Projecting Every College Football Bowl Game Matchup After Week 2

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2012

Projecting Every College Football Bowl Game Matchup After Week 2

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    The 2012 college football season may only be two weeks old, but that won't stop us from predicting how things are going to shake out come December.

    We've already seen some great football, and some preseason questions—such as "Is Michigan really that good?"—have been answered (and the clear answer is, "No," in the case of the Wolverines).

    So when those coveted bowl invitations are handed out, where will everyone land? Will the SEC be playing for another crystal football? Which BCS conference will be left out of a second slot in the big games?

    We'll answer these questions, and more in our bowl game projections, Week 2 edition.

New Orleans Bowl

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    We'll get underway with the bowl with the lowest monetary payout for the participants.

    Last season, the New Orleans Bowl paid out a paltry $500,000 to the participants, a full quarter million less than the next-lowest payout.

    It's no wonder that the New Orleans Bowl scrapes the bottom of the FBS barrel when it comes to selecting teams.

    The current tie-ins for the New Orleans Bowl belong to the Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA.

    The Sun Belt champion typically finds its way to the Big Easy for bowl season and, with two weeks in the books, there's no reason we're not going to pick Louisiana-Monroe to win it all in the Sun Belt this season.

    Sure, the Warhawks have only played one game, but it was against No. 8 Arkansas, and ULM knocked off the Razorbacks in overtime—an upset that will likely stand the test of time this season and remain the biggest upset of the year.

    If ULM can hold on to even a fraction of that momentum, they should have no trouble in the Sun Belt this season.

    Conference USA is much harder to figure out this season. Believe it or not, after just two weeks, there isn't a single undefeated C-USA team left. It's hard enough to pick the champion, much less the team that will finish fourth.

    With the way Rice has played, finding a way to edge out Big 12 bottom-feeder Kansas, it's entirely possible we'll see the Owls back in a bowl game this season, and we're projecting them as the opponent for ULM in the New Orleans Bowl.

    Projection: Louisiana-Monroe vs. Rice

Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl

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    The Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, formerly the Motor City Bowl, takes place in Detroit each December. No wonder the bowl likes the MAC and Big Ten.

    The problem this season will be the fact that the Pizza Bowl has the eighth selection of a Big Ten team, and the way the conference has been performing in 2012, there's a serious doubt that there will be eight bowl-eligible teams in 2012.

    In that case, the bowl selects any bowl-eligible Sun Belt or WAC team.

    But at least the selection of a MAC team is fairly unambiguous. The Pizza Bowl gets first crack at the MAC, and typically—but not always—selects the conference champion. This season, we believe the best team in the MAC, and therefore the best selection for the Pizza Bowl's committee, will be Ohio University.

    The Bobcats were impressive in their Week 1 victory at Penn State and, after stomping New Mexico State in Week 2, Ohio is 2-0 for the second year in a row (Ohio started 2011 with three wins).

    The Big Ten won't qualify an eighth team, so we're selecting a WAC team to take it's place.

    Utah State probably made its season in Week 2 with an upset win over in-state rival Utah. The Aggies have usually been an “almost but not quite” type of team. Maybe this year they can prove they're more than just an also-ran WAC program.

    Projection: Ohio vs. Utah State

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

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    With all of the conference chaos out west, is it any wonder that the tie-ins for some of these lesser bowls are going to be jumbled in the seasons to come?

    Louisiana Tech has proven that it is the class of the WAC now that Boise State, Nevada, and company have all bolted the conference.

    Louisiana Tech is defending WAC champions, and there's nothing standing in the Bulldogs' way for a repeat.

    Ball State, on the other hand, hasn't quite been the same program since Brady Hoke left. While the Cardinals are improved after the post-Hoke collapse, we're still projecting them as one of the last MAC teams to be bowl-eligible in 2012.

    Projection: Ball State vs. Louisiana Tech Bowl

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    Every year there are bowl games with lackluster match ups. This season's installment of the Bowl is projected to be just that.

    There's noting particularly special about either Northern Illinois or Louisiana-Lafayette. We're picking Northern Illinois to win the MAC-West, but fall short of a MAC title this season while Louisiana-Lafayette is just good enough to follow up the program's first-ever bowl trip (and victory) with another bowl-eligible season.

    Projection: Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Northern Illinois

Hawai'i Bowl

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    The Hawai'i Bowl has one of the more unique selection processes in the fact that it always takes Hawaii if the Warriors have won seven games and aren't a BCS selection.

    It's safe to say that Hawaii, with their 0-1 start (a loss at then-No. 1 USC) won't be a BCS-caliber team this season. But can they win seven games in their new Mountain West Conference home?

    It's possible. Hawaii has about five safe games remaining in 2012 (and how safe those games are is debatable), and the rest of the schedule looks pretty difficult. If the Warriors are to reach seven wins in 2012, they'll need to engineer at least a couple of upsets—one of which will have to come against the likes of Boise State, BYU, or Air Force.

    For their opponent, the Warriors will get the No. 2 team out of Conference USA.

    As we've already mentioned, this conference is in some trouble this season. We're going to take a shot at picking Southern Mississippi to one again win the East Division, but we think the Golden Eagles will fall just short of the conference championship game this season.

    Still, a trip to Hawaii is a nice consolation prize.

    Projection: Hawaii vs. Southern Mississippi

Armed Forces Bowl

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    East Carolina proved last week that it still isn't a program that's capable of breaking out of the non-AQ mold to challenge its BCS neighbors.

    Similarly, Nevada has had trouble proving to anyone that it is much of a threat outside of its own conference. A big win here and a lucky escape there doesn't translate to much national success, and a mediocre Armed Forces Bowl berth is about as good of a finish for which the Wolf Pack can hope.

    Projection: East Carolina vs. Nevada

Poinsettia Bowl

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    The Poinsettia Bowl has a new tie-in scheme for 2012, as BYU replaces the WAC this season.

    The only way BYU doesn't get this selection is if the Cougars are selected for a BCS game. While BYU is making some headway in its life as an independent, the Cougars aren't really close to being a BCS team quite yet. So picking BYU for the Poinsettia Bowl is a no-brainer.

    The Cougars may still get quite a game, though, as their opponent will be the runner-up team from their old conference home, the Mountain West.

    Without TCU, it looks like the MWC is Boise State's to lose in 2012. Air Force is a quality team, and without a direct tie-in to one of the traditional military academy bowls (such as the Military Bowl or Armed Forces Bowl), we'll likely see the Falcons making the trip out west for their bowl game.

    No worries, though. While San Diego may be a Navy town, there's plenty of Air Force activity in the region to fill the stands with Falcons fans.

    Projection: BYU vs. Air Force

New Mexico Bowl

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    The New Mexico Bowl, curiously located in state that is notoriously bad in college football, pits the Pac-12 against the Mountain West.

    The Pac-12 is looking like a very strong conference early on, and there should be no problem finding seven bowl-eligible teams in 2012—which is what the New Mexico Bowl needs for their seventh Pac-12 selection.

    Oregon State got off to a great start, knocking off then-No. 13 Wisconsin at home in the Beavers' Week 2 season opener.

    While Oregon State has a habit of upsetting ranked teams in Corvallis, it's doubtful whether or not the Beavers will be able to sustain that success both on the road and in conference play.

    We do think Oregon State will return to the bowl world this season, but Beavers fans shouldn't be getting their hopes up too high when it comes to Pac-12 play.

    We need to find an opponent from the Mountain West for the Beavers, and who better than the Fresno State Bulldogs? Fresno State has the look of a solid middle-of-the-road Mountain West team, and there's no reason the Bulldogs won't find themselves in the top half of the conference standings in 2012.

    Fresno State isn't quite ready to be called a top conference team, but don't be surprised if they emerge as such when Boise State and San Diego State bolt for the Big East next season.

    Projection: Oregon State vs. Fresno State

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

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    For 2012, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl has tie-ins with Navy and the Pac-12.

    First, let's take a look at Navy. The Midshipmen have had just one game so far this season: a blowout loss to Notre Dame in Dublin in Week 1.

    Next, the Midshipmen travel to Not-So-Happy Valley to take on the Nittany Lions in Week 3 before a collection of very winnable games.

    After missing a bowl game for the first time since 2002 last season, it's going to be interesting to see if Navy can rebound in 2012. With a weak schedule, it should be very possible to at least reach that magic number of six wins and, with Navy's fan following, that's enough for a bowl invite.

    Last season, UCLA was the recipient of some NCAA charity, as they provided the Bruins with a waiver to play in a bowl game despite a losing record (6-7). The Bruins won the Pac-12 South Division on a technicality last season, and backed their way into the Pac-12 Championship Game and a resulting bowl invite—but got one of the last invites of the Pac-12 conference.

    This season, the Fight Hunger Bowl gets the sixth selection from the Pac-12, and we're projecting the California Golden Bears to fall into that spot with a solid finish in the Pac-12 North Division.

    Let's face it: no one in the North is going to beat Oregon this season, and we don't expect Cal to get past a clearly weakened Stanford team. But games against Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State are, at worst, winnable,and, if Cal can take care of business, they should enjoy this close-to-home bowl game in San Francisco.

    Projection: Navy vs. California

Maaco Bowl Las Vegas

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    The Maaco Bowl Las Vegas has been the fortunate recipient of the champion of the WAC or Mountain West. Why is that fortunate? Well, over the past few seasons, the bowl has seen the Boise State Broncos—one of the nation's top programs—each of the last two seasons.

    And why not make it a third?

    With a relatively weak schedule, Boise State really needed to run the table this season to have a hope of busting up the BCS once again. With a Week 1 loss to a very good Michigan State program, all BCS likelihood is probably gone.

    Still, there doesn't appear to be another team in the Mountain West this season that is capable of knocking off the mighty Broncos, and Boise State will win the conference and make yet another trip to Sin City in December.

    The bowl committee also gets the fifth pick from the Pac-12, and we're placing Washington in that position.

    The Huskies will have a very difficult time approaching anything close to a division title in 2012, and a second-place division finish is even pushing it. But even a third-place finish in the North Division might be enough to secure the No. 5 spot in the conference.

    Projection: Washington vs. Boise State

Belk Bowl

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    The Belk Bowl represents the lowest-paying bowl game to feature two teams from AQ conferences ($1 million payout).

    Accordingly, the Belk Bowl gets a pretty mediocre team from the ACC and a middle team from the always mediocre Big East.

    It's difficult enough to project the winner of the ACC at this point, much less the team that will eventually fall into the No. 5 spot in the conference. There's a lot of turmoil in the conference right now, with bad teams narrowly winning games (but winning), and good teams winning games against other AQ opponents.

    It's going to be difficult to sort things out until we start seeing some full conference play, but right now, but we're projecting NC State to make an appearance in the Belk Bowl at season's end.

    The Big East, on the other hand, is proving a very difficult conference to project, especially when you get away from the top two spots.

    While a lot of people are high on South Florida as a dark horse BCS candidate, we still think the 2-0 Bulls will fall short of knocking off Louisville or Cincinnati for a conference title this season.

    Still, a third-place finish in the conference is nothing to hang one's head over, and the Bulls will make an excellent opponent for the Hurricanes in this ACC-Big East showdown.

    Projection: North Carolina State vs. South Florida

BBVA Compass Bowl

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    The SEC makes its first appearance on the bowl list with the No. 9 conference selection by the BBVA Compass Bowl.

    In another of the AQ vs. AQ matchups, the SEC's last bowl-eligible team will face off against the No. 5 team out of the Big East—giving the SEC a huge advantage.

    For the bottom bowl spot in the SEC, we're going to project a team that hasn't seen a bowl berth since 2009—the Mississippi Rebels.

    Ole Miss is off to a 2-0 start for the first time since that 2009 season, when the Rebels ended up in the Cotton Bowl Classic.

    There's really no chance for Ole Miss to make it all the way back to the Cotton Bowl Classic this season, but even making a bowl game after last year's 2-10 finish would be a huge accomplishment.

    As for the fifth-place Big East team, the Compass Bowl committee needs to hope that five teams from the Big East can even make it to six wins this season, or else the Sun Belt will slide into the spot.

    We think there will be enough teams to go around this year, and Connecticut will slide into the fifth place spot in the conference, earning a chance to face off against Ole Miss.

    Projection: Connecticut vs. Mississippi

Military Bowl

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    The Military Bowl is a pretty new bowl that was created to provide a bowl home for teams like Army.

    Unfortunately, Army has only made two bowl games over the past two-and-a-half decades, so we're unlikely to see any great Army games in Washington, DC, anytime soon.

    And when it comes to bowl staying power, games between the Sun Belt and MAC aren't exactly what the committee is looking for, as television viewership falls off, advertising dollars dry up, and ticket sales are paltry at best.

    Arkansas State and Western Michigan are our projections for the 2012 Military Bowl, and neither of those teams are likely to bring the fans into the stadium in droves or attract much fanfare from the pundits.

    Projection: Arkansas State vs. Western Michigan

Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

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    The Big East makes another appearance on our bowl list with the sixth selection making it to the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.

    With only eight teams, we're not positive we can find six bowl-eligible teams (there were only five Big East teams in bowl games after last season).

    Still, it's possible that someone could find just enough offense this year to reach a bowl game by a hair. New Big East program Temple fits nicely into a bowl spot for a bottom-half team in a pretty bad conference.

    The opponent for Temple won't be making any more headlines this season, as the fifth selection from Conference USA will back into the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.

    That sounds like a role for UTEP, who fought valiantly, but in vain, against Oklahoma.

    With a matchup like UTEP vs. Temple, the bowl committee won't be terribly happy, as television ratings will be severely depressed, and there's a serious doubt every seat will be filled on game day. But it is what it is.

    Projection: Temple vs. UTEP

Independence Bowl

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    Wake Forest was the darling of the ACC last season and was mathematically in the hunt for an ACC title run at the end of October.

    This year probably will be a little different for the Demon Deacons, but there's no reason they won't be heading back to a bowl game.

    San Diego State is projected to earn an Independence Bowl berth at the conclusion of its final season in the Mountain West Conference.

    The Aztecs never found much success in the MWC, and nemesis Boise State will be moving to the Big East with them next season.

    Projection: Wake Forest vs. San Diego State

TicketCity Bowl

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    The TicketCity Bowl is the first opportunity for both the Big Ten and Big 12 to face off against another AQ conference in a bowl game.

    The TicketCity Bowl gets the seventh selection from the Big Ten, and eighth from the Big 12.

    Believe it or not, we're going to go with Minnesota from the Big Ten.

    The Gophers are off to a 2-0 start, and need just four more wins to find their way back to a bowl game for the first time in a few years.

    With Western Michigan and Syracuse still on the non-conference schedule, it's possible we could be looking at a 4-0 Minnesota team heading into conference play.

    Unfortunately, there aren't a great many wins to be had by the Gophers in the Big Ten this season, with a very difficult Legends Division schedule. Two more wins might be all the Gophers can manage.

    With the Big 12 having a distinctly different look this season, we've yet to see any solidification of who is going to end up where when the 2012 regular season is all said and done.

    But, with five ranked teams after Week 2, it shouldn't be too hard to find eight bowl teams, should it?

    The Texas Tech Red Raiders are off to a 2-0 start, and could be headed to their first bowl season since Mike Leach was railroaded out of town.

    The Raiders were 5-7 last season, and two of those losses were to Texas A&M and Missouri—who are now in the SEC.

    Texas Tech should be able to find one extra win somewhere on the schedule this season, and will be a good match for Minnesota in the TicketCity Bowl.

    Projection: Texas Tech vs. Minnesota

Liberty Bowl

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    The Liberty Bowl will be the home of the top-selected (but not necessarily the champion) team from Conference USA in 2012.

    That team will need to use everything at their disposal to knock off their opponent from the SEC in this bowl game.

    The SEC team will be either the seventh or eighth bowl-eligible team from the conference, and we project that Missouri will fill that role.

    Missouri almost had a great start to its SEC tenure. But “almost” doesn't cut it in college football and, in the end, a loss is a loss.

    Still, the Tigers proved they can compete with the best the conference has to offer, and there shouldn't be any problem earning a bowl spot from a conference with almost as many bowl tie-ins as teams.

    From Conference USA, we're going to go with a bold projection by selecting Southern Methodist as the conference champion and top bowl pick.

    It's been a long road back for the Mustangs, and the biggest step of the journey will happen in 2012 as SMU finally breaks through and wins the program's first conference title of any kind since 1984, when SMU split the Southwest Conference title with Houston.

    Projection: Southern Methodist vs. Missouri

Music City Bowl

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    The Music City Bowl is projected to feature a couple of traditionally weaker teams from their respective conferences that have made some great strides in recent years.

    The Mississippi State Bulldogs are 1-0 in conference play for the first time since 1999 and the Virginia Cavaliers are coming off a 2011 season that saw them play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl following last season.

    While we're not projecting the Cavs will do as well as 2011, there's still no reason they can't find a way into bowl eligibility yet again, earning a trip to the Big Easy.

    For Mississippi State, starting 1-0 is great, but just a very small step on the road to larger SEC competitiveness. While the Bulldogs were able to knock off Auburn, forcing the Tigers into a 0-2 hole, there are legitimate questions remaining about how well they can do against the “big boys” of the SEC.

    Projection: Virginia vs. Mississippi State

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

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    The Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas is another Big Ten-Big 12 meeting, this time between both of the conference's sixth-place teams.

    From the Big 12, it looks painfully obvious that Oklahoma State is not anywhere near the same team it was last season. With so many offensive weapons missing, and a completely unimproved defense, we're projection the Pokes will finish behind the five currently-ranked Big 12 teams (Oklahoma, West Virginia, TCU, Texas, and Kansas State).

    From the Big Ten, the divisional split makes it a little more difficult to put a finger on just who is the sixth-best team in the conference, but we've decided to go with Purdue.

    The Boilermakers are going to benefit from the fact that both Ohio State and Penn State—fellow Leaders Division teams—are ineligible for the postseason this year. That boosts Purdue from a meaningless bowl berth against a MAC opponent to a bigger stage game against the Big 12.

    The Boilers also don't appear to be the pushovers they've been recently. Purdue gave Notre Dame all it could handle, and only lost on a field goal in the closing moments.

    Projection: Oklahoma State vs. Purdue

Sun Bowl

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    The Sun Bowl has become one of the more entertaining bowl games over recent years, and both the Pac-12 and ACC have stepped up their competitiveness-in-depth lately.

    The Sun Bowl gets the fourth pick from both conferences, and we project Georgia Tech and Utah will fill those spots.

    The Utes may be coming off of a crushing defeat at the hands of in-state rival Utah State, but that doesn't meant he Utes don't have the talent and ability to make a better showing of things in the Pac-12 compared to 2011.

    Without the distraction of a new conference home and AQ status, the Utes should be able to get down to business in the Pac-12. While USC is going to be the undisputed king of the South Division, Utah currently appears to have at least the ability to hang with programs like UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State.

    Maybe the loss to Utah State will serve as a wake-up call, and in the long run, it could help the Utes focus their skills on winning football games against opponents they view as inferior.

    Even though the Hurricanes were thoroughly dominated by Kansas State in Week 2, there are still signs that they can emerge from their year of self-imposed bowl exile to earn a spot in the Sun Bowl.

    With both Utah and Miami losing early, this game could be the perfect way for either to earn a measure of redemption.

    Projection: Miami (FL) vs. Utah

Pinstripe Bowl

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    One of the newer bowls on the docket is the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, played in Yankee Stadium.

    The game will feature the fourth selection from the Big East and the seventh selection from the Big 12.

    We haven't talked about Rutgers yet in the Big East, and that's really because there's nothing particularly good or bad about the Scarlet Knights this season.

    While it's easy to see why some are discounting the Knights in the race for the Big East, don't believe anyone who tells you they can't win some big games in 2012.

    Still, we're picking Rutgers to finish behind Louisville, Cincy, and South Florida.

    Baylor may have lost Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III to the NFL, but the Bears are showing that they weren't all about RG3 last season.

    The Bears opened up a can on SMU in Week 1 before taking a breather in Week 2. If Baylor can beat the teams its supposed to beat, the Bears should find themselves bowl eligible, in the middle of the pack in the Big 12, and headed to New York for a bowl game.

    Projection: Rutgers vs. Baylor

Russell Athletic Bowl

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    The Russell Athletic Bowl is the new name for the Champs Sports Bowl, but will still feature the third selection from the ACC and the second selection from the Big East, or Notre Dame should the Fighting Irish be available.

    The ACC will be quite the conference at the top this season, and somebody has to draw the short straw when it comes to the conference championship game.

    With the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game having already likely decided the Coastal Division, it will be up to either Clemson and Florida State to fill the other top spot—meaning one of those teams will fall short of the ACC Championship Game and the BCS. Last year it was Florida State. This year, it's Georgia Tech.

    For the other locker room, the folks at the Russell Athletic Bowl will need to prepare for the Cincinnati Bearcats.

    Cincy isn't quite the team it was with Brian Kelly at the helm, but he did enough to raise the stature of the program to a point where it can now recruit and compete with the best of the (remaining) Big East programs.

    Projection: Cincinnati vs. Georgia Tech

Alamo Bowl

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    As we get to the Alamo Bowl, we're really entering the big money bowl games. The 2011 payout for the Alamo Bowl was $2.25 million, and that may increase for 2012.

    We're also to the point where we're going to likely see a Top 25 vs. Top 25 matchup, as the Alamo Bowl gets the second-place team from the Pac-12 and the third-place team from the Big 12.

    For the Pac-12, we may find that the Alamo Bowl will be forced down into the third place pick, as both Oregon and USC look to be on the path towards BCS bowls this season.

    With the early play from Stanford, we're not likely to see the Cardinal able to get past USC or Oregon, and those two losses will likely push them out of the Top 25, at least temporarily (as USC travels to Stanford in Week 3). But the Cardinal still maintain enough of a talent core to remain competitive on the Pac-12's second-tier this season.

    The Big 12's third-place program will also be sporting a Top 25 ranking at the end of the regular season, and the Texas Longhorns will feel right at home in the Alamo Bowl.

    The Longhorns are slowly rebuilding after the collapse following Colt McCoy's graduation. While Mack Brown is doing his best to get the Longhorns back to where we all expect to see them, it's doubtful whether they can get past either Oklahoma or West Virginia this season.

    Projection: Texas vs. Stanford

Holiday Bowl

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    The Holiday Bowl features the third team from the Pac-12 and the fifth team from the Big 12.

    As we've already mentioned, we're going to see two Pac-12 teams in the BCS this season, so we're going to bump the Holiday Bowl selection down to the fourth Pac-12 selection—which is UCLA.

    After an impressive upset win against Nebraska, it's clear that the influence of Jim Mora is already being felt by the Sons of Westwood.

    Hang on, we're not saying UCLA is going to knock off USC or anything close to that, but we're also giving Bruins fans a solid projection of their team “being back.”

    From the Big 12, we're projecting a fifth-place finish for Bill Snyder's Wildcats from Kansas State.

    While KSU was the darling of the nation last season, the magic is going to wear off a bit this season, and there won't be any sneaking up on anyone in 2012.

    The Big 12 is also loaded with talent this year, and it's going to be difficult for a program like K-State to bust into the top ranks.

    But that also means a fifth-place finish is an accomplishment in and of itself in what is arguably the second-best conference in the nation, top to bottom.

    Projection: Kansas State vs. UCLA

Gator Bowl

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    The Gator Bowl typically features a couple of good teams from two of the nation's best conferences; the Big Ten and SEC.

    Iowa is certainly going to benefit from Ohio State and Penn State being exiled from the bowl world this season. Instead of a December bowl that no one watches, we're projecting the Hawkeyes to find themselves in Florida on New Year's for a Gator Bowl appearance.

    Not bad for a rebuilding year.

    Tennessee will take the next step towards a return to glory in the SEC this season, and a trip to the Gator Bowl could have the Volunteers in good position for a run at the SEC-East in the ensuring seasons.

    The Vols are a long way off from an SEC title right now, but they're similarly a long way off from the turmoil of the revolving door on the head coach's office.

    Projection: Iowa vs. Tennessee

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

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    The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is the new name for the Insight Bowl and, once again, we'll see a top-tier-ish meeting between the Big Ten and Big 12.

    Both conferences will send their fourth (or possibly fifth, in the case of the Big Ten) bowl selections to Tempe for the B-Dubs Bowl and, with the way the conferences are stacking up this season, that could equal another bowl loss for the Big Ten.

    TCU is entering its first season in the Big 12 with the look and swagger of a veteran BCS contender. That kind of attitude will serve the Horned Frogs well, as mental toughness can go a long way towards success in the conference.

    Michigan turns out to not quite measure up to anyone's preseason standards.

    The once top ten team is now barely hanging on in the Top 25 after a narrow 31-25 victory over Air Force in Week 2.

    The Wolverines are entirely one-dimensional as Denard Robinson is the sole offensive engine on the team. Any program with enough talent to contain Robinson should have no problem knocking off Michigan.

    Michigan will find a back door to the B-Dubs Bowl, thanks to some Big Ten teams facing postseason bans this year.

    Projection: Michigan vs. Texas Christian

Chick-Fil-a Bowl

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    The old Peach Bowl, now the Chick-fil-A Bowl, has long been a staple of good old Southern football.

    And the 2013 installment of this New Year's game won't be any different.

    We're projecting a couple of powerhouses from the ACC and SEC this season with Clemson and Florida making the trip to Atlanta.

    Florida is on the cusp of becoming relevant in the SEC-East once again, and a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over a very good Clemson team could be just the signal of which the rest of the conference is wary.

    Clemson, on the other hand, is desperate to wash the sour taste of last season's Orange Bowl out of its mouth, and a Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Florida would be just the right kind of mouthwash.

    Projection: Clemson vs. Florida

Outback Bowl

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    Last season, the Outback Bowl was one of the better SEC-Big Ten games, pitting two division champions against one another.

    The SEC-East champion Georgia Bulldogs took the Big Ten-Legends champion Michigan State Spartans to overtime, but Sparty finally emerged victorious.

    This season, the Outback Bowl won't be quite as high on the list, but that doesn't mean the game will be any less interesting.

    The Cornhuskers had a lackluster start to their Big Ten careers last season, never really recovering from the body blow administered by Wisconsin in the program's first-ever Big Ten conference game.

    Nebraska also suffered a defeat at the hands of UCLA last week, and is desperately searching for a way to erase the memory of what is sure to be a loss that will have lasting repercussions down the road.

    The Huskers may find some success against teams like Michigan this year, but they still have a ways to go before they're ready to compete for a conference title.

    On the flip side, the Florida Gators are on the cusp of returning to SEC greatness. While there are still a few holes in the roster head coach Will Muschamp has to fill, it's looking more and more likely that the Gators will be back to their old winning ways before long.

    What better way to springboard into a 2013 run at the BCS than with a quality bowl win over a quality team form the Big Ten?

    Projection: Arkansas vs. Nebraska

Capital One Bowl

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    The Capital One Bowl has long been viewed as the top bowl destination for the non-BCS teams from the Big Ten and SEC.

    Officially, the Capital One Bowl gets the second bowl team from each conference. In reality, that works out to the top non-BCS spot for each conference, will this year will mean the Big Ten Championship Game loser and the third-place SEC team (or the top non-BCS team from the SEC).

    South Carolina has been oh so close to breaking through to that first-ever SEC title for a couple of seasons now. And the wait will continue.

    Since the focus in the SEC is single-mindedly on the BCS National Championship Game, anything less than playing for the crystal football is seen as a failure. But earning a spot in the one of the top-paying bowls in the nation is no failure.

    With a $4.25 million payout, the Capital One Bowl was long the top paying bowl until surpassed by the Cotton Bowl Classic when it moved into Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Still, that's a mountain of money, and the game is always hailed as one of the best non-BCS games of the season.

    Neither South Carolina, nor Big Ten Leaders Division champions Wisconsin, should scoff at this opportunity.

    Basically, all Wisconsin has to do to win the Leaders Division is not trip over itself—like losing to Oregon State.

    That's the one pass Wisconsin will get. With Penn State and Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten Championship Game, Wisconsin need only to beat Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana to earn a trip to Indianapolis.

    But a third trip to Pasadena is out of the question. The Beavers exposed massive holes for the rest of the Big Ten to exploit, and Michigan State will find a way to knock off the Badgers again, this time in the conference title game.

    Projection: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin

Cotton Bowl Classic

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    The Cotton Bowl Classic is so close to a BCS game, it's actually considered by some to be the “fifth BCS bowl.”

    And with a massive $6.75 million payout, only the BCS participants receive more money for their bowl invitations.

    Georgia is once again proving that they are in an excellent position to challenge for the SEC-East crown. If the Bulldogs can engineer wins over South Carolina and Florida, the division is theirs.

    Oklahoma's brief streak of BCS-lessness will continue this season, although the Sooners will finish in much better shape than 2011. After all, the Cotton Bowl Classic is about as close to the BCS as a team can get without actually traveling to Miami, New Orleans, Pasadena, or Glendale.

    Projection: Georgia vs. Oklahoma

Fiesta Bowl

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    We finally come to our projections for the BCS bowls after Week 2 of the 2012 college football season.

    The Fiesta Bowl is the annual home of the Big 12 champion and an at-large BCS team.

    We're projecting West Virginia as the 2012 Big 12 champions, mainly due to the play of Heisman contender quarterback Geno Smith.

    The Mountaineers have been nothing short of impressive so far this season and, with some of the toughest games on the conference schedule (namely Oklahoma) taking place at West Virginia, there's no reason to think the Mountaineers can't win the conference in their first season.

    To take the at-large spot, we're projecting the Pac-12 North Division champion Oregon Ducks to make the trip to Arizona.

    With all of the hype surrounding USC this season, people are overlooking the Ducks.

    The offense at Oregon hasn't missed a beat, even with some high-profile departures after the 2011 Rose Bowl Game championship season.

    The Ducks may even knock off USC during the regular season, but USC is still a very good team, and it's going to be next to impossible to beat the Trojans twice in one year.

    Projection: Oregon vs. West Virginia

Orange Bowl

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    The Orange Bowl is home to the ACC Champions—unless that champion happens to be playing in the BCS National Championship Game.

    Not to give too much away, but the ACC will need to send a replacement team to the Orange Bowl this season, and Virginia Tech will be making its seventh BCS trip in January.

    The Hokies clearly aren't the same team on offense and, with just three starters returning on that side of the ball, it could be a trying season.

    But if there's one team that can find unconventional ways to win games, it's Virginia Tech. Don't expect the Hokies to release their stranglehold on the Coastal Division without a fight—and winning a Week 1 game against divisional foe Georgia Tech helps a lot, too.

    Unfortunately, we're still stuck with the Big East and their automatic BCS berth.

    We have to put the Big East champion into a BCS game somewhere, so why not the Orange Bowl?

    Projection: Louisville vs. Virginia Tech

Sugar Bowl

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    Despite the hopes of Tigers fans everywhere, LSU will not have a chance at redemption after last season's debacle against Alabama in the title game.

    The Tigers are still very, very good, and there's no reason why two SEC teams won't finish in the top five come bowl selection time.

    LSU won't win the SEC, and won't be heading to the BCS National Championship Game for a second straight season, but there shouldn't be too many LSU followers upset with this BCS game in their own backyard.

    Across the turf, the Tigers will find the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

    Yes, we're going out on a limb here to project the Irish as an at-large BCS program.

    So may people point out each and every year that Notre Dame is consistently overrated in the polls. That “overrated” phenomenon will help the Irish find a way back to the BCS this season, as one or two losses—maybe even three—could keep the Irish in the “eligible” category.

    And the Irish simply need to finish in the top eight to automatically qualify. With a killer of a schedule in 2012, a two-loss Notre Dame team should still be able to find a way to sneak into the BCS.

    And we're apparently not the only ones who think this is possible.

    I stand by my word, Mayday….. 11 wins for Notre Dame this season.

    — Lou Holtz (@ESPNDrLou) September 4, 2012

    Projection: Louisiana State vs. Notre Dame

Rose Bowl Game

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    Ah, the Rose Bowl Game. The “Granddaddy of Them All.”

    There's something so magical about the Rose Bowl Game. The stadium, the tradition, the's almost too much to take in.

    And what's a Rose Bowl Game without USC?

    It's been a while since the Trojans have made it across town to Pasadena in January, and even longer since it officially counted in the record books. But the Trojans are back, and they look every bit the Pac-12 champions they are projected to be.

    With so much talent spread around the nation this season, a team needs to be perfect to find its way to the BCS National Championship Game, and USC, while good, is just not great enough to beat Oregon twice in one season.

    In contrast to USC, Michigan State hasn't been to Pasadena since the late 1980s. Michigan State did, however, win the 1988 Rose Bowl Game. The opponent? Why, USC, of course.

    The Spartans look as if they might be unchallenged for the Big Ten crown this season. But does MSU have enough strength to take out mighty USC?

    Projection: Michigan State vs. USC

The BCS National Championship Game

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    Last, but certainly not least, we come to our projection for the 2013 BCS National Championship game.

    Alabama began the season as a strong No. 2 in the B/R Top 25 poll. After completely humiliating Michigan to start the season and blanking Western Kentucky in Week 2, the Crimson Tide have moved into the No. 1 spot in the poll heading into Week 3.

    And while there's plenty of time for the Tide to slip up, particularly in the SEC schedule, it just seems as if Nick Saban and company aren't going to let anything stand in their way of a third title in four seasons.

    The Florida State Seminoles might have something to say about that.

    While we haven't seen anything from FSU this season, having played two FCS opponents to start the year, we are fairly sure that, once they start playing FBS teams, the Seminoles will be able to take care of business.

    After all, what other program has had the benefit of playing what amounts to a preseason schedule?

    Florida State is the closest things we've seen to an SEC-quality team from outside the SEC in quite a few years. With an undefeated record in hard, we're projecting Florida State to give Alabama and the SEC a run for its money—and championship streak—in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.

    Projection: Alabama vs. Florida State