Boise State football has only one major bump in the road (Nevada) remaining en route to another unbeaten season. Oregon, Ohio State, Oklahoma/Nebraska all seem likely to stumble somewhere down the road. For Oregon, that could be USC. For Ohio State, it might be Wisconsin, Iowa or arch-rival Michigan. Oklahoma/Nebraska each will lose to a Big 12 school before facing each other for the series finale.
Alabama is playing the best football of anyone nationally right now, but it also must face South Carolina, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee and possibly the SEC title game. The same goes for Auburn, if the Tigers upset Alabama.
Even TCU, Boise State's fellow non-BCS brethren, faces a more difficult path to the title game through Utah and Air Force.
That's why Boise State will end up playing for the national title this year. Are the Broncos one of the two best teams nationally? I don't think so. I think Boise State might be one of the eight best teams. But no good team has a path more clear to the title game than Boise State. All the Broncos need are a couple of upsets, then play in Arizona once again come Jan. 10. I think they will.
As for the rest, I think Iowa is capable of upsetting Ohio State in Iowa City (maybe by a field goal in OT), but the big bowls will spurn TCU in favor of at-larges Oklahoma and Ohio State. It's too bad there's not enough flexibility among the bowls to include TCU in the Cotton or Holiday bowls against a high-caliber opponent.
Here's round one of bowl projections following the first slate of Big Ten games. If you don't like them, wait two weeks and they'll go in another direction.
BCS Championship -- Alabama vs. Boise State
- This is the equivalent of Duke-Butler on steroids, only everybody can see this match-up starting a year in advance. With all other major conference champions likely to post at least one loss, this is inevitable.
Rose -- Oregon vs. Iowa
- The nation's most electrifying offense versus the best defense. Nice way to conclude New Year's Day.
Fiesta -- Nebraska vs. West Virginia
- Nebraska's bowl status adds another feather in Jim Delany's cap in 2011.
Orange -- Miami vs. Oklahoma
- It was more fun in the 1980s with Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson.
Sugar -- Auburn vs. Ohio State
- The Sugar gets the first pick and it's a toss-up between the Sooners and Buckeyes. But the Big Ten-SEC match-up is too juicy to pass up.
BIG TEN BOWLS
Capital One -- Michigan vs. Florida
- Lloyd Carr's final win came against Florida in the same bowl three years ago.
Outback -- Michigan State vs. South Carolina
- A perfect Outback Bowl match-up between two bridesmaid programs.
Gator -- Wisconsin vs. Georgia
- These games are always dangerous for good teams (like Wisconsin) playing in a bowl below their record.
Insight -- Penn State vs. Kansas State
- If this is the final season for JoePa, what better city to end it than where he won his last national title?
Texas -- Northwestern vs. Texas A&M
- Little did the Wildcats figure they'd return to Houston after whipping Rice on Sept. 18.
Dallas -- Indiana vs. Baylor
- I see a winner-take-all game between Illinois-Indiana on Oct. 23 for the right to play in the old Cotton Bowl.
BIG 12 BOWLS
Cotton -- Texas vs. Arkansas
- This would have made a terrific, late-season Big 12 match-up before (revisionist history, of course) both teams would have bolted for the Pac-10 and SEC, respectively.
Alamo -- Oklahoma State vs. Arizona
- The Wildcats place second in Fiesta Bowl consideration. Ouch.
Holiday -- Missouri vs. Stanford
- Will Jim Harbaugh use this game as an audition for the Chargers?
Pinstripe -- Iowa State vs. Rutgers
- Pioneer Hi-Bred meet Tony Soprano.
OTHER SECOND-TIER BOWLS
- Peach (Chick-fil-A) -- LSU vs. Virginia Tech
- Music City -- Mississippi State vs. North Carolina State
- Liberty -- Kentucky vs. SMU
- Champs--Florida State vs. Notre Dame
- Las Vegas -- TCU vs. Washington
- Sun -- Georgia Tech vs. UCLA
- Meineke -- Clemson vs. Pittsburgh
- Independence -- Boston College vs. Utah
- EagleBank -- Maryland vs. East Carolina
- St. Petersburg -- Connecticut vs. Central Florida
- Papajohns -- South Florida vs. Louisiana-Lafayette* (SEC replacement)
- Kraft -- Oregon State vs. Fresno State
- Hawaii -- Nevada vs. Houston
- Poinsettia -- Navy vs. San Diego State
- Humanitarian -- Utah State vs. Toledo
- New Mexico -- Idaho vs. BYU
- Armed Forces -- UTEP vs. Air Force
- New Orleans -- Middle Tennessee State vs. Southern Miss
- Little Caesar's Bowl -- Northern Illinois vs. California* (Big Ten replacement)
- GMAC -- Troy vs. Temple