Predicting bowl spots in July is like breaking down the top 68 teams for the NCAA basketball tournament in early January. It’s virtually meaningless but it’s interesting to discuss nonetheless.
There are key questions this year when considering how to slot this year’s bowl games. One, will a one-loss SEC champion get the opportunity to jump an unbeaten major-conference champion? Two, will the Big Ten fill all of its spots with an ineligible Penn State and Ohio State? Three, how will the additions of West Virginia and TCU affect the Big 12 lineup? Four, will Missouri and Texas A&M ever qualify for a bowl? (OK, that was a bit tongue-in-check)
I don’t see an undefeated Big Ten champion this year, which means the league will miss out a shot at the BCS title for the fifth straight year. I don’t see an unbeaten SEC champion, which doesn’t mean anything, unless the Pac-12 or the Big 12 produce a pair of unbeatens. I think the Big 12 is too balanced to produce an unbeaten, but the Pac-12 could have one in either USC or Oregon.
I think seven teams have a real shot: LSU, Alabama, Georgia, USC, Oregon, Texas and Oklahoma. I’ll go with the SEC champ facing the Pac-12 champ.
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP: LSU (SEC champion) vs. Oregon (Pac-12 champion)
The Ducks have replaced a challenging early-schedule with a softer one, which should allow a new quarterback to grow with game experience. LSU merely is the survivor in grueling SEC.
ROSE BOWL: USC (Pac-12 runner-up) vs. Michigan State (Big Ten champion)
USC gets the Pac-12 consolation prize, although it’s a coin flip between the Trojans and Ducks for the BCS spot. Michigan State’s defense, stout offensive line and power running attack should lift the Spartans to the Rose Bowl.
FIESTA BOWL: Nebraska (Big Ten at-large) vs. Kansas State (Big 12 at-large)
Nebraska is one of four solid Big Ten teams, and the Fiesta Bowl would love to match the Cornhuskers against any former Big 12 rival. Kansas State is my Big 12 Cinderella this year. I can see Oklahoma interested in a Nebraska game, but ultimately preferring a different site after Phoenix bowl visits in four of the last five years.
SUGAR BOWL: Georgia (SEC at-large) vs. Oklahoma (Big 12 champion)
Georgia hasn’t played in a BCS game since 2007 which gives the Bulldogs the nod over Alabama. Oklahoma, which is my No. 3, jump-starts the Sugar Bowl into the Champions Bowl era with a move to New Orleans over Phoenix.
ORANGE BOWL: Florida State vs. Louisville
This bowl is one of the reasons for the BCS revamp. Florida State will be top-1o good, but nobody’s buying the Big East champion, especially with West Virginia’s departure.
BIG TEN BOWLS
CAPITAL ONE: Wisconsin vs. Alabama
For several years the Capital One Bowl is more watchable than one or two BCS bowls. This match-up is yet another reason why the BCS didn’t work.
OUTBACK: Michigan vs. South Carolina
These teams could be a field goal from winning their leagues or playing in the Outback Bowl. Either scenario wouldn’t surprise me.
GATOR: Iowa vs. Arkansas
Arkansas has BCS-level talent, but you wonder if the offseason turmoil will pull down the team in key situations against Alabama or LSU (Plus Bobby Petrino was an excellent offensive coach). Without Ohio State in the mix this year (and the unlikelihood of playing in a third straight trip to the Insight/Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl), Iowa appears in good shape here.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS: Purdue vs. West Virginia
Purdue returns nine starters on both sides of the ball, including the Big Ten’s best defensive tackle (Kawann Short) and three QBs with playing experience. West Virginia has New Year’s Day talent but with a new ultra-difficult schedule and a ton of traveling, I can’t imagine a BCS spot this year.
MEINEKE CAR CARE: Minnesota vs. TCU
I think Minnesota can get to 6-6 and win a game or two as an underdog this year. TCU, like West Virginia, transitions into a tougher league and faces a brutal five-game stretch to finish the regular season.
TICKETCITY BOWL: Illinois vs. SMU
It’s kind of like the Cotton Bowl only with boll weavils.
LITTLE CAESAR’S BOWL: Northwestern vs. Northern Illinois
The Wildcats have a ton of new starters and a challenging schedule but are athletic enough to get to six wins.
SOLID SECOND-TIER BOWLS
COTTON: Texas vs. Texas A&M
This might generate better ratings than any other game save the Rose Bowl and BCS Championship.
CHICK-FIL-A: Clemson vs. Florida
Florida could move up depending on its game with Georgia. Clemson’s head-to-head result with Florida State could send the Tigers to Miami.
ALAMO: Oklahoma State vs. Utah
Oklahoma State has a terrific running back but a young QB keeps the Cowboys from repeating. Utah might be the Pac-12′s third-best team, which is quite the vault in just two years.
HOLIDAY: UCLA vs. Texas Tech
UCLA has never played in the Holiday Bowl. Go figure.
BELK: Virginia vs. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish get to snag a Big East spot if they’re not in the BCS, but can’t repeat bowls in a four-year cycle. Last year it was the Champs Bowl. This year it’s the Belk.
RUSSELL ATHLETIC (was Champs): Virginia Tech vs. South Florida
South Florida should stick in the state for its bowl game, whether it’s in Orlando or Miami.
SUN: Stanford vs. N.C. State
Just a nice game halfway between North Carolina and North California.
LIBERTY: Houston vs. Missouri
Nothing says “Welcome to the SEC” like a trip to Beale Street in Memphis.
Music City: Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee
Pinstripe: Baylor vs. Pittsburgh
Kraft Fight Hunger: California vs. Navy
Armed Forces: Air Force vs. UTEP
Independence: Mississippi State vs. Maryland
Compass: Auburn vs. Cincinnati
Military: Boston College vs. Army
Hawaii: Louisiana Tech vs. Tulsa
Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Arizona
Beef O’Brady’s: Rutgers vs. Central Florida
Poinsettia: BYU vs. Nevada
Idaho Potato: Utah State vs. Western Michigan
New Mexico: Fresno State vs. Arkansas State (Pac-12 replacement)
GoDaddy: Ohio vs. Troy
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