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Breaking Down the BCS
by Mike Maloney (NCAA Football)
Posted on November 5, 2009, 8:26 PM

As November is upon us, the world of college football starts to take shape. Teams have now played a handful of conference games, and we start to get an idea of who will be playing in January, who will be playing in December, and who will be staying home.

What I would like to do over the next month is take a look at the postseason landscape in the college football world, with some emphasis on the BCS bowls and the possible matchups we may be seeing come January.

BCS Top 10 - Week 10 (Next opponent listed in parentheses)
1. Florida 8-0 (vs. Vanderbilt)
2. Texas 8-0 (vs. Central Florida)
3. Alabama 8-0 (vs. #9 LSU)
4. Iowa 9-0 (vs. Northwestern)
5. Cincinnati 8-0 (vs. Connecticut)
6. TCU 8-0 (@ San Diego State)
7. Boise State 8-0 (@ Louisiana Tech)
8. Oregon 7-1 (@ Stanford)
9. LSU 7-1 (@ #3 Alabama)
10. Georgia Tech 8-1 (vs. Wake Forest)

Other notable BCS Top 25 Matchups: #11 Penn State vs. #16 Ohio State

ACC - Georgia Tech is in the drivers seat in the ACC-Coastal, with Clemson (5-3) holding top position in the ACC-Atlantic. Both have winnable schedules the rest of the way, which would result in a rematch from week 2 that saw Georgia Tech edge out Clemson 30-27 at home. This is a tough year for the ACC, which had fairly good results out of conference; unfortunately no team has really taken control during conference play, and as a result 10 of the 12 teams in the conference currently have 3 or more losses. Regardless of which team ends up winning the ACC, the conference has no national title aspirations, and at this point an at large BCS berth for a second ACC team is looking like a very remote possibility. Look for the ACC champ to take its place in the Orange Bowl on January 5th, and the other teams will fill out the conferences other bowl obligations (Chick-fil-A, Gator, Champs Sports, Emerald, Meineke, Music City, EagleBank, GMAC). The conference is far too jumbled right now to predict who will play where, but as of right now none of the 12 teams are bowl ineligible, so it's still possible for the conference to fill its 9 slots.

Big XII - With Alabama on a bye week last weekend, Texas overtook them as the #2 team in the country, and controls its own destiny for a spot in the BCS National Championship game. With a relatively light schedule before the Big XII title game (vs. UCF, @ Baylor, vs. Kansas, @ Texas A&M), it would take a considerable upset for Texas to not finish in the BCS Top 2 at the end of the season. However, after Texas the conference drops off, with #19 Oklahoma State the only other team with less than 3 losses. This is another conference that will struggle to get an at large team into the BCS, with Oklahoma State the only team with small chance at making it (Although even then a number of things would have to happen for it to even be a possibility). The Big XII North is currently headed up by Kansas State (5-4, 3-2) and Nebraska (5-3, 2-2), with the two teams possibly headed for a winner-take-all showdown in the final game before the Big XII Championship. Right now there are 10 teams in the conference with at least 5 wins, so the conference is likely to fill its bowl slots (Cotton, Holiday, Alamo, Sun, Insight, Independence, Texas).

Big East - Despite Cincinnati's Top 5 BCS ranking, this conference is still very much up for grabs, with none of the top 3 teams (Cincy, Pittsburgh, West Virginia) having played each other yet. All three teams can still earn a trip to a BCS bowl by winning the remainder of their games. Right now Cincinnati is the conference's only shot at a chance in the National Championship game, although right now they are on the outside looking in at #5, and would likely need to see some upsets above them to get a shot at the title. Part of the problem with the top 3 teams not yet having faced each other is that it makes it more difficult for the Big East to send a second team to the BCS as an at large bid. If Cincinnati wins out, #13 Pittsburgh may fall far enough off the radar that they will not be eligible for an at large bid. West Virginia has no shot with 2 losses, it's either Big East title or bust for them. Cincinnati is really the only possible at large team of the bunch, should Pitt or WVU beat them and they finish with 1 loss, they could stay within the Top 14 at the end of the season and remain eligible for an at large spot. Other teams in the conference with 6 wins are South Florida and Rutgers, both probably headed to bowl games. The other three, UConn, Louisville, and Syracuse, will have a tougher time getting to six wins and finding a bowl to play in.

Big Ten - Iowa has defied the odds thus far and remained undefeated at 9-0 and a #4 spot in the BCS rankings, thanks to wins over Arizona, Penn State, and Wisconsin. They have one more hurdle between them and a conference championship in the form of #16 Ohio State next weekend. However, like Cincinnati, they too are currently on the outside looking in for a shot at the national title. It will be difficult for them to jump into the title mix without an unexpected loss from above. Despite an unblemished mark in conference play, Ohio State and Penn State both have a chance to claim a conference title as well. At the very least, expect two of these three teams to end up playing in BCS bowls. With a key matchup this weekend in Ohio State/Penn State, the winner moves into prime position for an at large bid, if not a shot at the Big Ten title. Other expected bowl eligible teams in the Big Ten will be Wisconsin and Minnesota, with Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, and Indiana also trying to reach 6 wins.

Pac 10 - After Oregon's crushing win over USC last weekend, they are now in the drivers seat for the conference title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. At #8 and with 1 loss, Oregon has virtually no shot at reaching the title game, so their fate is most directly tied to a game in a couple weeks against #18 Arizona (5-2, 3-1), with the winner most likely earning a shot to play in Pasadena. Depending on how things play out, the Pac-10 could earn an at large bid to a BCS game. The two most likely possibilities would be Oregon, should they lose to Arizona, or USC, should they win out. USC is currently #12, and would remain eligible for a bid if they were to finish at 10-2. Arizona would probably drop too far with a loss to Oregon to be considered after that, so they either need to focus on the conference title, or nothing. Along with those teams, Cal is bowl eligible, with Oregon State and Stanford attempting to become eligible as well.

SEC - Of all the conferences, the SEC has the most going for it at the moment. Two teams in the Top 3 of the BCS standings (Florida, Alabama), all but assured two teams in the BCS this year, as well as one team in the National Championship barring some sort of catastrophe. Florida and Alabama are currently on a collision course for the SEC Championship game, with the winner heading onto the National Championship, and the loser heading to the Sugar Bowl to take on an at large team. The big x-factor that can throw a wrench into this whole mess is #9 LSU. With a huge game looming against Alabama this weekend, a win by LSU would give them a shot in the SEC Championship game, and a win in that against likely Florida team could result in a spot in the National Championship game, depending on how the polls react. After those three, South Carolina and Auburn are bowl eligible, and after that there is a huge logjam among Ole Miss, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia to try and get to 6 wins and postseason play.

The Rest - First up you've got Notre Dame, sitting at 6-2 and #22 in the BCS standings. Notre Dame will most likely have to win out (and convincingly) to have any kind of shot at a BCS game (vs. Navy, @ #13 Pitt, vs. UConn, @ Stanford). Then you have #6 TCU, who appears to be the favorite to lock up a BCS spot if they win their final 4 games (@ SDSU, vs. Utah, @ Wyoming, vs. New Mexico). After TCU is #7 Boise State, the other non-BCS team trying to find its way into a BCS bowl. If TCU finishes the season undefeated as well, and ranked ahead of Boise, BSU will have to hope for an at-large bid. Other non-BCS teams include Utah and Houston, however both of those teams would need considerable help from TCU and BSU to be in contention for a BCS bowl.

BCS Projected Matchups

Let's take a quick look at how the BCS is shaping up as of this week. A few rules regarding BCS selection to keep in mind:

-#1 and #2 in the final BCS rankings play for the National Championship, no exceptions.
-BCS Bowls have the following conference champion affiliations:
Rose (Pac 10 vs. Big 10)
Sugar (SEC)
Fiesta (Big XII)
Orange (ACC)
-If a BCS bowl loses its champion to the National Championship game, they are allowed to select a replacement (The bowl that loses the #1 team selects first, the bowl that loses the #2 team selects second)
-A non-BCS team can auto-qualify for a BCS spot by finishing in the Top 14 of the BCS rankings
-Any teams that are ranked in the Top 14 but do not auto-qualify can be selected as an "at large" team
-Notre Dame can auto-qualify for a BCS spot by finishing in the Top 8
-Remaining bowl selections are made in order of the bowl closest to the National Championship game to the game furthest (by date). This year, that means the selection order is: Orange (Jan. 5), Fiesta (Jan. 4), Sugar (Jan. 1)
-No more than 2 teams from the same conference may play in a BCS bowl game

Okay, so based on what we know as of right now, Texas is the most likely team to end up in the National Championship game. They will most likely face the winner of Florida/Alabama, who are headed towards a game against each other in the SEC Championship. So, let's say that our National Championship will look like this:

Texas vs. Winner of Alabama/Florida

That means the Sugar Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl will be without host teams, so they will select replacement teams first. Let's assume that the SEC team had the #1 BCS ranking, and therefore gets to select first. They will select the loser of the Alabama/Florida game, to maintain the SEC status quo for their bowl. The Fiesta Bowl, however, will probably not have a second Big XII team to fall back on, so they will have to look elsewhere among the other eligible teams. As of right now, the list of teams would look like this (List of eligible teams will change as the season goes on):

Cincinnati (Big East)
TCU (AQ)
Boise State
Penn State
USC
Pittsburgh
Utah

Out of all these teams, I think Penn State shows the most promise; the Big Ten is known for traveling well, and has a good following. USC makes the most sense location-wise, but there may not be as much interest from the school to play in a non-Rose Bowl game, which could hurt their reputation among the BCS bowls. So, with our replacements selected, we will now fill out the remaining open slots. First up is the Orange Bowl, which currently has Georgia Tech as its other team. This is a tough selection for the Orange Bowl, which has to be hoping that a Miami or a Notre Dame will somehow find their way into eligibility, because Cincinnati/Georgia Tech is not a strong matchup, nor is TCU/Georgia Tech, plus TCU is not a good match as far as location goes. USC is a very tough matchup from a location standpoint; however I think that the Orange Bowl figures that this gives them the best TV ratings out of the teams available, and hopes that the team will travel, so our Orange Bowl looks like this:

Georgia Tech vs. USC

The Fiesta Bowl is next, and they now have to choose between Cincinnati and TCU, as both teams have to be selected to a game, and there are only two slots left (Sorry, I just realized I never mentioned the Rose Bowl, which is Iowa vs. Oregon, given that neither team will play for the National Championship). Cincinnati was a relative dud in its bowl game with Virginia Tech last year, so I have to think that bowls are wary of selecting them again, particularly a bowl that's all the way in Arizona. TCU isn't exactly a ratings monster either, but the location makes a lot more sense, and because of that I think the Fiesta Bowl selects TCU setting up:

Penn State vs. TCU

And in the Sugar Bowl we have:

Alabama vs. Cincinnati

It should be interesting to see how these matchups change if teams are upset, and the order of teams moves around, leading to different title contenders, different bowl openings, as well as potentially new teams becoming eligible, like Ohio State, Miami, Oklahoma State, or Notre Dame.

That's all for this week, join me next time as we see how the landscape has changed and we see whose fortunes have risen and whose have fallen. Thanks for reading.




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