The month of October is in the books for college football and the crazy season is about to begin. November has a way of throwing a monkey wrench in everyone’s BCS bowl projections. From the strain of a long season to the challenges college kids have with keeping focus as media spin swirls around them to playing high-quality opposition looking to make a name for itself, November almost never goes as planned. Still, TheSportsNotebook is undeterred in making its BCS bowl projections five weeks from the finish line.
We’ll set the stage with picks for how each conference race will shake out, along with noting which teams I think will automatically qualify for BCS selection based on a high enough national ranking. Finally I note which teams will get picked to fill out the at-large field.
The process of creating the pairings then goes thusly…
The Orange (ACC), Sugar, (SEC), Rose (Pac-12 vs. Big Ten) and Fiesta (Big 12) have spots filled automatically be conference champs. The exception, of course, is if those teams are ranked in the top two and go to the BCS National Championship Game. In that event, the bowls that “lose” teams get the first picks from the remaining field. Then the matchups are filled out with a “draft” order of Fiesta, Sugar, Orange, an order that rotates each year. The Orange is choosing last because it’s the venue that’s hosting the national championship game.
Now that the explanations are done, here’s the predictions, including some projected matchups for notable minor bowl slots.
SEC: Alabama over Georgia
Pac-12: Oregon over USC
ACC: Florida State over Miami
Big Ten: Nebraska over Wisconsin
Big 12: Kansas State
Big East: Rutgers
Automatic Qualifiers: Notre Dame, Florida
At-Larger Selections: Clemson, Oklahoma
Comments: As long as Notre Dame as in the top eight they make it automatically. If Florida gets to #4 they would also be guaranteed a slot. There’s some nuances to that, but realistically, if the Gators—currently at #7—win out, they likely ascend to the level of automatic qualifier.
The wild-card in this scenario is Boise State. Currently ranked 19th, the Broncos would have to get to the top 12 to be an automatic. That’s not likely, but there’s an escape hatch—if they reach the top 16 and finish ahead of a BCS conference champion, then automatic qualification kicks in. Boise currently ranks one spot ahead of Nebraska. I don’t think that will hold, but its possible Wisconsin could pull an upset in the Big Ten title game and pave Boise’s path. Or a possible Big East crackup could enable the Broncos to get in. Keep a close eye on this situation.
Clemson only has one loss and needs help if they’re going to win the ACC. But if they win out—a slate that includes South Carolina—the Tigers would be hard to deny at 11-1. The same goes for Oklahoma if they get to 10-2 with their only losses being Notre Dame and Kansas State. Should either Clemson or OU stumble, the Pac-12 can slip a second team into the mix.
BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Alabama-Notre Dame
Notre Dame is the likeliest of the four unbeaten teams to make it to the finish line, and Alabama will get a heavy benefit of the doubt even if they lose Saturday night at LSU (the Tide could still slip back into the SEC Championship Game). And let’s not kid ourselves—this is the game the networks are dreaming of.
ROSE BOWL: Nebraska-Oregon
I’m not confident of Oregon’s ability to run the table, as they would likely have to beat USC twice and a road trip to Oregon State won’t be a picnic. Nebraska has the inside track in the Big Ten’s Legends Division and would be a solid favorite in the conference title game.
FIESTA BOWL: Kansas State-Clemson
Kansas State’s schedule the rest of the way is tougher than is being let on in the media. Saturday’s home date with Oklahoma State won’t be a picnic, as the Cowboys are improving and have the kind of running game that other K-State opponents don’t have. And a road trip to TCU Is the classic kind of upset spot we see every November. I love the Wildcats and Collin Klein, but I just seem them at 11-1.
SUGAR BOWL: Florida-Oklahoma
At 11-1, the Gators would be logical choice for the Sugar to pick in replacing Alabama. The Sugar always keeps its SEC tie even when they aren’t obligated to, but it would be interesting to see if they stuck to that if Notre Dame is available at 11-1 or even 12-0. New Orleans is also a good venue for the Big 12 runner-up and this game would be a rematch of the 2008 national title game.
ORANGE BOWL: Florida State-Rutgers
Unless Boise State gets in the discussion, you can book the Orange Bowl is being the champs of the ACC and Big East.
OTHER BOWL MATCHUPS
The Big Ten-SEC New Year’s Trifecta
Capital One: LSU-Michigan
Gator: Texas A&M-Michigan State
Comments: Nothing like a January 1 undercard of watching undermatched Big Ten teams play good SEC teams, but that’s what television has decided the country wants. The Capital One and Outback take the teams available right after the BCS is done, in that order. The Gator Bowl only has the sixth-best SEC team, while getting the fourth choice in the Big Ten. My guess is that Michigan State leapfrogged Wisconsin in the pecking order with their overtime win in East Lansing.
Other Conference Runner-Ups
Cotton: Mississippi State-Oklahoma State
Chick-Fil-A: South Carolina-N.C. State
Comments: The Cotton Bowl is the Big 12’s runner-up game, with the Chick-Fil-A and Alamo filling that role with the ACC & Pac-12. The Alamo has great possibilities, since they pick third in the Big 12 the possibility of a rematch of the 2005 national title game—the Vince Young-Reggie Bush battle in one of the greatest college games ever played—is a tantalizing option if the Trojans don’t make the BCS.