Bowl Projections: Championship Saturday leaves little unanswered
I can't recall a final weekend of the season where the expected BCS bowl lineup changed so radically.
It started Friday night with Bowling Green's upset of Northern Illinois, which opened up an extra at-large spot for a power-conference school in the Sugar Bowl. Then on Saturday, Oklahoma upset Oklahoma State, opening the door for Baylor to win an outright Big 12 championship and trip to the Fiesta Bowl. And then of course Auburn beat Missouri and Michigan State upset Ohio State, lifting the SEC champ to yet-another BCS title game and most likely sending the Buckeyes to the Orange Bowl to face ACC replacement Clemson.
Heading into Saturday the Orange Bowl was looking forward to hosting Alabama, but the Tide will instead head to the Sugar Bowl to replace Auburn. So the one big mystery Sunday night will be who the New Orleans game picks as the Tide's opponent. The obvious national draw would be Alabama-Oregon, a matchup many have been pining for the past two seasons. But the Sugar Bowl cares more about ticket sales than TV ratings, has never hosted a former Pac-10 team and has a contractual partnership with the Big 12 starting next year. For those reasons I'm predicting the Sugar Bowl takes 10-2 Oklahoma over 10-2 Oregon.
A few other notes heading into Sunday.
• The Capital One, Cotton, Outback and Chick-fil-A's SEC picks are no given, but the Capital One is more likely to take 10-2 South Carolina than 11-2 Missouri, and the Tigers can't fall below the Cotton Bowl. If both those picks happen, LSU will go to the Outback Bowl.
• It's a coin flip whether the Chick-fil-A Bowl takes 10-3 Duke or 9-3 Miami to meet likely SEC choice Texas A&M.
• Northern Illinois' expected landing spot after falling out of the BCS is the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.
The Mountain West lineup after Fresno State (which accepted a bid to the Las Vegas Bowl) is completely in flux, in part because of the uncertainty surrounding Boise State. There were rumblings late Saturday about ESPN Regional (which owns nine bowl games and can thus swap teams among them) working out a deal to send Boise to the Hawaii Bowl to face a surplus Pac-12 opponent.
A quick refresher on how all this works:
• After the No. 1 and 2 teams are slotted and replaced, the BCS at-large selection order this year is: 1) Orange, 2) Sugar and 3) Fiesta, 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 good old backroom politicking.
Teams in bold have accepted a bid.
* -- Replacement team for a conference without an eligible team