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
ROSE: Wisconsin vs. Stanford
SUGAR: South Carolina vs. Ohio State
ORANGE: Florida State vs. Auburn
FIESTA: Oklahoma vs. West Virginia
CAPITAL ONE: Michigan State vs. LSU
OUTBACK: Iowa vs. Alabama
GATOR: Penn State vs. Florida
INSIGHT: Michigan vs. Missouri
TEXAS: Illinois vs. Baylor
TICKET CITY: Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
COTTON: Oklahoma State vs. Arkansas
PEACH (CHIK-FIL-A): Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State
ALAMO: Nebraska vs. Arizona
HOLIDAY: Texas A&M vs. Washington
PINSTRIPE: Kansas State vs. Syracuse
MUSIC CITY: North Carolina vs. Georgia
LIBERTY: Central Florida vs. Tennessee
COMPASS: Pittsburgh vs. Kentucky
CHAMPS: North Carolina State vs. Notre Dame
MEINEKE: Clemson vs. Connecticut
SUN: Miami (Fla.) vs. UTEP (replaces Pac-10)
INDEPENDENCE: Georgia Tech vs. Air Force
KRAFT: Boise State vs. Boston College (replaces Pac-10)
LAS VEGAS: Utah vs. Northern Illinois (replaces Pac-10)
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