Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bowl Predictions, Week 1

Once again, the BCS standings are out and I've done my first bowl predictions of the season. Since this is the first week, I'll do a conference-by-conference breakdown of how I predict the bowls. After this, I'll just hit the high points.

Here's the direct link. Just open it up in another window and read the below as you go through the table.

Since it sets up everything else, I select the BCS teams first.
  • For the title game, I usually just pick the teams in the 1st and 2nd spots in that week's BCS standings unless I really, really think either of them will lose in the near future. At the moment, I have little reason to think either Texas or Alabama will lose.
  • The BCS slots conference champions into certain games. (Details are available on the bowls page.) Since the Fiesta and Sugar will lose their conference champions, they get first pick from the remaining auto-qualifiers and at-large teams. Though they went there last year, I am slotting Oklahoma into the Fiesta. They are a natural geographic fit and will auto-qualify if they win out. The Sugar goes next, and will probably take some sort of SEC team. The problem is picking which one. Here's the problem: the loser of the SEC Title Game will probably have 2, if not 3, losses. Say Florida wins the SEC East, for instance by winning out. This gives Georgia its second loss, but that will occur next week, giving them plenty of time to recover in the polls. If Alabama goes to the national title game, they will have to win the SEC, and in doing so will hand UF another loss, this time right before the BCS is selected. This puts Georgia and/or LSU in great position to recover - which makes this Saturday's game that much more important. I am, for now, projecting LSU to win that game and lock up a Sugar Bowl bid (provided they then lose to Alabama but otherwise win out).
  • The remaining conference champion auto-bids are slotted: VPI to the Orange, and Penn State and USC to the Rose. The Big East champion does not have an auto-bid and so is at the mercy of the remaining at-large selections.
  • At this point, there are two remaining auto-qualifiers (say, Pittsburgh and Utah) and 3 slots. The remaining bowls pick in reverse of when they are played, so the latest bowl goes first. This year, the order is 1) Fiesta 2) Sugar 3) Orange. Of course, with 3 remaining slots this means we need a BCS at-large team. Since each conference cannot have more than 2 teams in the BCS, this means that the SEC and the Big 12 cannot send another team to the BCS. So now any team in the top 14 of the standings with 9 wins can take a slot, and a well-traveling team that will probably be 10-2 and in the top 14 at the end of the year will be Ohio State. (If Penn State loses to OSU this weekend, just swap them here.) Next up is the Sugar, which will be stuck with what are, traditionally, the two least attractive auto-qualifiers - a mid-major and the Big East champion. Really Pitt and Utah could go either way here, but generally mid-majors have been picked last. At least they won't play each other this time around.
So, here's how the ACC breaks down:
  • I made a myraid of assumptions regarding the rest of the way for the ACC. There's too many to list here, but it mostly involves VPI winning out, and NC State losing out.
  • I am projecting a rematch of last year's ACC Title game, with BC losing again. Since the game is in Tampa this year, there should be less concern about a team going to Jacksonville twice. Once again, though, the "Peach" has the #2 pick of ACC teams and has what is probably their worst nightmare. I am projecting an optimistic win for GT, so they will have to pick from a small fanbase from the northeast that doesn't travel or a small fanbase from the South that doesn't travel well. (GT may actually travel "worse" from the Peach's persepctive because most Atlanta-based alums don't need hotel rooms.) While Tech has traditionally not performed well in Peach Bowls (I believe we are 0-3) I'm projecting us to go there anyway. (I selfishly generally want GT to go to the Music City or Peach since those are the closest available bowls when I'm at home for Christmas, but I digress.) Long story short, due to the ACC selection rules BC goes to the Gator.
  • Not so fast, though! The Gator gets its pick of the Big East, Big 12, or Notre Dame. If ND is bowl eligible I would bet they will go early this year. Since BC plays ND during the regular season, I am swapping GT and BC.
  • If my projections hold, Wake will go 6-2 in conference and earn a bid to the Champs Sports.
  • Now we get to the ACC 5/6/7 portion of this show, and I predict Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida State will all have 4-4 conference records. Withouth a naturally close bowl or decent traveling fanbase, Virginia gets exiled to San Francisco, and UNC makes an appearance in the Car Care Bowl and FSU makes a repeat appearance in the Music City Bowl.
  • This leaves 6-6 Miami and Maryland. Neither will travel well to Boise, but there is a bowl game in Washington, DC this year, so I'll send Miami to Boise and UMD to the new EagleBank Bowl to play Navy.
Big 12:
  • As explained above, I'm putting Texas and Oklahoma in the BCS. On a side note, let me just say I didn't project nearly as much as I did for the BCS and ACC.
  • Quickly, I put Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in the Cotton and Holiday Bowls. Yes, folks, the Big 12 South is back.
  • Missouri earns a trip to San Antonio and Kansas reclaims the Big 12's spot in the Sun Bowl this year, unless Notre Dame falls this far. (They probably won't, though.)
  • This leaves the last 3 teams from the Big 12 North likely to go at least 6-6: Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas State. K-State's schedule the rest of the way is brutal and they will need to pull a huge upset to get 2 more wins. So, the winner of Colorado-Nebraska will probably go to the Insight Bowl, with the loser going to Shreveport.
  • This also happens to leave me a team short for the Texas Bowl, unless something drastic happens (like ND dropping to the Sun with the Gator opting to take a Big East team). More on this later.
And now, the Big East:
  • This is not a conference I like to think about. With lots of non-conference games, it's hard to say where they will finish in the pecking order, and most of their bowls are terrible. Anyway, I projected Pitt to go to the BCS.
  • Since the Gator will probably take a bowl eligible Notre Dame and the Sun will take a Big 12 team, this leaves the 2nd place Big East team to float down to the Car Care Bowl. This is probably South Florida's spot to lose.
  • Let me reiterate that is is really hard to project a conference finish when the teams have hardly played each other. Like WVU is 2-0 in the Big East, but they played what are, by far, the two worst teams in the conference this year. Yet to most of us WVU has shown us nothing so far this year other than that Bill Stewart doesn't seem terribly competent. So just for the heck of it I am sending Cincinatti to Toronto.
  • This leaves UConn, WVU, and Lousiville as the likely other bowl eligible teams. I'll send them to St. Pete, Birmingham, and the at-large pool respectively.
Big Ten:
  • This conference is such a cluster**** that outside of Penn State and Ohio State it's nearly impossible to guess at this point who will beat whom. Minnesota and Northwestern are both 6-1, for crying out loud!
  • Michigan State seems like the 3rd best team in the league, so let's get them into the Capital One Bowl posthaste.
  • From here on out I am basically guessing because I am not really prepared to deal with a reality where Minnesota and Northwestern have 8 or 9 wins. Their game against each other will be really pivitol to their bowl position. I'll say UMN beats NU, so they go to the Outback and Alamo Bowls, respectively.
  • Even though they have yet to play other, Iowa and Illinois are the best bets to go at least 6-6 from the remaining teams, unless Wisconsin shows it can beat two other teams this year (I am assuming a win over Cal Poly).
  • This leaves the Big Ten without a team for the Motor City Bowl.
And now we come to Conference USA, with its shiny set of 6 bids this year:
  • Tulsa will probably challenge Utah for the mid-major bid this year, but Utah has momentum at the moment. But if they lose Tulsa and Boise are waiting in the wings. For now, I'll slot Tulsa into the Liberty.
  • So, of course, every other C-USA team has 3 losses. The conference has been the main beneficiary of the new bowls the NCAA keeps adding, though. so they need to fill spots.
  • I actually think Rice has a shot of going at least 7-5, and Houston as well. (Or 8-4 for one, 6-6 for the other, depends on who wins their game.) The problem is, I have no idea who else in this conference could go 6-6. I guess Memphis could, so I'll send them to New Orleans. Otherwise, if things go the way they're going C-USA will be two teams short.
The MAC:
  • Provided they run the table, and maybe even if they don't, Ball State can look forward to an at-large opponent up in Detroit.
  • After this, things get muddy. The MAC could really benefit from the other conferences' inability to field enough teams this year. Western and Central Michigan should qualify. Additional possibilites include Northern Illinois and Akron (and perhaps more, depending on how things shake out). For now, I'll slot the directional Michigans into the remaining MAC bids and keep NIU and Akron on stand-by.
The MWC:
  • The Mountain West is home to Utah, TCU, and BYU. If the Utes run the table they will probably be rewarded with a BCS bid.
  • Generally, contracts involving mid-major conferences don't really specify the place of the team, just the bowl pecking order. Sometimes bowls will trade amongst themselves to increase their attendance. For instance, it would not surprise me if TCU ends up in their own stadium for the Armed Forces Bowl no matter what, but for the time being I'll send them to Vegas.
  • This allows BYU to go to San Diego.
  • Air Force should be at least 7-5 and this end up in the aplty named Armed Forces Bowl. Where they went last year. (More reason for them to switch with TCU, I guess.)
  • New Mexico has a decent shot to get the 6-6 mark and play in, you guessed it, the New Mexico Bowl. Which is just fine by them. I doubt the MWC will produce any other 6-6 teams.
  • The Pac-10 will only send 1 team to the BCS this year unless USC sneaks back into the national title game, and even then no other Pac-10 team may be ranked high enough for the Rose to pick them.
  • Right now, 3 Pac-10 teams sit at 3-1: the two Oregon schools and perhaps the most improved team outside of Minnesota, Arizona. Of course, none of them have played each other yet. Based on history and bias alone, I'm going with Oregon, followed by Arizona, and then State.
  • From here, 3 more teams could possibly qualify: Cal, UCLA, and Stanford. I don't really see UCLA winning 3 more games, and Stanford has to beat Washington (doable) and Cal (somewhat less doable) to get to 6-6 without any major upsets. So I'm going with that for now because it makes my life easier.
  • This leaves the Poinsettia Bowl without a team.
Southeastern Conference:
  • I'm getting tired so let's make this quick. I already put Alabama and LSU into the BCS.
  • This leaves the runner-up from the SEC East, probably Georgia or Florida. Let's say it's Florida and stick them in the Capital One and send UGA to the Peach.
  • The problem now is who to send to the Outback and Cotton. There is a huge drop-off in prestige and/or bowl attractiveness after these first four. I generally like sending SEC West teams to the Cotton but I don't see any of the remaning SEC West teams finishing better than 6-6 unless Auburn stops sucking. So this leaves Vandy, South Carolina, or Kentucky. For now, I'll send USCe to the Cotton and Kentucky to the Outback.
  • This lets Vandy conviently fall to the Music City, and for now, Auburn to the Liberty.
  • This leaves us with two additional bowls to fill and a cast of very unlikely teams to make them: Arkansas, Ole Miss, Miss State, and Tennessee all need at least 3 more wins to get to 6-6. For now, I think the most likely candidate is Miss State, but mostly likely is they will all beat each other up and none will make it.
  • This leaves an opening for the bowl.
Sun Belt:
  • Troy had better win the damn thing this year, that's all I really have to say about that.
  • This year, the Sun Belt has agreements with the St. Petersburg,, and Independence Bowls to provide backup teams. Which is good, since the first two won't have a team from C-USA or the SEC. For now, I'm predicting Arkansas State and UL-Lafayette to go at least 6-6 to fufill this criteria. If the Sun Belt can get some other 6-6 teams, they will probably go to bowls as well.
And finally, the WAC:
  • Boise State will probably win it this year, and if they don't make the BCS my guess is they will stay home in Boise (though there's precedent for them going elsewhere off a strong year, like if they want a nice, tropical vacation, for instance).
  • Next, San Jose State and Fresno State will fight over who goes to Hawaii or New Mexico. Either way, they should fufill the WAC's two remaining autobids. I'm sending Fresno to Hawaii so SJSU avoids a rematch with Stanford.
  • I need just 1 more 6-6 or better team at this point so we don't end up with a lack of bowl eligible teams. Who will prevail? At 4-3, Nevada needs only 2 more wins and with Hawaii and Louisiana Tech on the schedule they could definitely get it. Hawaii itself could also win 3 or 4 more games, which would get them a Hawaii Bowl bid and likely kick San Jose to the at-large world. For now, I think Navada has the path of least resistance. But like the MAC, the WAC could do pretty well for themselves this winter.
So this leaves us with 4 bowls without teams: Poinsettia, Motor City, Texas, and Armed Forces. The 4 teams I have to spare are Louisville, NIU, Akron, and Nevada. I like Nevada to stay on the West Coast, so I'll put them in San Diego. Since another MAC team can't go to Detroit, this leaves Louisville. And I think you can take it from here.

Anyway, that does it for week 1! Join me next week, as hopefully things will clear up just a little.

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