Bowl Predictions 2011: Week 4

When will I ever learn that “it’ll probably be easier this week” is pretty much a surefire way to make sure that isn’t the case?

Let’s get down to business and see why. You can follow along with the picks in their usual place.

The BCS was the single hardest thing to pick this week. With the chaos in the Big Ten, figuring out the last team into the BCS picture was extremely difficult. Here’s why.

Currently, I still have LSU and Oklahoma State running the table. I am not entirely convinced about the latter but trying to figure out which 1-loss team is most worthy, or if Boise State is, is even more difficult to figure out. (If Stanford beats Oregon this weekend, that will make my job easier.) I immediately slot Alabama into LSU’s vacated Sugar Bowl spot but even figuring out who will replace Oklahoma State in the Fiesta is difficult. I have the following automatic bids: LSU (BCS #1), Oklahoma State (BCS #2), Boise State (MWC champion ranked in top 12), Oregon (Pac-12 champ), Wisconsin (Big Ten champ), Clemson (ACC champ), and Cincinnati (Big East champ). This accounts for 7 of the 10 available BCS bids. Currently, I only have 8 undefeated or 1-loss teams (not counting Houston), and the only two I didn’t mention above are Alabama and Stanford. Due to the Andrew Luck effect, I assume Stanford will be a desirable at-large team and thus will get Oklahoma State’s Fiesta Bowl bid.

Now, at this point the only remaining bids are the 3 at-large bids in the Fiesta, Sugar, and Orange bowls. The selections go in that order. There are two remaining automatic qualifiers: Boise State and Cincinnati. This means that there will be a 2-loss team somewhere in the BCS. But who? This could affect who the bowl picks. And this is where the Big Ten shenanigans come in.

With Nebraska’s shocking upset to Northwestern, this means there will be no Big Ten team with less than two losses at the end of the year (I think it’s safe to assume Penn State will lose one of their remaining games (I have them losing two more, actually)). This also means Nebraska has two conference losses. Michigan State only has one conference loss, and I don’t think they will lose again this year. So they will win the Legends division, where I have them losing to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. That would give Michigan State three losses. Whereas Nebraska – having continued winning through the end of the season – should be able to rise back up into the top 14 of the BCS.

So, yeah, it’s probably unfair, but them’s the breaks. Thanks to BCS hot-potato and backroom dealing, I went ahead and figured the Fiesta would suck it up and take Boise, setting up a game that sounds epic, at least in name: Alabama versus Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. (I wasn’t surprised to find the two schools had met in the Sugar Bowl before – in 1967. Unfortunately, it apparently wasn’t much of a classic as the Tide won 34-7.)

In any BCS scenario, I figure the odds of the Orange avoiding an ACC-Big East matchup are slim.

The only ACC team that can possibly have only 1-loss is the ACC champ. I currently have this team as Clemson.

Thanks to unexpectedly strong seasons from Wake Forest, NC State, and Virginia the ACC should fill out its primary bowl obligations this year and then some. The first slots after the BCS are easy: Virginia Tech to the Chick-fil-a and Florida State to the Champs Sports bowl (setting up a good “name” matchup if the Champs uses their option to select Notre Dame). This brings us to the Sun Bowl. According to the ACC selection rules, the Sun can choose from the following: Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Virginia, NC State, and Miami. Miami went to the Sun Bowl last year so I figure they’re out. I don’t Virginia or Wake are known for traveling terribly well, and so I’ve put GT there. This allows the rest of the dominoes to fall into place. I’ve put NC State into the Belk Bowl (formerly the Car Care Bowl), followed by Miami to the Music City and Virginia to the Independence. Wake Forest finally gets picked for the Military Bowl, mostly because ACC rules prevent a 3-5 UNC from being picked above them. This allows North Carolina to be shipped out to the Kraft Fights Hunger Bowl in San Fransisco, fulfilling the ACC option as a backup for the Pac-12 or Army.

Big East
If it seems like the Big East selections were drawn out of a hat, well, they very well could have been. For the sake of my sanity, I picked Cincy to run the table followed by Louisville, WVU, and Pitt. Oy. They will have an extra team, though, since I have Syracuse getting 6-6, so I put them in the Military Bowl slot the Big 12 won’t come anywhere close to filling.

Big 12
The Big 12 is pretty much the two Oklahoma schools and everyone else. Texas seems to have gotten its act together so I slotted them into the Cotton. Everything else straightforward, though Baylor kind of gets the shaft. If Iowa State or Texas Tech and manage to win another game that would really be a boon for the conference but considering their schedules I don’t see it happening.

Big Ten
The Big Ten is a mess right now. I talked about the Nebraska thing above, and that was mostly just me going “well, someone has to have a 2-bid conference that probably doesn’t deserve it” and so I figured a 2-loss team from the Big Ten would fit the bill. Michigan State will probably still land in the Capital One Bowl, so that’s not a huge deal. I have both Michigan and Penn State going 9-3, with the Outback bid going to the Fightin’ Paternos and shipping Michigan off to Arizona. The rest of the slate is pretty “meh” and straightforward, though even after four weeks it still feels weird projecting Ohio State into second-tier bowl games.

Boy does this conference miss USC being eligible or what? Speaking of crazy upsets, Northwestern over Nebraska was shocking, yes, but not Earth-shaking (well, metaphorically considering recent events in Oklahoma). UCLA over Arizona State, though? Now there’s an upset. Consider this: the team that got pantsed by Arizona only a few Thursdays ago and had all but officially announced they’d fired the head coach is now in a 3-way tie for the Pac-12 South lead. Now, I figure Arizona State will still win the division in the end, but still. Also, don’t look but Utah should get to 6-6 pretty easily over the next few weeks, if not 7-5. I tried to resist it, but it was just too easy match them against TCU in the Las Vegas Bowl if for no other reason than to get Utah partisans to say, “wait, we joined a BCS conference and we still ended up in the Las Vegas Bowl… and playing one of our former MWC rivals?” I had some hesitation though because that meant Cal ended up in the Fights Hunger Bowl, which is being played in the stadium that’s serving as their home field this year. Well, if nothing else I guess they’ll be used to it.

SEC partisans will no doubt howl about the 2-team limit for BCS participation, because if Arkansas’s only losses are to LSU and Alabama then they should easily stay in the BCS top 14. Nonetheless, the BCS slate was pretty straightforward, though I am hoping I’m wrong and Vandy gets up to 6-6.

Everyone else
The Sun Belt and MAC will benefit, as usual, from having surplus eligible teams. I still have Western Kentucky on track to make their first ever bowl game. Overall, though, there’s nothing Earthshattering going on here other than an undefeated Houston being stuck in the Liberty Bowl, but at least that makes it a good bet for Conference USA to make it two straight in the game. This week not having enough teams does not appear to be a concern, and from what I remember while doing the predictions, it appears we’ll be okay this year. (Though honestly one of my favorite bowl system doomsday scenarios that no one talks about is the specter of a team with a losing record making it into a bowl game.)

Anyway, next week probably be just as difficult and confusing, though which way it ultimately goes may be decided just up the road from me here in California. Until then…