It's that time again. Time to start projecting who's going where in the BCS bowl games and the big New Year's Day games for the Big Ten. In another week or two, the projections will include every bowl game on the Big Ten card.
The selections rules are thus: The six BCS conferences all get automatics, and there are four at-large bids. Of course the top two teams in the final BCS rankings go to the national championship game and the other eight fill up the remaining quartet. One important note to remember as you track this throughout the coming weeks is that no conference can get more then one at-large bid. So if you see several teams in the SEC or Big 12 ranked high, remember that only the league champion and one other team can be chosen.
Each conference has its "natural" bowl game, where its champion goes if it doesn't play for the national title. The Big Ten obviously goes to the Rose, along with the Pac-10. The Big 12 goes FIesta, while the SEC is tied to the Sugar. The ACC has the Orange Bowl, while the Big East champ is a free agent.
Once these automatic spots are filled, the selection process begins. The first two picks are replacement choices for the bowls that lost teams to the national title game. Whomever lost the #1 team picks first, and the bowl who lost #2 then fills its vacancy. After that, the selection order rotates annually. This year, the order goes 1)Fiesta, 2)Sugar, 3)Orange.
And one final point to remember is that in the superconferences, the teams that lose conference championship games are at a pronounced disadvantage in the race for at-larges. Historically, bowls have shied away from picking teams coming off a recent loss whose fan base has just traveled. Last year illustrated this rule clearly when Kansas was chosen over Missouri and Georgia was picked ahead of Tennessee, in both cases the actual at-large pick finishing behind their rival in the divisional standings.
So without further adieu, here's the current projection:
BCS National Championship Game: Texas vs. Florida. Until something happens to shake up the applecart, I'm just presuming the Big 12 plays the SEC. And I think the Gators are much better then Georgia or Alabama, who stand in their way.
Fiesta: Penn State vs. Oklahoma. The Fiesta gets the first pick to replace Texas and jumps on Joe Pa. The chance to pair them up with OU, a program that has beaten Paterno twice in bowl games, but been embarrassed the last two years in Tempe is too good to pass up.
Sugar: Georgia vs. South Florida. The Dogs benefit from not making the conference title game and edge out Alabama for the nod to New Orleans. The Big East race is crazy, so I'm just sticking with my preseason call of the Bulls until proven otherwise.
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Boise State. The ACC has no one consistent, but the Hokies have beaten division rivals North Carolina and Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels blew their chance last week when the lost to Virginia. And 2006's great Cinderella story is back for more with another undefeated year in the works.
Rose: Ohio State vs. USC. This would be a rich matchup. Would Terrel Prior and a healthy Chris Wells be enough to turn around the Buckeye's September shellacking? One thing's for sure--between this game and the PSU-OU game above, the Big Ten would have plenty of redemption opportunity under this scenario.
Capital One: Michigan State vs. Alabama. The Spartans, in spite of last week's wipeout by OSU, have seized command of the New Year's race in the Big Ten. The collapse of Wisconsin and Michigan has removed the biggest threats to them, as now they are vying with Northwestern and Minnesota. Not only is MSU better then both rivals on the field, but they are a better TV draw and traveling program off of it.
Outback: Minnesota vs. LSU. Unbelievable that I'm typing the Gophers in this spot, but their own improvement combined with a soft schedule make it the likeliest scenario right now. Even more unbelievable is that their game with Northwestern is probably winner-take-all for this January 1 date.
Fun Scenario: These projections are often limited in what one can speculate on, because if one thread is pulled from the sweater the whole thing unravels. So let's just take one alternate scenario at a time. Let's say USC edges out Florida for the spot opposite Texas in the title game, with everything else holding the same. The Sugar Bowl might very well choose to opt for Boise State. Why would they choose them over nearby South Florida? Don't forget the other ending to 2006. While the Gators were national champs, Boise was the nation's only unbeaten, and this game could be easily marketed as their chance to prove it one more time. BSU's main attraction to a bowl is building off their miracle win over OU and having them play Florida is the best way to do that.