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USA TODAY Sports takes an early look ahead to the BCS bowl matchups.

ROSE BOWL: Michigan State (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2), Jan. 1, ESPN, 5 p.m.

No other BCS bowl pits two teams cut from such similar cloth. Like Michigan State, Stanford features a powerful ground attack, underrated threats in the passing game and a punishing defense. Like Stanford, Michigan State heads into the Rose Bowl with increasing confidence after an impressive run to a conference championship. With such similarities, the key to the game will be extremely old-fashioned: whichever team can dictate the tempo along the line of scrimmage will win the game. Unfortunately for Michigan State, Stanford might just be the best team not playing in the BCS National Championship Game. The Cardinal beat seven ranked opponents during the regular season.

BCS: The final standings

THE BOWLS: Complete lineup

FIESTA BOWL: Baylor (11-1) vs. Central Florida (11-1), Jan. 1, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.

Two BCS neophytes meet in the desert. Baylor won the Big 12 with some help from Oklahoma, which knocked off rival Oklahoma State to clear the Bears' path to the conference championship. UCF crawls into the postseason after a decidedly unimpressive November, one that featured nail-biting wins against Southern Methodist, Temple and South Florida. UCF's best chance at victory lies with its defense, which will be handed one of the toughest tasks in college football: slow down Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and the Baylor offense. As long as they can protect the football, avoid turnovers and convert downfield, the Bears should make their first BCS appearance a memorable one.

SUGAR BOWL: Alabama (11-1) vs. Oklahoma (10-2), Jan. 2, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.

Alabama is a bad matchup for Oklahoma, which earned an at-large BCS bid by virtue of Saturday's win against Oklahoma State. In addition, there's always the chance that OU gets an Alabama team starving for a return to the field after losing to rival Auburn to end the regular season - if that's the case, and Alabama is looking to make a statement, the Sooners could be in trouble. For OU, the best game plan would be the same one used to knock off the Cowboys: run the football effectively, avoid any turnovers, get some big plays on special teams and hold on for dear life. The Crimson Tide will be looking for one last vintage performance from seniors like quarterback AJ McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley.

ORANGE BOWL: Ohio State (12-1) vs. Clemson (10-2), Jan. 3, ESPN, time TBA

With Braxton Miller on one side and Tajh Boyd on the other, this year's Orange Bowl won't lack for explosiveness. The game will be decided by quarterback play, with Miller spearheading Ohio State's ferocious running game and Boyd headlining the Tigers' top-ranked passing game. But even in a defeat to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, OSU proved that weapons other than Miller can carry the load offensively. Clemson's receiver corps, paced by likely All-American Sammy Watkins, might be too much for the Buckeyes' secondary to handle. Will the first team to 40 points win? Or will more be needed?

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1), Jan. 6, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.

Florida State barely broke a sweat in cruising to the BCS National Championship Game, winning all of its games by two or more touchdowns. In short, Florida State's entire regular season featured less drama than one quarter from any of Auburn's last three games.

RELATED: Auburn, FSU meet in national title game

In a sense, Auburn's road to Pasadena might have been better preparation for the championship game spotlight than FSU's smooth, easy road to 13-0. Being mentally prepared only matters if you have the horses to run with the Seminoles, however. So far, no team in college football can match Florida State's talent, experience, depth, aggressiveness and physicality.

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