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How The BCS Is Shaping Up For January 2011

We are starting to see the BCS races shape up as we just had the 3rd BCS Poll released this weekend. Since 2000, 65% of the teams that have been in the #1 or #2 spot in the 3rd BCS Poll have advanced to the BCS National Championship Game. However, it's been since 2005 since both teams have held those spots until the final rankings.

So, the bottom line is that it might be hard to shake Oregon and Auburn out of the top spots - particularly Oregon as they don't have to play in a conference championship game. Lots of details after the jump!

Of the teams that have ended up in the BCS National Championship Game since 2000, none have been ranked lower than #7 in the 3rd BCS Poll (LSU in 2003). If that trend holds true, then the true contenders have been whittled down to the following teams:

Of course, there is always a first time for everything, but I feel pretty confident that our national championship game this year will involve two of these teams. This means that Oklahoma is a long shot. We do hold a couple of wild cards in our pockets. First, TCU and Utah will be playing this weekend, which will eliminate one team ahead of us. Second, we are only 0.002 points behind Nebraska in the BCS standings. Third, we would get to play Nebraska in a Big 12 Championship Game if both teams win out.

This means that the Sooners only have to worry about four teams ahead of them. Unfortunately, I think that a lot of the math works against them. I believe that the following teams would get in ahead of a 1-loss Oklahoma team:

  • An undefeated Oregon team
  • An undefeated Auburn team
  • A 1-loss SEC team
  • An undefeated TCU, Boise State, or Utah

Therefore, there needs to be an awful lot of craziness in the next few weeks that really shakes up the BCS Top 10. The only reasonable scenario that I can envision is, assuming of course that Oklahoma can remain a 1-loss team:

  • Nebraska or Missouri runs the table, and Oklahoma beats them in the Big 12 Championship Game.
  • Boise State loses, most likely at Nevada.
  • Utah has a much tougher remaining schedule (and 1 more game) than TCU. So we'd probably want Utah to beat TCU, and then lose one of their three remaining games - most likely at Notre Dame or at San Diego State.
  • Alabama, Auburn, and LSU to wind up with 2 losses apiece after the gauntlet of the SEC season ends OR that Oregon drops a game, most likely to Arizona.

Once you list that all out, you start to realize how ridiculous it is. So, with that in mind, let's start running through a few scenarios to see how the BCS Bowls might shake out.

BCS Bowl Tie-Ins and Qualification Procedures

Before we run any scenarios, we need to run through the selection procedures. Please note that I'll be paraphrasing everything that is listed on the BCS website.

1. Before any other selections are made, the top two teams in the final BCS rankings automatically qualify to play in the BCS National Championship Game.

2. Then, there are the automatic tie-ins with conference champions. The conferences that are typically referred to as the "BCS conferences" are the ones whose champions automatically qualify for a BCS bowl game.

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) - Orange Bowl
Big East Conference - champion is not obligated to a specific bowl
Big 10 Conference - Rose Bowl
Big 12 Conference - Fiesta Bowl
Pac 10 Conference - Rose Bowl
Southeastern Conference (SEC) - Sugar Bowl

3. The bowls that lose an automatic qualification team to the BCS National Championship Game will get "first dibs" to select a replacement from the at large pool of teams. The bowl that loses the #1 team will get to pick the replacement first, and the bowl that loses the #2 team will get to pick their replacement second.

4. The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, or the Western Athletic Conference will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either they are ranked in the Top 12, or if they are ranked in the Top 16 AND ranked higher than the champion of one of the other automatic qualifying conferences. If there are two or more teams that meet such criteria, then the highest ranked one will get the automatic berth, and the others will simply be eligible for selection as an at large team. 

5. Notre Dame gets an automatic berth if they are ranked in the Top 8.

6. There are a couple of really wild provisions. One says that if some team is from a BCS conference and is ranked #3, but did not win their conference, they will get an automatic berth if not all of the 10 BCS slots have been filled yet. This ONLY applies if that team's conference did not send a team to the national championship game. The same thing applies for the #4 team. 

7. At large teams must win at least 9 regular season games, and be ranked in the Top 14 in the final BCS Standings. At large teams are only selected if there are less than 10 automatic qualifiers.

Selection Procedures

1. When selecting a replacement team, the bowl may not take a team in the national title game and the host team for another BCS Bowl Game. Also, the bowl losing the #1 team may not select a replacement team from the same conference as the #2 team.

2. There is language in the rules that says the following:

For the games of January 2011 through 2014, the first year the Rose Bowl loses a team to the NCG and a team from the non-AQ group is an automatic qualifier, that non-AQ team will play in the Rose Bowl.

Basically, if a Big 10 team or a Pac 10 team qualifies for the national title game this year, the Rose Bowl will need to select an automatic qualifying team from a non-BCS conference, which would be the highest ranked such team that is ranked higher than #12.

3. Any bowl with an unfilled slot will select teams from the automatic qualifiers and/or at large teams with the following order:

January 2011 games: Sugar, Orange, Fiesta
January 2012 games: Fiesta, Sugar, Orange
January 2013 games: Fiesta, Sugar, Orange
January 2014 games: Orange, Sugar, Fiesta

All teams having automatic berths must be selected.

Scenario 1: The Standings Hold

Under this scenario, I'm assuming that the current standings hold, and that any future head-to-head matchups will be decided with the winner being the higher ranked team. Here are my projections for this scenario:

BCS National Championship Game:  Oregon vs. Auburn
Fiesta Bowl:  Nebraska vs. Boise State
Orange Bowl:  Virginia Tech vs. Syracuse
Rose Bowl:  Wisconsin vs. TCU
Sugar Bowl:  Ohio State vs. Alabama

Basically under this scenario, Oregon and Auburn would qualify for the national title game, opening up the Rose Bowl and then the Sugar Bowl to select replacements. However, as TCU would be an undefeated non-BCS automatic qualifier, they would need to be selected by the Rose Bowl. Since Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Nebraska, and Syracuse are the highest ranked teams in their conferences, they would get the automatic nods from those conferences and get slotted into their respective bowls. Syracuse wouldn't be obligated to any particular bowl, but I think they'd get put into the Orange Bowl simply for regional considerations. There is the clause at the end of the BCS procedures that says, "...whether alternative pairings may have greater or lesser appeal to college football fans as measured by expected ticket sales for the bowls and by expected television interest, and the consequent financial impact on ESPN and the bowls". After that, the Sugar Bowl gets the first picks and I think they take Ohio State which would be the highest ranked 1-loss team remaining, and Alabama which would be an attractive pick as a 2-loss SEC powerhouse. That leaves the Fiesta Bowl, and I think they take Boise State because of their high ranking and their history with the bowl.

Scenario 2: What I Think Will Happen

Under this scenario, I am projecting what I think will happen. This is based on me making some predictions for certain big games:

BCS National Championship Game:  Oregon vs. Alabama
Fiesta Bowl:  Oklahoma vs. Wisconsin
Orange Bowl:  Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburgh
Rose Bowl:  Michigan State vs. TCU
Sugar Bowl:  Auburn vs. Boise State

The complicated web of Big 10 scenarios is laid out here. I think that Wisconsin is fairly likely to run the table the rest of the way, although a visit to Michigan looms. Michigan State looks to have a fairly easy path, although a visit to Penn State looms. Iowa has three fairly easy games, plus they play Ohio State at home. Ohio State has to travel to Iowa and still play Michigan and Penn State. I think that Iowa will win the game against Ohio State and run the table, since they play the Buckeyes at home. Therefore, it looks like Michigan State is who I would be picking to go to the Rose Bowl, under those scenarios.

I think Virginia Tech will win the ACC because they have a 2 loss cushion in their division, and they've rolled off 6 straight wins despite their early season struggles. And, I think Oklahoma will win the Big 12 because I'm a big homer.

The Rose Bowl would have to take the highest ranked automatic qualifying non-BCS team. I think that will wind up being TCU, by virtue of a win over Utah. That win should keep TCU ahead of Boise State, even with the guys at ESPN continuing to insert Boise State into the national championship discussion. The Sugar Bowl would then get two picks. A 1-loss Auburn team would be a pretty easy choice. Their second pick would be a little tougher. I think it comes down to Boise State, 1-loss Wisconsin, 1-loss Stanford, 2-loss Nebraska, or the Big East champion - who I think will be, unbelievably, Pittsburgh, who would be a 3 loss team. In this scenario, I think they'd match up Boise State with Auburn, because it would be interesting to see if Boise could finally hang with an SEC team that puts up so many points. 

The Orange Bowl would pick next, and I think they would like to dump off Pittsburgh on the Fiesta Bowl, who picks last. However, I think that would wind up creating two relatively unappealing bowl games. So for TV and money reasons, I think the Orange picks up Pittsburgh and sucks it up for the rest of the BCS, and the Fiesta Bowl takes Wisconsin, who should be ranked pretty high to create a marquee matchup between what would likely be #5 and #6 (if all my predictions come true).

Is A Boise State - Oklahoma Rematch Possible?

Yes. In order for that to happen, Boise State would probably need to not qualify for the national championship game. Oklahoma would need to win the Big 12 to wind up in the Fiesta Bowl. Then, Boise State would need to stay ranked #4, with TCU ranked ahead of them at #3, so that Boise State would not be obligated to play in the Rose Bowl. 

What's Next?

As we whittle down the possibilities in the next couple of weeks, I'll start updating my projections up through the week of the conference championship games to give you what I think are the most realistic scenarios. 

I encourage you to discuss the BCS below, and if you've got any questions - feel free to pose them to the community or myself! Hopefully we'll get some good discussion going.

For the Sooners, the math is pretty simple for the Fiesta Bowl - win and you're in.