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BCS Bowl Projections: Predicting The BCS Bowls Before The Final Weekend

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SBN Pittsburgh untangles the mess that is the BCS in order to predict exactly who will make each of the five BCS bowls.

With one action-packed weekend of college football left before the official start to bowl season, many questions remain, not the least of which is who will fill the ten BCS slots. For the last few weeks, the Auburn Tigers and Oregon Ducks have been on a crash course to the BCS national championship game in Glendale, AZ. Barring an upset to either team this weekend, those two teams are the easy projections. Picking the next 68 teams (yes, 70 teams will be playing in college football bowls this year) will not be as easy.

Since college football is still without a playoff, determining who makes what bowl is based on an extremely confusing and intricate set of rules, some established long ago and some relatively new. There are conference tie-ins, BCS rules, and an absurd list of corporate sponsors. (Some of the more interesting bowl sponsors include Beef o' Bradys, San Diego County Credit Union, and BBVA, a Spanish-based banking group.) Because of this web of rules, we're going to take a look at the 2010-2011 college football bowl season step-by-step, from the top, and in two articles. Try to keep up as we delve into the Inception-esque world of BCS bowl selections.

INTRODUCTION

There are four BCS bowls in addition to the BCS national championship game. If the teams playing in the national championship are the King and Queen, the remaining eight teams represent the Prom Court. These ten teams are supposed to be the ten best in college football. Whether or not that is actually true (HINT: it's not) is a debate for another time, but its the system we have in place. Here are the rules for selecting the ten BCS teams, along with the SBN Pittsburgh 2010-2011 Bowl Projections. Tune into ESPN at 8pm on Sunday, December 5th to see the official bowl selections.

THE BCS RULES

RULE No. 1 - The top two teams in the final BCS standings will play in the national championship game on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, AZ.

As of today, those teams are Auburn and Oregon, in that order (though not by much). Each team has one game remaining, but each is favored by at least five points. Further, even if Auburn were to lose to South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game, there are arguments to be made that the Tigers should still be number two in the country. However, for bowl projection purposes, we will assume both teams win and remain where they are in the standings.

RULE No. 2 - If a team that is contractually obligated to another BCS bowl is chosen to play in the national championship, that bowl will have priority to select a replacement.

Certain BCS bowls have certain conference tie-ins, and both national championship teams affect these tie-ins. Officially, those tie-ins are as follows:

Atlantic Coast Conference - Orange Bowl
Big Ten Conference - Rose Bowl
Big 12 Conference - Fiesta Bowl
Pac-10 Conference - Rose Bowl
Southeastern Conference - Sugar Bowl

When one of those bowls lose a team to the national championship game, they move to the front of the line for picking a replacement. This is where the order of the BCS rankings for the top two teams is important. For our bowl projections, the Sugar Bowl gets first pick because Auburn is the number one team and will be playing in the national championship. The Rose Bowl will get second pick.

RULE No. 3 - Beginning in 2011, and continuing until 2014, the first time that the Rose Bowl loses a team to the national championship game, it will be obligated to choose the highest-ranked, qualifying team from a conference other than the six automatic qualifying conferences, if such a team remains.

This rule will be put to use immediately, and will then be obsolete the following year, as Oregon will be in the national championship game. Also, thanks to Boise State's loss to Nevada, TCU will clearly be the qualifying team this year (only one such team can automatically qualify, although Boise State will still be eligible for an unlikely at-large bid). Unless the Sugar Bowl, with first pick, takes TCU, the Rose Bowl is contractually bound to take TCU as a participant. For the purposes of the bowl projections, we will assume that the Sugar Bowl does NOT pick TCU.

RULE No. 4 - On a rolling basis, the remaining bowls will select their participants from an at-large pool until all ten teams are selected. For the 2010-2011 season, the order is: Sugar, Orange, Fiesta.

RULE No. 5 - Any team ranked third or fourth in the BCS rankings that is in a conference in which a national championship game participant also plays will be automatically qualify for an at large bid.

This rule protects the teams who may be seen as weaker teams in terms of fan travel, but who have a great season and end up right near the top of the BCS standings. This year, barring something crazy in the last weekend, Stanford fits this rule, and must be selected with an at large bid.

RULE No. 5b - The champion of each of the six automatic qualifying schools must be selected. Those conferences are: the SEC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10, ACC, and Big East.

Normally, this rule would not be a factor, as winning your conference most likely indicates a strong college football team. This year, however, the Big East had one of the worst years, statistically, of any of the conferences in the history of the BCS. Only West Virginia is currently ranked in the BCS (No. 24) and the Mountaineers aren't even the Big East leader at this point. Thus, one of the at-large bids must be used on whomever wins the Big East (which will almost certainly be either UConn or WVU).

For the purposes of the bowl projections, we will assume that UConn is upset (even though they are currently underdogs) by South Florida, WVU beats last-place Rutgers, and the Mountaineers take the Big East's automatic bid. Should UConn win, a simple substitution can be made throughout the rest of the article because at least two things are certain with this rule: 1) the Big East's representative will be chosen last, and 2) only one Big East team will be in a BCS bowl.

Thus, as it stands so far through the BCS rules, the BCS schedule looks like this:

National Championship - Auburn (SEC) vs. Oregon (Pac 10)
Rose Bowl - TCU (MWC) vs. Wisconsin (Big 10)
Sugar Bowl - At-Large (Replacement Pick) vs. At-Large (First Pick)
Orange Bowl - ACC Champion vs. At-Large (Second Pick)
Fiesta Bowl - Big 12 Champion vs. At-Large (Third Pick)
Teams that must be chosen: Stanford, West Virginia

RULE No. 6 - This rule is a mix of an official rule and two unofficial rules; the latter two are solely opinion, but based on recent trends, historical analysis, and common sense. No more than two teams from any conference can make the BCS (official). Only one team from the ACC, Big 12, and Big East will be in a BCS bowl (unofficial). BCS bowls remain loyal to their conference tie-ins, even if they don't have to (unofficial).

THE OUTCOME

And so, with all of that in place, the SBN Pittsburgh BCS Bowl Projections:

National Championship - Auburn (SEC) vs. Oregon (Pac 10)
Rose Bowl - TCU (MWC) vs. Wisconsin (Big 10)
Sugar Bowl - Arkansas (SEC) vs. Ohio State (Big 10)
Orange Bowl - Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. Stanford (Pac 10)
Fiesta Bowl - Nebraska (Big 12) vs. West Virginia (Big East)

Obviously, some of these projections are based on the conference championship games this weekend; however, as stated in Rule No. 6, the ACC, Big 12, and Big East teams will change in name only if an upset occurs. The only other change that is questionable is the selection of Stanford over West Virginia by the Orange Bowl. The Big East has had a terrible year, and WVU specifically has fared only moderately better than the conference as a whole. Stanford, however, is a really good team with a really good quarterback and a soon-to-be-NFL-bound head coach. Anyone versus Stanford is a more intriguing matchup, in terms of quality of football and from a viewer's perspective, than one against West Virginia.

Arkansas and Ohio State as the at-large selections are pretty safe bets; the Sugar Bowl likes having SEC teams play down in New Orleans, and Ohio State travels extremely well and is tough to pass up as the sixth-ranked team. There won't be too many teams snubbed this year, either - because of the two-team rule, Michigan State and LSU don't really have complaints with the selections (though they may have complaints with the rankings). Boise State now sits at 11 in the BCS rankings, but they are not an attractive selection for a bowl looking for a large viewing audience.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.