With the season wrapping, we're updating our BCS and non-BCS bowl projections
Aside from the title-game contenders, 12-0 Boise State's causing the biggest stir
With Oregon State's loss, USC's likely headed for its fourth-straight Rose Bowl
With less than a week to go until bowl pairings are officially announced, no team in the country (besides the BCS title-game contenders) has become the subject of more speculation than 12-0 Boise State. Movers and shakers far and wide are going to great lengths to try to find a worthy destination and/or opponent for the nation's ninth-ranked team.
First of all, a BCS at-large berth appears very unlikely. Utah, three spots higher than Boise State, will gain automatic entry, and two of the other three at-large openings will presumably be filled by Saturday's Florida-Alabama loser and a Big 12 team (most likely Texas). The Fiesta Bowl is expected to snare 10-2 Ohio State for the fourth spot.
Boise could get stuck playing on its home field in the Humanitarian Bowl if its organizers demand it. Its opponent would be the eighth choice from the ACC (possibly 7-5 Maryland). However, the WAC has a surplus of eligible teams to fill that spot, and deals have been struck in the past to send the Broncos elsewhere. The most likely scenario would send Chris Petersen's team to San Diego's Poinsettia Bowl (which will not be able to fill its Pac-10 slot) to face No. 11 TCU.
Another intriguing possibility league and conference officials are discussing would be to invite 12-0 Ball State to Boise (assuming the 12th-ranked Cardinals win Friday's MAC title game against Buffalo), setting up a clash of undefeated teams. However, the Cardinals -- which would otherwise play in the Motor City Bowl -- are reticent to play a de facto road game against a top-10 team. (Perhaps they'll rethink their position when they see they're slated to face 6-6 N.C. State.)
There's also the possibility of staging the BSU vs. BSU game in Detroit, provided Ohio State goes to the BCS, thereby leaving the Motor City Bowl without a seventh Big Ten team. Given the choice, however, one would think Boise will opt for San Diego, both because of the preferable location and because 10-2 TCU is ranked higher than Ball State.
So that's the scenario I'm sticking with for now, but stay tuned. There's sure to be plenty of wheeling and dealing in the days ahead.
Some other storylines to keep an eye on:
While the winner of Saturday's ACC title game between Virginia Tech and Boston College will head to the Orange Bowl, the loser could slip all the way to the Music City Bowl. Why? The Chick-fil-A Bowl, which has first choice of ACC teams after the BCS, has to be eyeing hometown Georgia Tech (9-3) following its upset of Georgia; the Gator Bowl will snatch up 8-4 Florida State to face 8-4 Nebraska; and the Champs Sports Bowl is eyeing rejuvenated Clemson, even at 7-5.
Due to the SEC's unexpected rash of mediocrity, a 7-5 league team -- either South Carolina or LSU -- will be playing on New Year's Day. With 9-3 Georgia likely headed to the Capital One Bowl and 8-4 Ole Miss to the Cotton Bowl, the Outback Bowl will be left to choose between the Gamecocks and Tigers. The Tampa game has taken an East Division team 11-straight years.
When the inaugural EagleBank Bowl opted to sign up for the ACC's ninth team this summer, it did so knowing that the league had never previously produced a ninth eligible team. With N.C. State's win over Miami last weekend, however, the Wolfpack became the ACC's 10th eligible team this season. Because they're the only 6-6 team in the bunch, they'll likely be left to fill an at-large spot elsewhere (like the Motor City Bowl.)
Here's the ripple effect from Oregon's Civil War upset of Oregon State. Besides costing the Pac-10 a second BCS berth, it all but assures USC will go to the Rose Bowl for a fourth-straight year, the Ducks to the Holiday Bowl and the Beavers to the Sun Bowl. Theoretically, 7-4 Cal would then go to the Las Vegas Bowl, which has fourth choice, but the Emerald Bowl is lobbying to host a Bay Area team, and Vegas wouldn't mind hosting Arizona's first bowl trip in 10 years.
That said, the Hawaii Bowl, the Pac-10's No. 6 bowl, will be rooting like heck for 5-6 Arizona State to knock off the 6-5 Wildcats this weekend to become bowl-eligible. Otherwise, the game will be stuck with a 6-6 MAC or Sun Belt team. (I'm giving them Northern Illinois.)
Finally, I'm sticking with the Texas Bowl as 6-6 Notre Dame's destination. There, the Irish will likely face hometown Rice (9-3). Other bowls with possible openings that could court the Irish: Motor City, Independence and Poinsettia.
Here are a couple of other items to keep in mind when perusing this chart:
Bowls are not obligated to choose their teams in exact order of conference standings. For instance, "ACC No. 3" means "third choice of ACC teams" -- not "the ACC's third-place team."
Finally, a bowl can only select a 6-6 team from a conference if no 7-5 team from that league is still available. Similarly, bowls seeking an "at-large" team to replace a conference that did not produce enough eligible teams cannot choose a 6-6 team if there is a 7-5 team available.
Editor's note: This chart will be updated throughout the week to reflect official bowl announcements.