Projecting bowl match-ups is much easier in late July than late November. You pick the high-profile programs to smash their smaller counterparts without figuring in games like Jacksonville State dropping Ole Miss, James Madison stopping Virginia Tech or Iowa State popping Texas.
Or Nevada upsetting Boise State. Or Minnesota whipping Iowa.
If we knew the outcomes of these games, we wouldn't watch them. That's what makes college football so appealing — and bowl projections so confusing. Bowl games are now 35 deep and a matrix based partly on conjecture. You take records into account, but also place yourself in position of the bowl organizers. Yes, they want a good, competitive game, but they also need to sell tickets and generate strong television ratings. As the business world says, it's all about location, location, location (and branding, of course).
That's why any projection that has Stanford in the Orange Bowl ahead of the Big East champion is misguided. Stanford, which has a terrific football team, would struggle to sell its 17,500 ticket allotment. The Big East representative, which will be the weakest automatic qualifier in BCS history, has a better pipeline to Miami. Either Connecticut or West Virginia will sell more Orange Bowl tickets than much-better Stanford. More Stanford fans would attend the Fiesta Bowl than the Orange Bowl. That said, I think this discussion is moot.
I see South Carolina upsetting Auburn in the SEC title game which sends TCU to the BCS Championship. The aura that surrounds this game reminds me of the 2003 Big 12 title game when unbeaten and top-ranked Oklahoma faced three-loss Kansas State in Kansas City. The Sooners were considered one of the best teams in recent memory and had their eventual Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Jason White. K-State promptly thumped the Sooners, which still qualified for the national title game.
Last year, the Big 12 title game nearly posed a major upset when Texas's last-second (and some say no-second) field goal beat Nebraska. This year, I can see South Carolina, which nearly beat Auburn earlier this season, taking down the Tigers. There will be some interesting votes for the coaches and Harris polls come Saturday night and Sunday.
As for Iowa, remember the 2006 season. Iowa started 5-1, then played poorly with a 1-5 finish but skipped ahead in the Big Ten chain and landed in the Alamo Bowl against defending champion Texas. The Hawkeyes played perhaps their best game that season in a 26-24 loss. The same scenario could unfold in the Outback Bowl.
Final point: There are too many bowls, and even worse, there are too many damn bowl tie-ins. It's too bad non-BCS qualifiers Nevada, Utah, Boise State and Northern Illinois can't find a couple of bowls and play each other. Instead you have bowls ties that prevent those match-ups. Oh well.
Here's my latest (and final) bowl projections for 2010-11:
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP: Oregon vs. TCU
- The nation's most explosive offensive faces America's stingiest defense. We'll see if defense wins championships
ROSE: Wisconsin vs. Stanford
- I see no better bowl match-up than this one
SUGAR: South Carolina vs. Ohio State
- Maybe the Gamecocks don't have the national cache as its SEC brethren but with Spurrier it won't be boring
ORANGE: Florida State vs. Auburn
- The Orange Bowl would do back flips if this arrangement works out
FIESTA: Oklahoma vs. West Virginia
- No bowl game will compare to the Big 12 title game send-off bash between the Sooners and Huskers
CAPITAL ONE: Michigan State vs. LSU
- Tough break for the Spartans, who deserve a prime bowl slot this season
OUTBACK: Iowa vs. Alabama
- Although the regular season was a bitter disappointment for Iowa, no Big Ten better matches up better with Alabama than the healed-up Hawkeyes
GATOR: Penn State vs. Florida
- Last year it was Bobby Bowden, this year it's Joe Paterno. Not bad for the Jacksonville bowl
INSIGHT: Michigan vs. Missouri
- If Missouri gets passed over again for the Insight, that's the real Big 12 conspiracy
TEXAS: Illinois vs. Baylor
- Before the season did you think either Illinois or Baylor were headed to bowls?
TICKET CITY: Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
- I suppose you can spin this as a second straight New Year's Day bowl for the Wildcats
COTTON: Oklahoma State vs. Arkansas
- Maybe the best and most offensive explosive non-BCS game
PEACH (CHIK-FIL-A): Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State
- Few teams circled the wagons like the Hokies this year
ALAMO: Nebraska vs. Arizona
- It's the Alamo's last crack at the Cornhuskers
HOLIDAY: Texas A&M vs. Washington
- Meet the Huskies, the fourth and final bowl-eligible team from the Pac-10
PINSTRIPE: Kansas State vs. Syracuse
- From one Manhattan to another, I suppose
MUSIC CITY: North Carolina vs. Georgia
- No teams suffered more from agent-gate than these two
LIBERTY: Central Florida vs. Tennessee
- Derek Dooley had a nice season just to get to a bowl
COMPASS: Pittsburgh vs. Kentucky
- Well, Birmingham is considered the Pittsburgh of the South
CHAMPS: North Carolina State vs. Notre Dame
- Surprising November turnaround for the Irish under Brian Kelly
MEINEKE: Clemson vs. Connecticut
- Clemson is like the Notre Dame of the ACC. Every bowl wants the Tigers
SUN: Miami (Fla.) vs. UTEP (replaces Pac-10)
- There's no place like home for UTEP
INDEPENDENCE: Georgia Tech vs. Air Force
- Triple-option heaven for old-school Wing-T coaches
KRAFT: Boise State vs. Boston College (replaces Pac-10)
- No team in the world has a greater letdown than the Broncos this year
LAS VEGAS: Utah vs. Northern Illinois (replaces Pac-10)
- It's too bad Boise State couldn't play Utah here
MILITARY: Maryland vs. Temple (replaces Conference USA)
POINSETTIA: San Diego State vs. Navy
ST. PETERSBURG: Southern Miss vs. South Florida
HAWAII: Hawaii vs. Tulsa
HUMANITARIAN: Fresno State vs. Ohio
NEW MEXICO: BYU vs. Nevada
ARMED FORCES: SMU vs. Army (replaces Mountain West)
LITTLE CAESAR'S: Miami (Ohio) vs. Toledo (replaces Big Ten)
GODADDY: Troy vs. Louisville (replaces MAC in bowl flip-flop)NEW ORLEANS: Florida International vs. East Carolina