I started this post a few weeks ago, and then the big weekend of upsets happened and I didn't get back to it. Since tomorrow night I'll be hitting the bottle pretty hard (Ticknor's bachelor party), I figure tonight is a good excuse to do some blogging about the upcoming (and final) announcement of BCS qualifying schools.
Basic rules are that no more than 2 teams from a single conference can be selected to the 5 BCS Bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, BCS Title) unless the #1 and #2 teams in the final BCS rankings are from the same conference, and by some miracle, neither is the conference champion.
[Scenario for that last bit: If Arkansas beat LSU tonight (say 13-10) and the new rankings reflected Arkansas #1, LSU as #2, and Bama as #3. Then Arkansas then loses to Georgia in the SEC title game. 3 SEC schools in BCS bowls (Georgia for the automatic bid, and LSU & Bama in a rematch for the Championship).]
The SEC champion is tied to the Sugar Bowl; the Big Ten and Pac-12 to the Rose Bowl; the Big 12 to the Fiesta Bowl; the ACC to the Orange Bowl. The Big East champion is guaranteed a BCS bowl entry through 2013 but is not tied to a specific bowl.
Finally, assuming that the #1 and #2 ranked schools in the final BCS rankings represent 2 conference champions (as in 2010 with Auburn and Oregon), their corresponding tie-in bowl games receive 1st and 2nd choice of remaining automatic qualifiers and at-large teams, respectively. They cannot "steal" schools based on the previous qualifications above.
If Notre Dame finishes in the top 8 of the BCS, the Irish get an automatic bid. A top 12 finish gives them a chance at one of the at-large spots, but they have only cracked the BCS three times since its inception in 1998. Any other school from a non-major conference can crack the BCS with a few other stipulations. Boise State is the best explanation by example.
Enough talk, more NUMBERS!
BCS National Championship (1/9/12)
BCS #1 - LSU
BCS #2 - Alabama
How: The gap between Alabama and Oklahoma State (currently #4 in the BCS) is "large". With no Big XII Conference Championship game, there's little/no chance for the Cowboys to jump the Crimson Tide unless Auburn pulls off a huge upset in the Iron Bowl. Or if Georgia pulls off an even more unlikely (and sizable) upset in the SEC Championship.
Orange Bowl (1/4/12)
ACC Champ - Virginia Tech
3rd At-Large - Rutgers (Big East Champ)
How: Va Tech has a legitimate rivalry with Virginia, but the Hokies are just better and the Cavaliers haven't played many tough games. The Hokies are also playing much better football than Clemson right now who has looked pretty soft lately. Meanwhile, Rutgers should clinch a share of the Big East Championship Saturday with a win over Connecticut. There are a bunch of other teams that can also share with 2 conference losses, and honestly, I'm not sure how the tiebreaker works. That's why the Big East falls to the final at-large spot in my mind. Just go with it.
Sugar Bowl (1/3/12)
SEC Replacement - Stanford
2nd At-Large - Houston
How: If you're the Sugar Bowl and have to pick the SEC replacement, you want a school that will send lots of fans. Without a conference championship game to spoil their ranking any further, the Cardinal should finish about 4th in the BCS rankings (assuming they beat Notre Dame). The only "available" teams that will finish high enough are Houston and Boise State. Neither of them would be expected to travel as well as Stanford, though Houston is very nearby. But not to fear, the Sugar Bowl will count on Boise State being selected for another Fiesta Bowl and get the undefeated Houston Cougars anyway. This should provide an exciting QB matchup with Heisman hopeful Andrew Luck for Stanford and record-setting QB for Houston, Case Keenum, passing all over the field. Kansas State and Michigan could possibly spoil the Cougar's party if they both win their season finales.
Fiesta Bowl (1/2/12)
Big XII Champ - Oklahoma State
1st At-Large - Boise State
How: A few weeks ago, I thought for sure Oklahoma would ruin Oklahoma State's shot at a National Championship. Turns out, the Cowboys ruined it for themselves, and the Sooners failed to capitalize as well. But now I think the Cowboys will use the home field advantage and stellar Justin Blackmon to outscore Oklahoma and claim the Big XII BCS berth. With first choice of at-large teams this year, the Fiesta Bowl has gone to Boise in the past and will like the prospect of another dogfight like the famous 2007 match between the Broncos and Oklahoma Sooners. Of course, the Tostitos committee could opt for undefeated Houston Cougars, and Boise could be left out altogether.
Rose Bowl (1/2/12)
Pac-12 Champ - Oregon
B1G Ten Champ - Wisconsin
How: After Oregon beat Stanford two weeks ago, I thought the Ducks might land in the Championship. Instead, USC proved that even with a dark cloud hanging over them, the Trojans are still one of the better teams in college football, and Oregon needs a better kicker. Alas, there will be no rematch as USC cannot play for a Conference Championship or a bowl game. That honor looked to be a lock for Arizona State after starting 3-0 and then 4-1 in conference games. Instead, the Sun Devils dropped 3 straight conference games, including a road game to UCLA who will now represent the Pac-12 South. Oregon has not played the Bruins yet this year, but I don't expect that upset to play out. I also don't expect Oregon State to give them much trouble tonight. Lucky Ducks. Wisconsin is not a lock as there are actually 3 teams that can still claim the B1G Ten. But the Badgers have only 2 losses, both basically by Hail Mary passes. In all likelihood, Wisconsin will whip Penn State on Saturday and then exact revenge on Michigan State in Indianapolis next week. That will send coach Bret Bielema and Heisman contenders Montee Ball and newcomer Russell Wilson to the Rose Bowl for a little redemption of their own after last year's underwhelming performance against TCU.
If you don't agree with these picks, I'd love to hear why. Comment on the post, but do it fast, since tomorrow is another big day of college football, and a single upset here or there (which have happened plenty of times this year) can change the picture completely.