When projecting bowl match-ups, one must first think of William Munny’s terrific line in “The Unforgiven.” Before he shoots Little Bill in the epic final scene, Munny utters, “Deserves ain’t got nothing to do with it.”
Well, the first rule of slotting bowls games is to put “deserves” on ice. The match-ups are less chaotic than they were 25 years ago, but there are plenty of, at times, perplexing decisions. In short, if you want to project close to what could happen, you’ve got to think like a bowl director.
One, is the team good enough for your bowl? Two, is the fan base motivated based on the season’s result? Three, how often has the team traveled to your location (and does it matter if they come back)? Four, does it make for a compelling match-up on television? Five, does it have a chance to be a competitive game? Six, and most important, will the match-up put fannies in the seats?
Nowhere in a bowl director’s manual does it say the fourth-best team from League A needs to play the fourth-best team from League B. If your selection process starts with fairness, then at best you’re naive. Choosing bowl teams is about bringing a significant amount of people to a community for a competitive match-up that people want to watch on television.
So when you look at the Big Ten, for instance, Michigan State may win the Legends Division and compete until the final minute against Ohio State for the league championship. But any kind of Michigan State loss elevates Wisconsin to a BCS bowl because the Badgers likely will have won seven straight and Wisconsin fans travel in droves. Same goes for a potential eight-win Minnesota losing ground to a possible seven-win Iowa in a bowl lineup.
“Deserves ain’t got nothing to do with it.”
As for the projections, I think both Northern Illinois and Fresno State get upset in the next few weeks and lose their chances at a BCS bowl. If that happens, look for two teams from the SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC to land in BCS bowls. Florida State is in the strongest spot for a title shot, while Alabama and Ohio State could face turbulence in their conference title games.
The Big Ten’s second tier of Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan could go in any four directions depending on the next few weeks. If Iowa wins out, it could end up in Tampa based on wins over all three teams. Minnesota and Nebraska have outside shots at a BCS bowl. Michigan faces a grind of desperate Northwestern, physical Iowa and, oh by the way, Ohio State and could end the season on a five-game losing streak.
Among those four teams — unlike the above mantra — deserves probably will have something to do with their slotting.
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP — Alabama vs. Florida State
Florida State could bench its starters and end up here; Bama has a few difficult, but manageable, games ahead
ROSE — Ohio State vs. Stanford
Both face major road blocks to Pasadena: Michigan State could stop OSU in the Big Ten title game; USC could knock off Stanford this week
ORANGE — Clemson vs. Wisconsin
The bowl’s relationship with the ACC makes Clemson a given; If Badgers are 10-2 (really 11-1), it’s an easy choice with their prowess and fan base
SUGAR — Missouri vs. Oregon
The Tigers’ game against Texas A&M I see as a Sugar Bowl semifinal; Oregon is the best at-large team available and could land in Rose if USC beats Stanford this week
FIESTA — Baylor vs. Central Florida
Baylor still must beat Oklahoma State, which is no gimmee; Central Florida has knocked off American Conference challengers Louisville and Houston to virtually clinch a BCS spot. Television ratings might be an issue here.
CAPITAL ONE — Michigan State vs. Texas A&M
If MSU loses Big Ten title game, Wisconsin likely vaults it to the BCS; Texas A&M will avoid second straight Cotton trip, which gets the Cap One out of the Georgia-South Carolina rotation
OUTBACK — Auburn vs. Nebraska
Bowl would love to host Nebraska fan base, unless Iowa tops the Cornhuskers in regular-season finale; Outback generally prefers East Division teams but this eliminates Georgia-Nebraska bowl rematch
BUFFALO WILD WINGS — Texas vs. Iowa
Hawkeyes could elevate to Outback with two wins, slide to Texas with two losses or move up/down depending on Minnesota’s results (not to mention three Phoenix trips in four years but bowl has no B1G allegiance after this year); Texas has Alamo credentials but played there last year
GATOR — Ole Miss vs. Minnesota
Two motivated fan bases that rarely see New Year’s Day would be thrilled to play in Jacksonville; bullish match-up of two up-and-coming programs
TEXAS — Texas Tech vs. Michigan
It’s possible both schools will have lost their last five games to end the regular season
HEART OF DALLAS — North Texas vs. Northwestern
Dan McCarney and Pat Fitzgerald could have a swell time swapping stories of how they ruined two of Iowa’s three best seasons this millennium
LITTLE CAESAR’S BOWL — Ball State vs. Maryland (replaces Big Ten)
Big Ten extends a helping hand to future member Maryland, which could get shut out of the ACC’s deep bowl lineup
COTTON — Georgia vs. Oklahoma State
Bulldogs normally would head to Tampa but Texas now is SEC (recruiting) country; Oklahoma State has best chance to knock off Baylor in Big 12
PEACH — South Carolina vs. Virginia Tech
Like many bowl match-ups, this pits a semi-underachiever (Gamecocks) against a modest overachiever (Hokies)
ALAMO — UCLA vs. Oklahoma
USC-UCLA winner likely ends up here; Sooners take this spot because Texas played here last year
HOLIDAY — USC vs. Kansas State
Both teams really turned around their seasons after a coaching change (Trojans) and a season-opening loss to an FCS school (K-State)
PINSTRIPE — Boston College vs. Notre Dame (SEC replacement)
Teams had played 19 of previous 21 years, including last six, but oddly did not schedule each other this year
POTATO — Boise State vs. Northern Illinois
Game pits two of the nation’s best mid-major football programs on the blue turf
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