2012. David Piland is totally up to the task at quarterback, and Charles Sims figures to put up monstrous numbers at running back. Air Force would do some damage on the ground in this one, but they wouldn't score fast enough to keep up with the Cougars.

MAACO Bowl Las Vegas

Fresno State (8-4) vs. Oregon State (7-5), Score: 34-31

Fresno State heads into 2012 with Tim DeRuyter replacing Pat Hill, and figures to see some improvement on defense as a result. The offense, despite a transition from pro-style to spread figures to be strong with standouts like quarterback Derek Carr and running back Robbie Rouse leading the way. Oregon State should have its own explosive offense in quarterback Sean Mannion and a deep group of pass catchers, but DeRuyter's creativity on defense could make the difference here.

R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Louisiana-Lafayette (9-3) vs. Marshall (6-6), Score: 34-28

Marshall would give Lafayette some trouble in this one thanks to the wideout duo of Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson, but the Ragin Cajuns would have too much firepower. Quarterback Blaine Gautier can really move the ball, and his wideout trio of Javone Lawson, Darryl Surgent and Harry Peoples is killer.

Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

Syracuse (6-6) vs. Tulsa (7-5), Score: 31-21

This would be a comfortable victory for a Syracuse squad that brings back accomplished senior quarterback Ryan Nassib. Tulsa has some explosive running ability that would get them on the scoreboard, but not to any meaningful extent.

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl

BYU (9-3) vs. Nevada (8-4), Score: 35-31

Quarterback Cody Fajardo and runners Stefphon Jefferson and Tony Knight should get Nevada a lot of points this year, but decline on defense is likely, which would be a problem against a BYU team led by senior quarterback Riley Nelson.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Louisiana Tech (8-4) vs. Central Michigan (8-4), Score: 38-27

Central Michigan should have one of that nation's most entertaining passing attacks, largely thanks to two standout wide receiver talents in Titus Davis and Courtney Williams, but Louisiana Tech would win comfortably in this one. Quarterback Colby Cameron and receiver Quinton Patton would match Central Michigan's explosiveness, and the Tech defense is clearly superior in this matchup.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl

UCLA (6-6) vs. San Diego State (8-4), Score: 27-24

Brett Hundley figures to give UCLA the most hope it has had in years as he takes over at quarterback, and with 13 other starters coming back between the offense and defense, the Bruins should have just enough cohesiveness to barely earn bowl eligibility. In this matchup, a rebuilt San Diego State defense wouldn't be good enough to stop Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin.