Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4) vs. LSU Tigers (9-3)
Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, Tampa, Fla. (ESPN)
IOWA HAWKEYES BREAKDOWN
Reports of Iowa's demise were premature.
After a dismal 4-8 season in 2012, many wrote off Kirk Ferentz's team before this season began. But the Hawkeyes managed a complete turnaround while embracing classic Ferentz traits like stout defensive play and a strong rushing attack. Iowa's 8-4 campaign looks even more impressive when considering that its four losses all came to ranked teams -- Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin -- and that it finished the year with back-to-back wins over Michigan and Nebraska.
The Hawkeyes' success starts on defense, where they ranked in the top 20 nationally against both the pass and the run. Everything revolves around a standout trio of senior linebackers in James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey, who combined for nearly 300 tackles and more than 30 tackles for loss.
The offense isn't explosive, but a veteran offensive line led by junior left tackle and future NFL draft pick Brandon Scherff sets the tone for a physical attack. Mark Weisman, a 235-pound former fullback, rushed for 938 yards this year and seems to get stronger as games wear on. Iowa also can mix things up with shiftier backs in Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri.
First-year starter Jake Rudock completed 60 percent of his passes and showed the ability to extend plays with his legs. The Hawkeyes don't stretch the field as much as they grind out yards the old-fashioned way. And that way was good enough to get Iowa back to a nice bowl game. -- Brian Bennett
LSU TIGERS BREAKDOWN
Unfortunately for LSU, it won't be able to send out senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger with one last win. Mettenberger tore his ACL while taking a hit in the pocket after delivering a pass to Jarvis Landry during the Tigers' season-ending 31-27 win against Arkansas.
Mettenberger (3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions), Landry (75 catches, 1,172 yards, 10 TDs) and Odell Beckham (57-1,117, 8 TDs) worked with new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to restore an aerial aspect to LSU's offense, which had become a bit stale with its ground-heavy mentality over the past few years. The Tigers can still run the ball with the best -- Jeremy Hill rushed for 1,185 yards and 14 scores and Terrence Magee added 207 yards and three TDs in the last two games -- but it was Mettenberger and the star wideouts who made LSU's offense explosive again.
Mettenberger's backup, freshman Anthony Jennings, completed the Tigers' comeback against Arkansas with a 49-yard touchdown pass to Travin Dural with 1:15 to play, and he should gain some valuable experience for 2014 with a start in the bowl game.
It will be interesting to see how John Chavis' young defense performs in its final outing of the season. LSU ranked fourth in the SEC in total defense at 349.7 yards per game and sixth in scoring defense at 22.7 points per game, which was a step backward after ranking among the nation's best over the past few years. Shutting down Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in a 34-10 win on Nov. 23 might be a sign of positive things to come for Chavis' bunch, however. -- David Ching