BCS Bowl Projections: Oklahoma Plays Its Way In

The BCS bowl picture seems to have fallen into place, and not just at the top level, where wins by Notre Dame and Georgia sealed off any of the chaos prospects we talked about in this space last week. Not only the teams, but the matchups themselves look pretty clean and straightforward, as Oklahoma likely played its way into the final at-large spot when they beat Oklahoma State and Clemson fell at home to South Carolina.

To say Oklahoma was forced into a wide-open passing display against their in-state rival would be to grossly understate the case. Landry Jones threw 71 passes in a game the Sooners trailed most of the way, before finally winning in overtime. Jones piled up 500 yards in the air and in the end this is exactly the kind of game he’s suited for. The OU quarterback can win a shootout that comes down to piling up Fantasy numbers. He’s been less adept at making plays in tough, physical games like Kansas State and Notre Dame, the two teams that came into Norman and won this year. Perhaps that’s damning the Sooner signal-caller with faint praise, but Jones is who he is, for better or for worse. He’s a machine with the numbers and he ended up in a game where that was exactly what was required.

Still, Oklahoma was probably on the outside looking in when their game ended and Clemson-South Carolina started up in prime-time. The Tigers had their sights on the final at-large bid and a win to get them to 11-1 would have all but sealed it. But Clemson could not stop South Carolina through the air, as Dylan Thompson threw for 306 yards and the Gamecocks picked up a 27-17 road win.

The South Carolina victory was part of a clean four-game sweep of the SEC over the ACC in their traditional Thanksgiving Saturday intersectional rivalries and the way the games were won should eliminate any doubt  about whether the acknowledged gap between these two leagues should just be applied across the board, regardless of matchup.

Florida State was the one ACC team presumed to be able to compete with SEC teams and they lost at home to Florida 37-26 because the Gators simply whipped them up front. Mike Gillislee ran for 140 yards, the team overall ran for 244 and FSU could generate nothing on the ground offensively. Forced to the air, Seminole quarterback E.J. Manuel threw three interceptions. This game goes on top of last year’s FSU home loss to Oklahoma as clear demonstration that being the best in the ACC means nothing against top teams from the true power leagues.

Georgia and Vanderbilt’s wins weren’t surprising, nor even that they came decisively, but even given that, the scope of the Bulldogs and Commodores’ blowouts of Georgia Tech and Wake Forest were eye-catching. The Dawgs did everything right in a 42-10 win that clearly could have been worse. And Vandy coasted past a Wake Forest team 55-21 in spite of the fact the Demon Deacons were playing for bowl eligibility while the Commodores were playing for nothing.

Furthermore, both South Carolina and Florida won their games in spite of committing 12 penalties apiece. Here we have teams playing on the road against reputable ACC competition, shooting themselves in the foot and still winning by double-digit margins. The ACC, along with the Big Ten and Big East just needs to take a break from considering itself into the national title discussion. I’m no fan of the SEC, and I think the league often gets overrated. But that’s in comparison to the Pac-12 & Big 12. These three conferences in effect combine to form a superleague that rules over college football right now.

Florida’s win ended any intrigue over who the second SEC team would be in one of the major bowl slots. The Gators are ranked 4th and that means automatic qualification and I can think of no reason why they should slip next week, given Oregon is #5 and also done for the regular season. This mean Texas A&M is out of luck for a BCS bowl in spite of its win over Alabama, potentially having the Heisman winner in Johnny Manziel and being kind of a trendy team in public opinion right now. As well as a scorching hot one on the field.

Oregon isn’t guaranteed an at-large bid per se, but they’ll surely get one after ending the season by blasting Oregon State and getting to 11-1. Notre Dame also falls into the at-large category and that leaves just one spot left. With the SEC & Pac-12 having their at-large quota filled (the BCS can only take one at-large team per conference) and Notre Dame off the board, that leaves the Big 12 and right now that means Oklahoma.

There’s still some possibility for chaos. Oklahoma plays TCU, a team that just knocked off Texas on Thanksgiving night because their run defense whipped the Longhorns up front. If TCU pulls another upset, we can have another round of debate about whether OU or Clemson gets the final spot. And we can’t rule Oklahoma out of winning the Big 12 outright—if Texas beats Kansas State on Saturday night, the door opens for the Sooners to claim the conference’s Fiesta Bowl bid. And a Kansas State team on a two-game losing streak would not be an attractive alternative. A big issue in this case whether Texas—currently 8-3 and ranked 18th in the BCS would rise the four spots necessary to become eligible. My guess is that the Longhorns would, and in which case be chosen for a big bowl, but if they came up short, the door again re-opens for Clemson who is sitting right on #14, the borderline of eligibility.

So on a week where we look ahead to conference championship games and the conclusion of the Big 12 & Big East regular seasons we have a little bit of clarity on the matchups…at least for the moment. Here’s the current BCS bowl projections. In games like Georgia-Alabama where it’s a “play-in” situation, I’m not taking a stand on who will win—not because I’m a weasel, but because I’ll save that for the game previews TheSportsNotebook will run later this week.

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Notre Dame vs. Alabama/Georgia
Fiesta: Kansas State vs. Oregon
Sugar: Florida vs. Oklahoma
Orange: Florida State vs. Rutgers/Louisville
Rose: UCLA-Stanford vs. Wisconsin/Nebraska

If you want to allow for upsets—and hey, that’s the fun of this—there’s still not much room for movement. Just pencil Big 12 #1 into the Fiesta spot opposite Oregon and realistically pencil Big 12 #2 into the Sugar Bowl against Florida, with a slight possibility for Clemson to also grab that spot. Otherwise, the matchups hold firm.