Bowl Projections: SEC uncertainty clouding postseason picture
The cluster of SEC teams in the top 10 makes projecting bowl slots a challenge
With 71 schools already eligible, no 5-7 teams will make bowl games this season
Georgia Tech hopes to get a bowl waiver if it falls to 6-7 after the ACC title game
Now that the SEC has all but locked up both a national championship berth (for the Alabama-Georgia winner) and a BCS at-large berth (for Florida), fans of that conference's four other top 10 teams are wondering where their schools will land. The cop-out answer: Orlando, Tampa, Arlington, Atlanta or Jacksonville. It's that unclear.
My projections are based on the Capital One (Georgia) and Outback (South Carolina) bowls' historical tendencies to lean toward East Division teams. The Cotton has first choice after the Capital One and will almost certainly lock up West team Texas A&M -- unless the Orlando game gets Johnny Football Fever. In my scenario LSU slips to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but the Tigers could well go to the Cotton or Outback. There's also the possibility that South Carolina could slip to the Gator Bowl, since the Chick-fil-A is obligated to take Clemson from the ACC.
The good news is, I'm far more confident in my projected pecking order for the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West and Pac-12.
After a false alarm last week, there are officially 71 eligible teams for 70 spots (and Pittsburgh and Connecticut can still join the list), so no 5-7 teams will make bowls after all. Georgia Tech, like UCLA last year, has applied for an NCAA waiver should it lose to Florida State in Saturday's ACC title game to finish 6-7. As of this writing, that had not yet been granted. If the Jackets are eligible, they can fall no farther than the Sun Bowl in the ACC's lineup.
Finally, most of the bowls with open spots remain a guessing game. Do not buy plane tickets based on these projections if you're a fan of Ohio, San Jose State or Louisiana Tech. But more bowl invites will likely go out this week, at which point other pieces may fall into place.
As always, remember:
After the No. 1 and 2 teams are slotted and replaced, the BCS at-large selection order this year is 1) Fiesta, 2) Sugar and 3) Orange. The highest-ranked champion from a non-automatic qualifier is guaranteed a BCS berth if it finishes in the top 12 or in the top 16 and ahead of an AQ-conference champion.
Most bowls are not obligated -- I repeat, NOT OBLIGATED -- to choose in exact order of conference standings. For instance, "Big 12 No. 3" means "third selection of Big 12 teams," not "the Big 12's third-place team." Bowls often pick a team with an inferior record due to geography, anticipated fan travel, the need to avoid a regular-season rematch, or just plain politics.
Teams in bold have accepted a bid.
* -- Replacement team for a conference without an eligible team.