No. 8 Penn State vs. No. 9 Boise State: This is an enticing matchup between one of the most tradition-rich programs in college football and a mid-major powerhouse that has come into its own during the BCS era. The game pits the winningest coach in college football history (Joe Paterno) against an up-and-coming head man (Chris Petersen) who has won 35 games in just three seasons.
The Nittany Lions are the more experienced team. Penn State is chock-full of battle-tested upperclassmen. It's very hard to imagine Penn State contending for a national title once again next season without this solid senior core. Boise State is the exact opposite; the Broncos two-deep is littered with underclassmen, the most prominent being redshirt freshman quarterback Kellen Moore, who ranks 10th nationally in passing efficiency.
So, which team will prevail in a battle of old versus new?
No. 7 Texas Tech vs. No. 10 Ohio State: The Big 12 South has been the epicenter of college football this season. With its high-flying offenses, this division has garnered national attention on a weekly basis. But many folks question whether the Big 12's gaudy offensive numbers are just a byproduct of horrible defense. And that is the biggest subplot in this first-round showdown.
Mike Leach's bunch has had little trouble putting up points in 2008, averaging 44.6 per game (fourth nationally). Featuring one of the nation's most devastating pitch-and-catch combinations (QB Graham Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree), the Red Raiders scored at least 35 points in every game but one (a 65-21 drubbing at Oklahoma -- their lone loss). But Tech has yet to face a defense with the talent of Ohio State's unit. Led by highly decorated LB James Laurinaitis and shutdown CB Malcolm Jenkins, the Buckeyes have allowed the seventh-fewest points in the nation (13.1 per game). The Buckeyes also rank sixth in pass defense. That being said, Ohio State hasn't faced an aerial assault anywhere near as explosive as Texas Tech's.
Will this game reveal the Big 12's flawed approach (no defense) or further prove the Big Ten's ineptitude in 2008?
No. 5 USC vs. No. 12 Virginia Tech: True to form, this 5-12 game features the biggest mismatch of Round 1: USC's defense vs. Virginia Tech's offense. The Trojans' D, which boasts five first-team All-Pac-10 players, is widely considered as one of the most dominant units in recent history. In 12 regular-season games, the Trojans yielded just 11 touchdowns, holding eight opponents to seven points or less. On the flip side, Virginia Tech's offense was one of the worst in the country, gaining just 296.15 total yards per game (107th nationally). Hokies QB Tyrod Taylor is dangerous with his feet, but the sophomore still has a ways to go in the passing game (as evidenced by his two TD passes and six interceptions in nine starts).
The strength of this Virginia Tech team is Bud Foster's defense. Although Foster had to replace seven starters from last year's squad, the Hokies finished the regular season with the nation's No. 7 defense. The unit lacks the star power of the USC unit, but this Macho Harris-led group should challenge the Trojans' horribly inconsistent offense.
At the end of the day though, the Trojans enter this matchup as a huge favorite. With the underwhelming nature of Virginia Tech's offense, USC really doesn't need to score many points to take this game.
No. 6 Utah vs. No. 11 Cincinnati: The original BCS buster is back! Four years after Urban Meyer guided Utah to a 12-0 season, the Utes have run the regular-season table again. Kyle Whittingham's '08 team is far different than Meyers' group. The 2005 team was defined by QB Alex Smith and a high-scoring offense. This year's installment is more balanced on both sides of the ball. One thing remains the same, though, as the '08 Utes boast another fabulous signal-caller in senior Brian Johnson. Johnson could have his hands full with Cincinnati's defense.
The Bearcats possess one of the most imposing defense lines around. Paced by DT Terrill Byrd and DE Connor Barwin -- two of Cincy's four first-team All-Big East defenders -- this team gets after quarterbacks. (Cincinnati ranked fifth nationally with 37 sacks.) Offensively, Brian Kelly likes to air it out. Cincy QB Tony Pike, who was thrust into the starting role after a Week 2 injury to Dustin Grutza, has performed admirably throughout the season.
The Utes hold a 6-0 record against the Big East, including the 35-7 shellacking of Pitt in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. Will this success carry over into the Ultimate Playoff?
Click here to see which team emerged victorious in the EA Sports playoff simulation.