The 2012 college football season is at the halfway point, but that won't stop us from predicting how things are going to shake out come December.
After all, we now have a brand-spanking-new set of BCS rankings to pore over!
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, post-Week 7 edition.
The winner of the Sun Belt title typically meets up with the fourth selection out of Conference USA, but even a cursory glance at the C-USA standings will tell you it's unlikely to produce four viable bowl teams this season (Central Florida's bowl eligibility depends on the results of its appeal of its bowl ban).
We had to go shopping for a team to take that spot, and we've projected San Diego State to finish the regular season eligible for a bowl selection without a conference tie-in.
As for the Sun Belt, we're still projecting Louisiana-Monroe to emerge without a conference loss in 2012.
Projection: Louisiana-Monroe vs. San Diego State
The former Motor City Bowl is played at Ford Field in Detroit each December and features a MAC-Big Ten meeting.
Yes, we're projecting Minnesota to return to the ranks of bowl-eligible teams this season.
This year's Gophers are looking like a much-improved version of themselves, and six wins is entirely within reach.
The bowl committee also gets the second pick of MAC programs, and this season, we're projecting Toledo to win the West Division but fall short in the MAC championship game.
Projection: Toledo vs. Minnesota
Utah State is once again off to an impressive start, and we're holding steady with our projection of the Aggies as the second WAC selection in 2012.
Northern Illinois will be selected for yet another bowl game out of the MAC and should feel right at home in the freezing temperatures typically seen in Boise in late December.
Projection: Utah State vs. Northern Illinois
The first selection from the MAC will be heading to the GoDaddy.com Bowl this season, and there's no reason we aren't sticking with the Ohio Bobcats.
Ohio has looked absolutely spectacular so far this season and is off to a 7-0 start, complete with a Top 25 ranking.
The GoDaddy.com Bowl will also feature the second selection from the Sun Belt, which we're projecting to be Louisiana-Lafayette.
Sorry, Western Kentucky fans, but it looks as if your Hilltoppers will again be left without a bowl berth. With a lack of fan support and only two conference tie-ins, there's not much incentive for any other bowl to pick up WKU in place of any other available program.
Projection: Ohio vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Conference USA is an absolute mess this season and is easily on pace to be the worst conference, top to bottom, in 2012.
Still, East Carolina will get an undue reward thanks in part to ineligible teams and lackluster performances from its conference mates.
The Pirates will face off against a rejuvenated San Jose State Spartans squad that was left for dead a year ago. SJSU has made impressive strides over the past year, and a bowl game is now within sight.
Projection: East Carolina vs. San Jose State
Houston clearly isn't the program it was with Kevin Sumlin on the sidelines and Case Keenum taking the snaps.
Last season, we were talking about a Cougars team possibly busting up the BCS. That didn't happen in the end, but this season the Cougars can't even hold their own in one of the most, if not the most, downtrodden conferences in the nation.
Navy had been the toast of the service academies for the better part of the last decade, but now it looks as if the Air Force Falcons are taking over that role.
The Falcons have won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy in back-to-back years, and despite losing to Navy, there's still an outside chance the Falcons can at least share the trophy in 2012.
Projection: Houston vs. Air Force
Were it not for Boise State, we might very well be projecting both our Poinsettia Bowl participants in different bowl destinations.
But since the Broncos have already knocked off the BYU Cougars and are expected to do the same to the Nevada Wolf Pack, we've placed those two teams in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl for 2012.
Projection: Nevada vs. BYU
What are the chances New Mexico plays in the New Mexico Bowl?
As it stands right now, not too bad.
To the great surprise of many, New Mexico already has four wins to its credit in 2012. The New Mexico Bowl makes the fifth selection from the Mountain West, and with five one-loss teams in conference play after seven weeks, it's not crazy to think that the Lobos could find a way to climb just one spot above the conference fog to claim that fifth position.
The New Mexico Bowl also makes the sixth non-BCS selection out of the Pac-12, and while we've yet to see a lot of separation in the middle of the conference, we're currently projecting Arizona to make a return to bowl eligibility under new head coach Rich Rodriguez this season.
Projection: New Mexico vs. Arizona
After what seemed like an eternity of over-performing and beating expectations, Navy has fallen back down to earth a bit over the past few seasons.
The Midshipmen missed a bowl game in 2011 for the first time since the 2002 season, and early impressions made a lot of people believe 2012 wouldn't be much different.
However, Navy has taken advantage of a weak schedule and is now 3-3 on the year, with ample opportunity to earn its way into a bowl game at season's end.
Washington has put up a valiant fight in the Pac-12, but at the end of the year, a loss is a loss, regardless of how hard the Huskies have played.
We're projecting Washington to be just good enough to earn the fifth non-BCS selection from the Pac-12 this season.
Projection: Washington vs. Navy
Boise State has made Las Vegas its bowl home the past two seasons, and 2012 likely won't be any different.
This Boise State squad just doesn't have the weapons of Bronco teams past, and an early loss to Michigan State combined with MSU's penchant for losing down the stretch has killed any shot of a magical return to the BCS for the Broncos this season.
UCLA has a couple of impressive wins already this season, and Jim Mora clearly has his program humming along towards a bright future. A fourth non-BCS selection from the Pac-12 is nothing to shake a stick at—especially given where UCLA was last season at this time.
Projection: Boise State vs. UCLA
The Belk Bowl is home to the second non-BCS Big East selection and the fourth non-BCS team from the ACC.
The problem with the ACC is that the conference seems to be doing quite a number on itself so far this year, and there's little chance of two BCS selections at season's end.
While Miami is just 4-3 overall, the Hurricanes are 3-1 in conference play and currently lead the Coastal Division standings. It's not totally crazy to think that even a not-so-great Miami team could find a way to finish fifth or higher in the final ACC standings.
The top of the Big East is similarly difficult to decipher at this point. With Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati all sporting undefeated records and BCS Top 25 rankings, it's possible that any of those three teams winds up in the Belk Bowl.
Projection: Miami (FL) vs. Cincinnati
The BBVA Compass Bowl begins the countdown of the plethora of SEC teams we'll see this postseason with the eighth non-BCS selection from the conference.
Picking the eventual winner of the SEC is difficult enough. Try selecting the team that will finish in ninth or 10th place, overall.
Right now, there are a few teams that could fill this role, but we're projecting Missouri to slide in just under the wire to snap up one of its new conference's coveted bowl spots.
We're also projecting Big East newcomer Temple to find a way to climb into the fifth spot in that conference, enough to earn a meager invitation to the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Projection: Temple vs. Missouri
The Military Bowl was originally created to provide a bowl home for Army, but the Black Knights can't seem to find six wins in any single season.
The backup plan for the bowl is the MAC, which thankfully should have plenty of bowl-eligible teams from which to choose this season.
We've projected Kent State to finish fourth in the MAC this year, which gives it the spot in place of an absent Army.
The Golden Flashes will face the seventh non-BCS selection from the ACC. Right now, we're giving the nod to Wake Forest, but that could easily change, as the Demon Deacons aren't a lock for a bowl game just yet.
Should Wake Forest fail to qualify, the bowl may have to go outside of its usual conference tie-ins to find a replacement—just the kind of thing Western Kentucky fans would love to see.
Projection: Wake Forest vs. Kent State
The Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl will take the fifth non-BCS Big East team this season—which we're projecting to be Syracuse—to typically face off against the fifth selection from Conference USA.
But we've already mentioned—several times—how terrible Conference USA is this season, and with eight teams currently sporting two wins or less, plus a likely ineligible UCF, we can safely say the conference won't be sending five teams bowling this season.
Luckily, there's a very good Louisiana Tech program lurking out there that would be a boon to any bowl, and we project that the Bulldogs will earn an invitation from the top-paying bowl game unable to find a traditional tie-in.
Projection: Syracuse vs. Louisiana Tech
Is the world really ready for a bowl-eligible Duke program?
The Blue Devils are 5-2, just one win away from their first bowl trip since 1994.
The Duke schedule isn't going to be very easy moving forward, with games against Florida State, Clemson and North Carolina looming, but we're betting Duke can find at least one win.
Of course, Duke needs an opponent, which is supposed to be the 10th-place SEC team. However, the SEC won't be able to provide a team given how the rest of the bowl games shake out, so we've projected Fresno State out of the Mountain West to take this spot.
Projection: Duke vs. Fresno State
The first of several Big Ten-Big 12 matchups is between the sixth and seventh non-BCS selections from those two conferences, respectively, in the game formerly known as the TicketCity Bowl.
There were high hopes for Baylor when the season started, and even after putting up 63 points against West Virginia in a losing effort, a number of people still believed the Bears could be a force in the Big 12.
However, a follow-up loss at the hands of TCU has all but ended any talk of a Baylor run this season.
Purdue was also a trendy pick in its conference, but the Boilermakers now have three losses on the season and will need to find a few more wins to earn a bowl trip.
Still, Purdue should have enough steam left in the boiler to make a bowl trip this season (see what we did there?).
Projection: Purdue vs. Baylor
The Conference USA typically finds its way to the Liberty Bowl each season, and this year, there's no reason yet to doubt that Tulsa will be able to continue its impressive first-half run to 6-1 all the way to the conference title.
The seventh non-BCS selection from the SEC is the opponent for the C-USA champ, and we're currently projecting Tennessee in that spot.
The Vols clearly aren't back yet, despite what we all heard when the season began. Once Tennessee dropped an early conference meeting to Florida, it was all downhill from there. The Vols are now 0-3 in conference play and will need to rebound late in the year to make a bowl trip this season.
Projection: Tulsa vs. Tennessee
With the fifth non-BCS selection from the ACC and sixth from the SEC, the Music City Bowl has become one of the more entertaining bowls for middle-tier conference teams over the past several years.
This season, we're projecting a pair of bowl-season returns for Maryland and Mississippi.
Ole Miss is raising a few eyebrows down south with an impressive 4-3 start thus far.
Similarly, Maryland has returned from the edge of the abyss to post a 4-2 mark at the midway point of 2012.
Oh yeah. The Terps are also 2-0 in conference play—the only unbeaten team in the Atlantic Division.
Projection: Maryland vs. Mississippi
Last week, we projected Texas to get as far as the Cotton Bowl Classic this season.
Clearly, that was premature.
The Oklahoma Sooners absolutely embarrassed the Longhorns, and Texas now appears to be on another level—in a bad way—compared to the top teams in the Big 12.
The Longhorns are now projected to find their way to the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas—which would be thrilled to have them—as the fifth non-BCS selection from the Big 12.
The fifth non-BCS selection from the Big Ten will also participate in this bowl, and we're now placing Iowa in that spot after an impressive double-overtime win at Michigan State this past weekend.
Projection: Texas vs. Iowa
With the third non-BCS selections from the Pac-12 and ACC, the Sun Bowl is a game we can honestly place solidly in the second tier of non-BCS games each season.
We're likely to see one team looking for redemption and another looking to salvage what is left of 2012.
Virginia Tech is a perennial challenger for a BCS berth, but with a depleted roster, the Hokies are just barely hanging on in 2012.
Arizona State, also with a lot of new faces, appears to be putting its past behind it, as the Sun Devils are now 5-1 on the year and 3-0 in conference play—the only Pac-12 team unbeaten in the South Division.
Projection: Arizona State vs. Virginia Tech
The New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium has one of the more unique settings of all college bowl games.
This relatively new bowl pits the third non-BCS team from the Big East against the sixth non-BCS team from the Big 12.
With a 3-3 start, we are still projecting Connecticut to finish in fourth place in the Big East, while we predict a slide from last season's Big 12 champs, Oklahoma State.
Projection: Connecticut vs. Oklahoma State
The Champs Sports Bowl has been rebranded the Russell Athletic Bowl and again features the top non-BCS team from the Big East and the second non-BCS program from the ACC.
The Big East is crowded at the top, and someone is going to have to lose before too long. Right now, we're projecting that someone to be the Scarlet Knights from Rutgers.
We're also going to go out on a limb and give the second non-BCS spot from the ACC to up-and-coming NC State.
The Wolfpack knocked off national championship hopeful Florida State a couple of weeks ago and are an unlikely 4-2 already. With a weaker schedule upcoming, there's no reason the Wolfpack can't make a serious run towards the top of the Atlantic Division this season.
Projection: North Carolina State vs. Rutgers
Was anyone picking Texas Tech on Saturday?
Us neither. But the Red Raiders did the unthinkable and completely shut down the mighty West Virginia offense. Texas Tech essentially eliminated WVU from national championship consideration and put a huge dent in Geno Smith's Heisman chances all in the span of a couple of hours.
The Red Raiders also proved to the nation that their highly-rated defense is no joke.
Because the Big 12 is such a defensively-declined conference to start, we've gone ahead and jumped the Raiders all the way up to the Alamo Bowl—which gets the second non-BCS selection from the Big 12.
Another surprise team this season is the Pac-12's Oregon State. Sure, the biggest tests are yet to come (Stanford and Oregon), but the Beavers look like a legit top-tier Pac-12 team this season.
This may end up being one of the best non-BCS bowl games all season.
Projection: Texas Tech vs. Oregon State
Who knew that Iowa State was going to make this upset thing a yearly trend?
Last season, the Cyclones ended the national title hopes of Oklahoma State. This year, it was TCU.
The Cyclones may not be ready to become a top contender in the conference, but they're clearly capable of winding up with the fourth non-BCS selection from the Big 12.
Stanford, on the other hand, looks to be a team that's just holding on by a thread.
Sure, there are plenty of excuses: Andrew Luck is gone, Stepfan Taylor really did break the plane and on and on.
But the fact of the matter is the Cardinal are still a solid team with a bright future, and a second non-BCS selection is easily within Stanford's grasp.
Projection: Iowa State vs. Stanford
Texas A&M is having a rough time of it in its new conference home, the SEC. But all is not lost for the Aggies.
With the fifth non-BCS selection from the conference, the Gator Bowl should provide a nice first SEC season bowl home for A&M, provided there aren't any epic slips between now and the end of the season.
Texas A&M has yet to really taste the SEC West, and that could be uncomfortable for a team that gave up 57 points to Louisiana Tech, but the Aggies are talented enough to beat all but the best the conference has to offer.
Michigan State is really on the skids, in comparison.
The Spartans, once considered a favorite to win the Big Ten, are now just trying to find a win—any win—in conference.
The Spartan defense is doing all it can to keep MSU in games, but the offense just can't execute when it really counts.
After an overtime loss to Iowa, we've dropped Sparty all the way from the Rose Bowl Game to the Gator Bowl with the third non-BCS pick for the Big Ten.
Projection: Texas A&M vs. Michigan State
With the third non-BCS pick from the Big 12, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (formerly the Insight Bowl) currently has its sights set on TCU.
The Horned Frogs looked pretty solid early in 2012, as the mantle of BCS-AQ program seemed like a natural fit.
But like so many other AQ programs, the Frogs fell victim to the upset. A loss to Iowa State has all but ended any dreams of glory, and now TCU is just working to regain some of that lost momentum.
We're projecting the Frogs to face off against Nebraska, the fourth non-BCS pick from the Big Ten.
The Cornhuskers stumbled early but have rebounded nicely in the wide-open Big Ten. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is finally showing signs of the greatness we were all waiting on, and his continued growth will only improve Nebraska's chances moving forward.
Projection: TCU vs. Nebraska
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is a coveted prize for any ACC team, as it receives the top non-BCS selection from the conference.
While Florida State has since slipped, we're still projecting Clemson to come in a close second to the Seminoles and find its way to Atlanta. A lot can still happen, but the conference may very well have kissed its chances at a BCS two-fer away when FSU lost to NC State.
Similarly, saying bye-bye to the BCS is Georgia.
The Bulldogs did a huge disservice to their BCS chances with a loss to South Carolina.
What makes the Bulldogs fall all the way to the fourth non-BCS selection in the conference will be the plethora of top-ranked teams from the SEC at season's end.
The conference only gets two BCS slots, and that will force some of the top non-BCS-bound programs—like Georgia—into bowls against conferences other than the Big Ten.
Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Projection: Clemson vs. Georgia
Speaking of the Big Ten, there's still ample time for defending conference champion Wisconsin to find its footing this season.
Just not enough time to make it all the way back to Pasadena.
The Badgers are still a nightmare on offense, and the Outback Bowl—which is where the conference's second non-BCS program winds up—is probably the best Bret Bielema and company can do this year.
But almost as surprising as Wisconsin's fall in the Big Ten is Mississippi State's rise in the SEC.
The Bulldogs are 6-0 and 3-0 in conference for the first time since 1999. The season has a much different look to it when you're not constantly playing from behind the eight ball, and the Bulldogs are being rewarded in the polls.
Of course, the toughest part of the schedule lies ahead for Mississippi State.
But that's not stopping us from projecting the Bulldogs to earn the third non-BCS bowl pick from the SEC this season.
Projection: Wisconsin vs. Mississippi State
The Capital One Bowl has long been viewed as the BCS consolation prize for the Big Ten and SEC, as the bowl gets the top non-BCS selections from both conferences.
This season, we're projecting two unlikely participants from both conferences.
Northwestern is an unlikely pick because, well, it's Northwestern.
Really, who thought the Wildcats would be 6-1 after seven games this year?
LSU is an unlikely pick because, alternatively, it's LSU. We didn't expect the Tigers to fall this far this season, and many LSU fans still don't.
Be that as it may, LSU has looked sluggish at times and has already dropped a conference game at Florida with all ranked SEC West opponents yet to come.
Projection: Northwestern vs. LSU
Texas is no longer a legit contender for the top non-BCS prize of the Big 12 conference after being absolutely humiliated at the hands of arch foe Oklahoma.
What we learned about the Sooners is important: They've still got everything it takes to win a lot more games this season.
We've also moved South Carolina to the Cotton Bowl Classic, as the loss to LSU really sets back the Gamecocks' hopes of a BCS bowl this season.
The SEC is simply too loaded with BCS-caliber teams again this season, so someone has to be left out.
And that's South Carolina.
Projection: Oklahoma vs. South Carolina
At long last, we've finally arrived at our projections for the BCS bowls.
The Big 12 champion receives a berth in the Fiesta Bowl (obviously when not playing in the national championship game). With everything that's happened so far this season, we're currently projecting Kansas State to take that honor.
The Wildcats have bumped West Virginia from this spot after the Mountaineers' uninspiring performance in a loss at Texas Tech this past weekend. Clearly, K-State is now the conference favorite.
We're also projecting a triumphant return to the BCS for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
Brian Kelly appears to be on the cusp of something truly special in South Bend, and his 2012 Irish team may be just the beginning of what's to come.
Notre Dame is just a few pieces away from having a national championship contender, and a trip to the 2013 Fiesta Bowl could be just the springboard the Irish need to take that next step.
Projection: Kansas State vs. Notre Dame
The Orange Bowl is known as the “Home of the ACC Champion,” and there's no doubt that Florida State is still the favorite for that title.
Many, if not most, had been expecting the Seminoles to cruise to the BCS National Championship Game this season, but after a shocking loss at NC State two weeks ago, those chances have all but vanished (with Florida State's terribly weak non-conference schedule).
But a BCS bowl in your home state is one heckuva consolation prize, wouldn't you say?
Florida State's victim for the evening is projected to be the Big East co-champion, Louisville.
With the Big East logjam at the top—as usual—the BCS berth will go to the highest-ranked Big East co-champion, and right now, Louisville looks to be the lucky winner.
Projection: Florida State vs. Louisville
There's been a lot of movement in a short period of time in the SEC, and we've bumped South Carolina in favor of Florida for the 2013 Sugar Bowl berth.
We're still projecting Alabama as SEC champions, but Florida is looking more and more to be a solid SEC East contender.
Having already beaten LSU, and with South Carolina and Georgia already with a loss on the season, there's no reason not to pick the Gators—for now, anyway.
We've moved West Virginia from the Fiesta Bowl over to the Sugar Bowl, mainly because we still feel WVU is a good BCS candidate, just not a Big 12 champion.
Projection: Florida vs. West Virginia
The “Granddaddy of Them All,” the Rose Bowl Game, is the 110-year-old, tradition-rich meeting between the Big Ten and Pac-12.
We used to see each conference send its champion to this historic game, but with the modern BCS format, we only get that meeting on occasion.
The 2013 Rose Bowl Game won't be between two conference champions—but close.
We originally projected Michigan State to earn its way to the Rose Bowl, but with a loss to Iowa, we now have some serious doubts about the Spartans—mainly because they no longer control their own destiny in the Big Ten.
As it stands, it looks like Michigan may very well be the best team In the Big Ten this season—at least when it comes to teams that are actually eligible to play in a bowl game.
Michigan State was probably the toughest remaining test in the Legends Division, and MSU will need to beat U-M and hope Michigan loses to someone else to even have a shot.
As much as it pains us to put the clearly overrated Wolverines in the Rose Bowl Game, we're currently left with little choice.
From the Pac-12, we're going with USC.
The Trojans will receive the bid as an at-large team, as we're projecting them to finish as Pac-12 South Division champions but come up short in the conference championship game.
Matt Barkley will have one last attempt to secure immortality at USC, and a win over MSU in the Rose Bowl Game will be the closest he can come.
Projection: Michigan vs. USC
And now, finally, the biggest game of the season—the BCS National Championship Game.
This is the ultimate goal for every team when the season begins. It's been the domain of some great champions over the years, and a select few teams from the SEC have had a stranglehold on the crystal football for the past six seasons.
So it should come as no surprise that we're projecting the SEC champions, Alabama, to earn a trip to Miami for the BCS title game.
Alabama has been nothing short of dominant so far this season, and there's currently no reason to believe the Crimson Tide will lose a game between now and January.
On the other side of the field, the Oregon Ducks will make their second trip to the title game in three seasons.
Chip Kelly has build Oregon into a national powerhouse in a very short period of time, and with explosive offense at the heart of the Ducks' game plan, Oregon may be the only team in the nation capable of cracking the vaunted Alabama defense.
Regardless of whether or not the Ducks are successful, it should be fun to watch.
Projection: Alabama vs. Oregon