For many teams, it's never too early to start looking toward the future. While we have yet to play a single BCS game this season, there are 114 FBS programs who didn't earn a coveted Bowl Championship Series slot. Those teams already have a BCS goal in mind, so we figured we would join the fun.
The race towards the 2014 slate of BCS games also marks the end of the BCS as we have come to know it. Next season's Bowl Championship Series will be the last, replaced with a mini-playoff system for the 2014-15 season. Critics of the current system can't wait to put the BCS in the rear-view mirror.
With that in mind, here is the final batch of super-early projections in the long and sometimes turbulent history of the Bowl Championship Series.
The Orange Bowl bills itself as the “Home of the ACC Champions,” and right now, we're projecting Clemson to take home the prize in 2013.
That can all change depending on which underclassmen opt to stay in school for another season, but it's possible the Tigers will have 14 returning starters, including most skill position players back for 2013. If that holds, we think there's a better-than-even shot the Tigers can slide past the Seminoles next season to win the Atlantic Division and beat up on what is sure to be an overmatched Coastal Division champ.
On the other side, we're projecting the Orange Bowl to welcome a team from the Pac-12 as an at-large team.
The Orange Bowl gets first pick of the BCS games selecting at-large eligible teams, and we're projecting the Big Ten to fill this spot with conference runner-up and Leaders Division champ Ohio State.
The Buckeyes finished 12-0 in 2012, but it had to be one of the more unimpressive undefeated seasons in recent memory. The Buckeyes never really managed to blow any team out this season and even struggled against some horribly inferior competition.
Braxton Miller desperately needs to develop his passing skills lest Ohio State falls into the same trap Michigan did with Denard Robinson.
If the Buckeyes can become less one-dimensional moving forward, the future looks very bright in Columbus—as if seen through a crystal football.
Projection: Clemson vs. Ohio State
Up next is the Sugar Bowl, and it probably won't surprise many to learn that we're projecting a replacement team filling the spot reserved for an SEC champion.
Yes, we'll spoil the surprise and let you know right now that there will be an SEC team in the BCS National Championship Game, but that shouldn't dampen the excitement for our Sugar Bowl selectees, the Texas A&M Aggies. After all, a BCS game is a BCS game.
We're picking the Aggies to win the West Division in 2013 and earn a trip to New Orleans for the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
The biggest thing—really the only thing—you need to know about A&M next season is what you already know: Johnny Manziel will be the quarterback.
He was the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy, and like everyone else in the world, we can't wait to see what he does for an encore. In 2013, with a little SEC experience under their belts, we can easily see Manziel and the Aggies knocking off both Alabama and LSU to take control of the West Division.
The at-large spot in the Sugar Bowl will be filled by Kansas State.
Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder has some sort of college football magic he utilizes to build—and then rebuild—his program in Manhattan, Kan. While the loss of Heisman finalist Collin Klein will be a setback and likely cost K-State another automatic berth as conference champions (having earned the head-to-head tiebreaker against Oklahoma in 2012), we think Coach Snyder has more than enough talent as a head coach to take his team back to the BCS following the 2013 season.
Projection: Texas A&M vs. Kansas State
The Fiesta Bowl annually features the champions of the Big 12 against an at-large BCS opponent. The Big 12 has the automatic tie-in, so that's where we'll start.
While Kansas State certainly had an impressive run through the conference in 2012, we can't help but wonder just how much of that success was due to Collin Klein.
The Wildcats will be without their do-it-all field general next season, and it's important to remember that even with Klein, the Wildcats weren't the only Big 12 team with an 8-1 conference record this season.
Bill Snyder is some kind of wizard when it comes to college football, but even he is going to have trouble holding off what seems like the inevitability of the Oklahoma resurgence.
Like Klein, Sooners quarterback Landry Jones has finished his college career, and that may not be such a bad thing. Jones never materialized into the Heisman contender OU fans had hoped for, and a little fresh blood could be just the shot in the arm Oklahoma needs.
We also need to project an at-large bid for Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, and next season, we're giving that slot to the Big East champion. No longer will we have three or four conference co-champions as the Big East will balloon to 12 teams for one season before further conference defections take effect.
We're sticking with Louisville in the East Division and we currently project Boise State to win the much weaker West (which will include Houston, Memphis, SMU, San Diego State and Temple in addition to Boise State). And as good as Boise State has historically been, we have confidence in a real up-and-coming Louisville program to win the Big East and earn another BCS berth next season.
Why does the Big East champ get the Fiesta Bowl in 2014? Simply because the Big East is still seen as having the least desirable automatic qualifying conference champion. And for the 2014 games, the Fiesta Bowl gets the last pick.
Projection: Oklahoma vs. Louisville
The Rose Bowl game technically gets the last pick among the BCS bowls following the 2013 as the host of the National Championship Game, but with the conference matchup already set in stone, it's not really important where this bowl falls in the selection order.
Big Ten fans are hoping the conference is on the verge of awakening from its long, embarrassing slumber against the other conferences in the postseason, and our projected 2013 Big Ten champs might be just the team to restore a little honor to the league.
The Michigan State Spartans have already won their bowl game this season, so why not pick them as a potential conference redeemer?
At first glance, picking a team that finished 2012 with a 7-6 record and 3-5 conference mark to capture the Big Ten title might be a stretch. But consider the following: Michigan State lost all five of its conference games by four or fewer points and the youthful Spartans can return 18 starters for 2013, including 10 on offense.
It's almost unheard of to lose five games by a combined 13 points, but MSU did it in 2012. We're willing to bet that the added experience—particularly on offense—will be enough to earn two touchdowns' worth of points next season.
Two touchdowns. That's all that stood between 3-5 Michigan State and an 11-1 (8-0) record in 2012.
The road won't be easy for Sparty, and we're not guaranteeing a 12-0 season. But we do project MSU as Big Ten champions, earning that long-awaited trip back to Pasadena.
The Pac-12 champion also earns a trip to the Rose Bowl Game, unless of course that team heads to the National Championship Game—also in Pasadena in 2014. We're placing the Pac-12 winner in the title game, so we'll need a stand-in. That team always comes from the contractual conference tie-ins as long as one is available and eligible. And we just don't see how there won't be two Pac-12 teams in the BCS next season.
The Pac-12 replacement spot in the Rose Bowl Game will be filled by UCLA.
The Bruins captured the Pac-12 South Division title in 2012, and we believe they can do the same in 2013. The difference this time around is that the Bruins will likely close out the season with fewer than four losses prior to bowl season.
Head coach Jim Mora has the program on the right track, and the experience of eight returning offensive starters should be more than enough to take care of some of those ugly losses (like the October 6 loss at Cal).
We're still not sure the Bruins are up to the task of conquering the entire Pac-12, but it's clear UCLA has lost its fear of the Trojans. And an invitation to play in the Rose Bowl game on their home field is a nice “consolation” prize for the Bruins.
Projection: Michigan State vs. UCLA
As the current BCS system comes to its end, it seems somehow fitting that the last BCS National Championship Game as we know it will come down to the conference that has dominated the BCS and a conference that was one of the last holdouts to the current system.
Prior to the BCS, the Bowl Alliance tried its best to engineer a No. 1 versus No. 2 bowl showdown each season, but with the Rose Bowl game—and thus Big Ten and Pac-12—refusing to be a part of the process, we still ended up with split national titles in many seasons before 1998.
When the two conferences agreed to be part of the BCS, little did any of us know that it would be the SEC that would come to dominate the system. So it was in the beginning, so it shall be at the end.
Within the SEC, the West Division has had a recent string of success. The stranglehold on the conference championship is about to come to an end.
Georgia showed Alabama—and the entire nation—just how far the East Division has come over the past few seasons. The Bulldogs came within just a few yards of snatching Alabama's title hopes away in the 2012 SEC Championship Game.
In 2013, we project the Bulldogs actually will end the West's streak.
Mark Richt's team has 17 returning starters including 10 on offense, and the momentum built by the two-time defending East Division champions will boil over next season into another impressive run for an SEC team destined to play for the crystal football come January.
The SEC, of course, needs an opponent to clobber—or so the conference's loyal and proud fanbase would have us believe. For just such a victim we turn to the Pac-12.
The Stanford Cardinal proved that they were more than just Andrew Luck plus 10. Even without their Heisman finalist quarterback calling the signals, the Cardinal tore through the Pac-12 this season en route to a berth in the Rose Bowl game for the first time since the 1999 season.
And just in case you forgot, Stanford has been to three straight BCS games. Why shouldn't the Cardinal be able to take the next step? With 17 starters coming back in 2013, including the entire secondary and most of the offensive line, we are projecting the Cardinal to win the Pac-12 for the second straight season.
Projection: Georgia vs. Stanford