With only two major conference teams still unbeaten, the BCS should be a piece of cake to figure out, right?
Yeah, think again.
While Florida State and Ohio State have ascended to the top spots in the Week 15 BCS standings, the logjam of teams waiting just behind them to take a national championship spot has swelled.
Here's what the latest standings look like:
- Florida State
- Ohio State
- Oklahoma State
- South Carolina
- Michigan State
- Arizona State
- Northern Illinois
- Central Florida
- Fresno State
- Texas A&M
There's just one week of games left before the dust settles, and all of the bowl pairings are set, not just the BCS ones but all 35 of the postseason contests. A lot can still change, but here's our latest, greatest best guess on who will face whom, and where, between Dec. 21 and Jan. 6.
Washington State vs. San Diego State
When: Dec. 21, 2 p.m. ET
Where: Albuquerque, N.M.
Washington State (6-6) is technically the ninth-best team in the Pac-12, but the Cougars haven't been to a bowl since 2003. That might make them more desirable for the league's bottom-rung bowl slot because of an expectation their fans would come out more plentifully than those from Arizona or Oregon State.
San Diego State (7-5) could have been playing in the Poinsettia Bowl, in San Diego, had it not lost at UNLV on Saturday. Instead, the Aztecs will head to Albuquerque ahead of Mountain West counterpart San Jose State, which due to Fresno State falling out of the BCS and no other available slots, might be kept home with a 6-6 mark.
Fresno State vs. Arizona
When: Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Las Vegas
Fresno State (10-1) now knows what Boise State has felt like during each of those years where a late loss dashed dreams of a BCS bowl. By losing at San Jose State on Friday, not only did the Bulldogs blow their own chance at stardom, but they also cost the Mountain West Conference a huge payday. Such a sudden drop might make this game hard to get up for.
Arizona (7-5) could end up in any of five different bowl games, depending on how the decision-makers from the Fight Hunger, Sun, Las Vegas and New Mexico Bowls go about choosing their Pac-12 participants. The Wildcats could also head to an unaffiliated bowl that no longer has a guaranteed opponent, but more likely, they'll stay somewhere out West.
Colorado State vs. Buffalo
When: Dec. 21, 5:30 p.m. ET
Where: Boise, Idaho
Colorado State (7-6) went to 11 bowl games between 1990 and 2008 but never one in Boise. The Rams will take what they can get after needing to win seven games (because of a 13-game schedule) to become eligible, even if that means having to play on blue turf.
Buffalo (8-4) missed out on a spot in the Mid-American Conference title game by losing at home to Bowling Green on Friday, and the Bulls will probably get picked after Ball State by the MAC's bowl partners. That should mean a trip to San Diego, but with Northern Illinois projected for the BCS, that would move everyone up a spot.
Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
When: Dec. 21, 9 p.m. ET
Where: New Orleans
It's looked like a foregone conclusion for weeks that Tulane (7-5) and Louisiana-Lafayette (8-3) would meet in this game, especially after Tulane started losing (it dropped three of four after a 6-2 start) and ULL locked up the Sun Belt title.
For a bowl this far down the totem pole, getting two in-state participants is about the best it could hope for. Especially when one of them, Tulane, calls the Superdome its home during the regular season.
Boston College vs. Middle Tennessee
When: Dec. 23, 2 p.m. ET
Where: St. Petersburg, Fla.
Boston College (7-5) is one of a whopping 11 teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference that is bowl-eligible, but the league only has eight bowl bids this season because the Fight Hunger Bowl sold out to BYU. And with Clemson falling out of the BCS picture, that won't mean two ACC teams are in the big games.
But having seven wins puts the Eagles ahead of Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Syracuse, making them more likely to get this spot that's going to be available because the American might be as many as two teams short of its bowl allocation.
Middle Tennessee (8-4) is one of eight Conference USA teams that are bowl-eligible, but one of those (UTSA) is a transitional FBS team and can only get a bowl bid if all other eligible teams have been slotted. The Blue Raiders get this slot over Florida Atlantic only because the bowl can't pick a six-win team over one with eight victories if no other league slots are available for the eight-win team.
UNLV vs. Rice
When: Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET
UNLV (7-5) had more wins this season than in all three of Bobby Hauck's previous seasons combined. The Runnin' Rebels are going to their first bowl game since 2000, which makes getting to play in Hawaii at Christmas time that much more fun.
Rice (9-3) will play in the Conference USA title game on Saturday but is the underdog against Marshall. A victory in that game would send the Owls to the Liberty Bowl, with the alternative being a holiday in the tropics.
Pittsburgh vs. Ball State
When: Dec. 26, 6 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh (6-6) is among the overabundance of bowl-eligible ACC teams that will be working the phones this week to try and align with a bowl game that's had an affiliation fall through. The Big Ten doesn't have enough eligible teams to send one to Detroit, but the Panthers will be a nice replacement from not too far away.
Ball State (10-2) doesn't get to play in the Mid-American title game, and as a result, actually benefits from the MAC's bowl affiliations because the league champ normally goes to the GoDaddy Bowl. And with Northern Illinois expected to get a BCS invite, that would send Bowling Green down south, while the Cardinals could stay closer to home.
Utah State vs. Toledo
When: Dec. 26, 9:30 p.m. ET
Where: San Diego
Utah State (8-4) will visit Fresno State in Saturday's Mountain West title game, and if it can get past the deflated Bulldogs, it would end up in the Las Vegas Bowl. If not, the Aggies can spend Christmas in San Diego, which is almost as good (if not better, depending on your interests) as "Sin City."
Toledo (7-5) dropped its final two games, including a sub-.500 Akron team on Friday. But the combination of the Mid-American picking up this bowl slot (after Army didn't reach bowl eligibility) and Northern Illinois likely going to the BCS makes the Rockets the best option for this game over fellow MAC eligibles Ohio and Central Michigan.
Maryland vs. North Texas
When: Dec. 27, 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Annapolis, Md.
Maryland (7-5) only won three ACC games this season, knocking it down the league's bowl list. But that means getting to play very close to the Terrapins' campus. Maryland played in this game in 2010, as well, but that's when it was held in Washington, D.C.
North Texas (8-4) isn't the greatest geographic fit for this game, but the Mean Green will probably be all that's left after Conference USA-affiliated bowls with higher priority take East Carolina and Middle Tennessee. It's doubtful North Texas will care where it plays its first bowl since 2004, when it completed a stretch of four straight years playing in the New Orleans Bowl.
Texas Tech vs. Minnesota
When: Dec. 27, 6 p.m. ET
This could be called the "Back Into Bowl," with participants Texas Tech (7-5) and Minnesota (8-4) losing their last seven games combined. Tech was 7-0 at one point before falling apart, while Minnesota was 8-2 before dropping games to Wisconsin and Michigan State to end the season.
The winner will get to feel good about how the way the season ended, while the loser will have a lot of offseason soul-searching to do.
Washington vs. BYU
When: Dec. 27, 9:30 p.m. ET
Where: San Francisco
Washington (8-4) got to its highest win total since 2001 with an Apple Cup victory over Washington State. It was a huge milestone for a program that's gone 7-6 each of the past three years, and the reward will be getting to play in the Pac-12's closest bowl to the Huskies' fan base.
BYU (8-4) put together a late comeback to win at Nevada on Saturday and end a late-season road losing streak that popped up after the Cougars got bowl-eligible. Initially, it looked like complacency had set in since BYU knew it was going to this bowl if it reached six wins, but now the Cougars look refocused and ready for a bowl.
Notre Dame vs. Houston
When: Dec. 28, noon ET
Where: Bronx, N.Y.
Notre Dame (8-4) isn't BCS-eligible, which meant it needed its tradition and pedigree to earn it an invite from a bowl in need of a team to come play there. The Fighting Irish should send the Big 12 Conference a fruit basket for only having six eligible teams, otherwise the next-best open bowl might have been the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit.
Houston (8-4) is the choice for this bowl by default, based on the expectation that Rutgers will continue its second-half slide and fail to be bowl-eligible. If Rutgers wins its finale, though, the allure of a local team will have it get this spot and send Houston to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Alabama.
Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech
When: Dec. 28, 3:20 p.m. ET
Where: Charlotte, N.C.
Cincinnati (9-2) may very well beat Louisville at home on Thursday, but unless Central Florida falls to SMU and the Bearcats end up higher in the BCS standings than the Knights, it's not going to a big bowl. And it would likely get passed over for the American's second-best slot, in Orlando, in favor of Louisville, so playing in Charlotte is almost a guarantee right now.
Virginia Tech (8-4) could end up getting pushed further down the ACC's bowl list if this game chooses a 6-6 North Carolina over the Hokies for more local flavor. It's not likely, since Virginia Tech has a strong regional appeal.
Miami (Fla.) vs. Louisville
When: Dec. 28, 6:45 p.m. ET
Where: Orlando, Fla.
Miami (9-3) has righted the ship the last few weeks and now looks like an attractive bowl invitee, especially for a Florida game. The Hurricanes would probably draw better than Duke, which would be the other option available, unless Duke somehow upsets Florida State in the ACC title game.
Louisville (10-1) is pretty much locked into this game, unless it beats Cincinnati and sees Central Florida both lose to SMU and fall behind it and Cincy in the BCS standings. The Cardinals will probably play here even if they fall to the Bearcats because of their draw potential over Cincinnati.
Oklahoma vs. Nebraska
When: Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m. ET
Where: Tempe, Ariz.
Oklahoma (9-2) has a chance to bowl ruin rival Oklahoma State's BCS dreams and keep its own at-large hopes alive with a road win in Bedlam on Saturday. The Sooners would also likely move up a rung in the Big 12's bowl hierarchy with that victory, but if not, they'll end up in Arizona's second-tier game.
Nebraska (8-4) squandered its chance at a January bowl game by dropping the final two and looking very bad in a home loss to Iowa. The Cornhuskers will still be a welcome participant for whoever picks them, but that also means dealing with a boatload of unsatisfied fans flocking south for the game.
Navy vs. Boise State
When: Dec. 30, 11:45 a.m. ET
Where: Fort Worth, Texas
Navy (7-4) last played on Nov. 22 and won't play again until Saturday when it faces Army in their annual battle. Then the Midshipmen will have 16 days to prepare for this game, which they've been locked into since becoming bowl-eligible three weeks ago.
Boise State (8-4) is just happy not to have to play in the Las Vegas Bowl for the fourth straight year. But that meant having to go through the "worst" regular season in more than a decade and also fail to reach the inaugural Mountain West title game.
Vanderbilt vs. Georgia Tech
When: Dec. 30, 3:15 p.m. ET
Where: Nashville, Tenn.
Vanderbilt (8-4) will get to take a four-game win streak into a bowl game in its home city, essentially reaching the pinnacle of this school's football history. But the Commodores will have their hands full with a triple-option team in Georgia Tech (7-5) that is unlike any team they'd have faced in the SEC this season.
Vandy beat North Carolina State in this game last year, and it also won here in 2008 over Boston College.
Texas vs. Stanford
When: Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET
Where: San Antonio
Texas (8-3) looked headed for a higher bowl when it won six in a row to start the Big 12 slate, but now the Longhorns are probably going to end up no higher than this trip to San Antonio. At least it can stay in-state for the probable end of the Mack Brown era.
Stanford (10-2) is still in line to make the BCS based on its top-10 standing, but the Cardinal have to play at Arizona State on Saturday for the Pac-12 title. If it overcomes that challenge, it will go to the Rose Bowl, otherwise the three losses will probably mean representing the league in its top non-BCS bowl.
UCLA vs. Kansas State
When: Dec. 30, 10:15 p.m. ET
Where: San Diego
UCLA (9-3) held on to its control of Los Angeles by beating USC for the second straight time, and now the Bruins can expand their dominance to all of Southern California with a game along the border. They played in San Diego last season but lost by 23 points to Baylor, so there's some redemption to be had.
Kansas State (7-5) is 3-0 in the Holiday Bowl but hasn't played there since beating Arizona State in 2002. The Wildcats bring what seems like all of Manhattan to their bowl games, so it should make for a strong crowd and a nice tourism boost for San Diego.
North Carolina vs. Ohio
When: Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m. ET
Where: Shreveport, La.
North Carolina (6-6) technically shouldn't get to be picked for this game, since the ACC will have 11 teams eligible and eight with at least seven victories. The league only has eight bowl bids, but the projection is that a deal can be made to send the Tar Heels here and have a 7-5 team like Pittsburgh get an invite to a non-affiliated bowl. That's our story, and we're sticking to it.
Ohio (7-5) is being projected into this bowl by virtue of two factors: It has seven victories, which should give it (but no longer guarantees) a spot over a six-win team from a better conference and the fact that so many of the eligible free agents from BCS conferences come from the ACC. It's the same league that's already got an automatic bid to Shreveport.
USC vs. Duke
When: Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET
Where: El Paso, Texas
USC (9-4) might not be the Sun Bowl's first choice to represent the Pac-12, especially after last season's lackluster effort against Georgia. But the Trojans have sizzle right now, and short of the school naming a head coach between now and bowl selection day, they've got the appeal of getting national attention from their coaching search.
Duke (10-2) is having its best season ever, but because the program doesn't have a pedigree, it's apt to get passed over by the Chick-fil-A and Russell Athletic bowls for more high-profile teams. That means having to go to El Paso, as the Sun Bowl and the ACC have a deal that requires the league runner-up (Duke plays Florida State in the conference title game) head here unless it's already been scooped up.
Mississippi State vs. Marshall
When: Dec. 31, 4 p.m. ET
Where: Memphis, Tenn.
Mississippi State (6-6) will parlay its Egg Bowl win over Ole Miss into a pre-New Year's trip to Tennessee, rather than an afterthought January game in Alabama. The Liberty Bowl isn't as flashy as playing on New Year's Day, as the Bulldogs have done two of the past three years, but considering they were 4-6 two weeks ago, there's no room for complaining.
Marshall (9-3) is now the front-runner for the Conference USA title after beating East Carolina to win the East Division. The Thundering Herd will face Rice in Saturday's championship game, with the winner heading here and the loser going to Hawaii.
Texas A&M vs. Clemson
When: Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET
Texas A&M (8-4) has fallen from a BCS darling that was apt to get picked for an at-large spot over one-loss teams to one that won't even play in January after losing its final two games. The Aggies are still a sexy pick, wherever they go, and Chick-fil-A will be loving the fact they're still available.
Clemson (10-2) could still slip into the BCS as an at-large if further turmoil occurs in the final week of the regular season but not if that turmoil includes Florida State falling to Duke in the ACC final. The Tigers beat LSU in Atlanta last year.
Michigan vs. Georgia
When: Jan. 1, noon ET
Where: Jacksonville, Fla.
Michigan (7-5) looks like it's going to luck out and get a New Year's Day bowl, despite being no better than the sixth choice from the Big Ten. That's assuming the league gets Ohio State in the BCS title game and Michigan State into the Rose Bowl as a sympathetic at-large choice.
Georgia (8-4) put together a thrilling comeback to down rival Georgia Tech, but that win didn't have nearly as much impact on the Bulldogs' bowl fate as what went down in the SEC on Saturday. Georgia is most likely going to Atlanta or Jacksonville, both of which have to be looked at as nice locales for a team that's disappointed so much this season.
Oregon State vs. East Carolina
When: Jan. 1, noon ET
Oregon State (6-6) ended the season on a five-game skid, which probably puts the Beavers at the bottom of the Pac-12's pile of nine bowl-eligible teams. That means the Beavers will have to shop themselves around for a spot, with this opening left by the Big Ten serving as the best option.
OSU's selection would be a great offensive complement to the explosive attack East Carolina (9-3) will bring to Dallas. The Pirates looked destined for Conference USA's top bowl spot in the Liberty Bowl, but losing at Marshall on Saturday knocked them out of the title-game race.
South Carolina vs. Wisconsin
When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Orlando, Fla.
South Carolina (10-2) didn't get the assist from Texas A&M it hoped for, so instead of playing in the SEC title game with a chance at its first BCS bowl, the Gamecocks will once again end up in a still-prominent Jan. 1 bowl game in Florida. It's basically a flip-a-coin situation between this and the Outback Bowl as to where they'll end up.
Wisconsin (9-3) is in almost the same boat, but it's the Badgers' own fault after losing at home to Penn State. That knocked them completely out of the BCS at-large picture but not so far down that they'll not end up in Florida for New Year's Day.
LSU vs. Iowa
When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Tampa, Fla.
LSU (9-3) might parlay its late comeback over Arkansas into an invite to the Cotton Bowl, but odds are the SEC title-game loser will get that spot. That puts the Tigers in a toss-up with South Carolina for this or the Capital One Bowl, which is like picking between midnight black or jet black.
Iowa (8-4), meanwhile, has soared up the Big Ten's bowl list with its late-season surge and the floundering of teams like Michigan and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes are also a huge draw, especially for in-state fans desperate to escape frigid temperatures for a vacation in Florida.
Baylor vs. Missouri
When: Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Arlington, Texas
Baylor (10-1) is still very much in the BCS at-large mix and could get the Fiesta Bowl bid as Big 12 champion if it beats Texas and sees Oklahoma State fall to Oklahoma. But the at-large scenario is tenuous without further BCS chaos, as Alabama, Michigan State and Oregon will all prove more attractive to those spots than the Bears.
Missouri (11-1) will play in the Sugar Bowl if it beats Auburn for the SEC title and could sneak into the BCS title game if all heck breaks loose above it in the standings. But the projection is based on Mizzou losing to Auburn but still getting rewarded for a heck of a second year in the league by getting to face an old Big 12 foe.
Ole Miss vs. Arkansas State
When: Jan. 4, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Birmingham, Ala.
Ole Miss (7-5) limps into bowl season as what will be the SEC's 10th and final bowl participant, picked behind Mississippi State because of the Egg Bowl loss on Thursday. The Rebels beat Pittsburgh in this game last season.
Arkansas State (7-5) might get passed over for the Sun Belt's second bowl slot, which is in the nearby GoDaddy Bowl. But thanks to the American failing to fill all its bowl slots, this one will be up for the taking. The Red Wolves played in Mobile the previous two seasons for their bowl, so a change of scenery would be nice.
Bowling Green vs. Western Kentucky
When: Jan. 5, 9 p.m. ET
Where: Mobile, Ala.
Bowling Green (9-3) plays Northern Illinois on Friday in the Mid-American title game, with the winner lined up to play in this game or the loser, if NIU wins and goes to the BCS as projected. The Falcons haven't won a bowl game since 2004, ironically when they played in Mobile in what was then known as the GMAC Bowl.
Western Kentucky (8-4) finished tied for third in the Sun Belt, but a win over second-place Arkansas State might make the Hilltoppers the choice to fill the league's spot in this bowl. Adding to that likelihood is the name recognition of WKU coach Bobby Petrino (assuming he hasn't bolted for another job beforehand) and the fact Arkansas State was in this game the previous two seasons.
Arizona State vs. Michigan State
When: Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET
Where: Pasadena, Calif.
The BCS standings have Stanford ahead of Arizona State (10-2), but ASU gets to host the Cardinal in Saturday's Pac-12 title game. That gives the edge to the Sun Devils, who with a win would be playing in their first Rose Bowl since 1996 and just the third in school history.
Michigan State (11-1) will be far down the list of available choices if it loses to Ohio State in the Big Ten final, but the Rose Bowl's desire to stay loyal to its traditional matchup will cause the Spartans to get picked over the likes of Baylor or Clemson.
Oklahoma State vs. Northern Illinois
When: Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Oklahoma State (10-1) will be playing in Tempe for the second time in three years if it beats Oklahoma at home in Saturday's Bedlam game. The Cowboys are still alive for the BCS title game but would need a mess of chaos to occur.
Instead, OSU will be the big bully that gets to try and put upstart Northern Illinois (12-0) in its place, like Florida State did in last year's Orange Bowl. The Huskies should stay within the top 16 (and ahead of Central Florida) with a win over Bowling Green in Friday's Mid-American title game, but despite their record, they'll be considered the least desirable team for bowl organizers.
Fiesta picks last, and NIU will get treated like the fat kid in gym class.
Auburn vs. Central Florida
When: Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: New Orleans
Auburn (11-1) is being projected here as the SEC champ, downing Missouri in the title game in Atlanta. But it's also projected that won't be enough to get the Tigers into the national championship game as long as Ohio State and Florida State win their league title matches.
That being said, the SEC's seven-year run of playing in (and winning) the national championship.
Central Florida (10-1) still hasn't locked up the American bid, needing a win at SMU or a Cincinnati loss to Louisville to guarantee it, though the Knights will probably still finish higher in the BCS standings if they were to end up tied with Cincy (whom they don't play). As the only automatic-qualifier champ who isn't tied into a specific bowl, UCF will end up getting taken by the Sugar Bowl over Northern Illinois.
Alabama vs. Oregon
When: Jan. 3, time TBD
The matchup so many people were clamoring for will get to finally happen. But instead of being in Pasadena in the BCS title game, Alabama (11-1) and Oregon (10-2) will get scooped up by an eager Orange Bowl that will get first pick of available teams by losing Florida State.
That will be 'Bama, while Oregon is likely to be the tastiest morsel remaining after that. And now all those Oregon students with their "We Want Bama" shirts will have to go buy them back from Goodwill.
Ohio State vs. Florida State
When: Jan. 6, 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Pasadena, Calif.
And then there two. For now, that is.
Ohio State (12-0) and Florida State (12-0) are the only unbeaten teams left from automatic-qualifier conferences, and unless one or both loses, odds are, this is what your national championship pairing will look like. Both face an opponent with at least 10 wins in their Big Ten and ACC title games, respectively, which should provide enough value to keep a one-loss SEC champ from slipping ahead.
But if either team struggles in its league championships, and either Auburn or Missouri looks stellar in the SEC final, all bets are off.