Want to know something that will make you question this entire nonsensical bowl process? College football's regular season ended Sunday, and we are still more than a month away from crowning a national champion.
With an ever-increasing number of bowl games pushing games back farther and farther in January, this year's title game will be played on Jan. 6. This is one of the strangest practices in all of sports, and it leads to a seemingly never-ending buildup process filled with borderline unwatchable secondary bowls and the same six storylines beat into the ground.
Luckily, we're not quite to that mundane point yet. Conference championship games rule the roost in college football following a thrilling slate of Week 14 games, ones that forever shifted the 2013 season paradigm. The invulnerable Alabama was suddenly toppled in shocking fashion, setting off a domino effect that shifts projections for nearly every BCS bowl game.
A majority of the hand-wringing we're left with will solve with the automatic qualifying process, but that still shouldn't stop us from taking a lay of the land. Should our expected results play out—i.e., higher-ranked squads winning—there will be enough solid matchups to make the wait almost seem worth it.
With that in mind, here's a complete look at the latest BCS bowl projections for Week 14, highlighting the ones of particular note.
|BCS Championship||Florida State vs. Ohio State|
|Rose Bowl||Stanford vs. Michigan State|
|Orange Bowl||Alabama vs. Oregon|
|Sugar Bowl||Auburn vs. Central Florida|
|Fiesta Bowl||Oklahoma State vs. Northern Illinois|
Games of Note
Orange Bowl: No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 4 Alabama
You know, if you squint real hard and tilt your head to the left, you could probably talk yourself into thinking this was the national championship game. Looking just a month back on the calendar, it seemed preordained that these two teams would make the trip to Pasadena.
Alabama and Oregon held the top-two spots for all but one of the first 11 Associated Press rankings. It was supposed to be Nick Saban's vaunted Crimson Tide defense looking to find some way to stop Marcus Mariota and the high-flying Ducks attack.
Well, now we'll get to see all that. Only it won't be on the grandest of all stages but instead a nighttime matchup in Miami where everyone will be wondering what went wrong. Oregon finished its campaign with losses in two of its last four games and nearly made it three in four against rival Oregon State only to come back in the final minute.
Mariota, who has been battling multiple injuries down the stretch, has scuffled and fallen out of the Heisman race. His injuries played a large part in the Ducks scoring fewer than 40 points in three games in their run after going for 42 or more in each of their first eight contests.
Meanwhile, Nick Saban and Co. will have more than a month to think about what happened in Auburn no matter what bowl they wind up playing in. With the specter of a three-peat staring them in the face, the Crimson Tide's season irrevocably changed on a Chris Davis field-goal return of more than 100 yards that sent the Tigers to the SEC Championship Game and Alabama back to No. 4.
Regardless of the stage, though, the things that made this game interesting a month ago stand. Each side will have ample opportunity to prepare for the other, which could lead to either the worst or best possible result. Saban has shown an insane level of competency when it comes to preparing his team for bowl games; he's won five of six since arriving in Tuscaloosa.
Oregon's offense just isn't one that necessarily needs such insane film time. The Ducks, kind of like Auburn, use deception with their formations more than any groundbreaking action once the ball gets snapped. In many ways, they're just a better version of Alabama's biggest rival. Mariota will be healthy and is a likely top-three pick in next May's NFL draft because he has a howitzer strapped to his right arm.
It's wholly possible that the Orange Bowl pulls a fast one and stays loyal to Clemson, the possible at-large from the ACC. Looking at this potential matchup, though, it's hard to see any good reason to go in another direction.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 14 Northern Illinois vs. No. 6 Oklahoma State
Hi kids. Do you like underdog stories? How about ones we've already seen before but had a sadder ending than Marley & Me? Well, the Fiesta Bowl will in all likelihood be your cup of tea.
Barring an upset win from Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game—the Falcons lost to Indiana 42-10, so upset might be a little on the nice side—Northern Illinois will play in its second straight BCS bowl. The last time didn't go so well. The Huskies were outmanned and outgunned by Florida State, hanging around valiantly in the first half before falling behind by three touchdowns when the clock struck zero.
All things being equal, we're likely looking at a similar scenario this season. The Huskies are currently ranked No. 66 in the nation in Football Outsiders' S&P Ratings, an objective measure that attempts to normalize where a team stands, respective to factors like schedule strength and efficiency. Oklahoma State is No. 13, which would seemingly indicate an oncoming bloodbath.
Just for reference, Northern Illinois finished No. 32 last season. Florida State was No. 4.
That said, even if the Huskies are on their death march, it'll be an interesting watch because of the fallout surrounding quarterback Jordan Lynch. Heading into conference championship week, Lynch is only behind Jameis Winston in the Heisman race, and his buzz is building. After opening Monday morning as a 5-1 underdog, bettors rushed to take those odds, resulting in Lynch dropping down all the way to 7-2 (per Bovada).
I'm not sure how much money it'd take to swing a line that much that quickly. I just know that it's a step or 60 above my fine pay grade.
Should Florida State lose in the ACC Championship Game to Duke or Winston fall behind in the Heisman race for any other reason, Lynch could be right there to become just the third player not associated with a major conference to win the bronze statue in recent history. (Ty Detmer and Andre Ware are the others.)
And, in fact, if this is the beatdown that objective measures point to it being, it'll be an awfully awkward time for Heisman voters. Either way, it's fun for all of us.
National Championship Game: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 1 Florida State
Crystal footballs for everyone! OK, there's only one, and it only goes to the winning team. Still, it's an awesome trophy, and we'll get to see it and watch people kiss it and everything. I don't know about you, but that's more than enough to get me to watch any BCS National Championship Game.
Alas, on to the actual game. It's kind of amazing to think back—considering where these two teams are at the moment—that it was actually the Buckeyes who came into the season with national championship expectations. Ranked second in the preseason polls, Braxton Miller logged in as a Heisman favorite and most were ready to recognize an Ohio State team that some feel was robbed by nonsensical NCAA punishments last season.
Now folks want to throw in one-loss Auburn over Urban Meyer and Co. It's an admittedly reactionary decision after one of the best college football finishes in history, but our national championship game could be tainted with a "ain't played nobody" glaze.
Ohio State's best win of the season (before the assumed victory over Michigan State this week) came against Wisconsin. Yes, the same Wisconsin team that lost to my scuffling alma mater a week ago. Jeff Sagarin ranks the Buckeyes' slate No. 61 in the nation, and Team Rankings has them No. 52. That's not a very easy feat to pull off for a team that plays in a BCS conference.
Here's the thing, though: Florida State's has been nearly as bad. The Seminoles' victory over Clemson sticks out as a banner triumph, but Miami's Top 10 status was quickly exposed as a facade, and Maryland finished 7-5. Those are the three teams Jimbo Fisher defeated that were ranked at the time Florida State faced them. Sagarin ranks the Seminoles' schedule No. 66, Team Rankings No. 42.
It's a weird way to think about this, but it almost feels clandestine that they meet. The Seminoles seemingly have the whole package—superstar quarterback, great skill-position players, top-tier defense—but won't have been tested in nearly three months come January. (Sorry, Dukies. Ya'll don't count.)
The Buckeyes will be coming off their greatest test of the season but have been shaky almost as many times as they've been stellar. It's fair to wonder whether Meyer would have his 24-game winning streak if the Big Ten wasn't going through almost conference-wide upheaval and uncertainty.
Oh, and Miller and Winston are awesome to watch play football. That will help matters a little bit.
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