College Football Bowl Projections: The Mysteries of October
One month down, two months to go.
With the turning of the calendar from September to October, the college football bowl committees swing into full speed with the initial autumn evaluations of who is the best candidate for their business interests.
The casual fan may ask, "How could this be? The bowl games are all set by BCS rankings and position inside a conference, right?"
The answer is yes, and no.
Officials with the Rose Bowl are left to simply cheer on certain favorites of the Pasadena committee. They have chosen their path long ago, defaulting to the champions of the Big Ten and Pac -10 conferences, taking whatever the regular season provides.
Likewise, the BCS title game has its participants chosen. The final BCS poll ranking in December produces the teams for this contest. A simple matter of the two highest ranked teams at the time.
But, what of the other bowls? The ones who do not lock in both participants?
These bowls can play the "politics card" of who will bring a large following, provide television ratings, and do the best job of promoting the image of their cherished postseason affair.
It is not, as many believe, an open and shut affair of team selections for the majority of these committees. There are many items to consider before the final bids are revealed.
The following is a projection of several bowl games with possible selection scenarios as of Oct. 1.
These are not necessarily predictions of what will happen but, of what could happen if the final two months of the regular season continue along the present path.
There is something about the month of October—something odd—about the separating of the wheat from the chaff.
This first full month of autumn often provides such a distinction between the "haves" and the "have-nots." Some separation can be attributed to scheduling, conference play, and travel.
Whatever the reason, there is no doubting these mysteries of October provide the great dividing point in the college football season.
The Sugar Bowl
Once considered the ultimate achievement for teams of the Southland, the wonderful old Sugar Bowl has been the scene of some less than enthralling matchups in the past few years.
Last year, undefeated Utah smashed a helpless Alabama squad. The year before, an equally overmatched Hawaii was destroyed by Georgia. Three years ago, LSU manhandled Notre Dame.
The performances of Alabama, Hawaii, and Notre Dame were ghastly and not worthy of the great old Sugar Bowl.
You get the point: The Crescent City is ripe for a classic Sugar Bowl; a matchup and game to uphold the old time tradition of greatness.
The Sugar Bowl Committee has an opportunity to lock in an SEC representative because as of today, three of the top four teams in the country are in the SEC.
All are capable of going to the BCS Title Game, and quite frankly, all three are capable of finishing outside the BCS Bowl selection process.
Two of the SEC heavyweights, LSU and Florida, have won two BCS titles in the past six years. Along with Southern California, LSU and Florida have dominated college football in this century, proving their reputation on the field, not in the newspapers.
If all three of this season's SEC heavy hitters are BCS Bowl eligible at Thanksgiving, expect the Sugar Bowl to make a play for the No. 2 team in the SEC West and have a "gentleman's agreement" before the SEC title game.
This agreement may indicate if the SEC West No. 1 wins the SEC title game, they will have a Sugar Bowl option if not chosen for the BCS title game. If they lose the SEC title, look for them to end up in the Cotton Bowl, and the west No. 2 will go to the Sugar, provided that school continues to remain "BCS eligible."
Expect New Orleans to be hesitant to invite another loser of the SEC title game after the embarrassing Alabama "performance" of last season.
While the "new Cotton Bowl" will be a spectacular situation and the Dallas money men are on the verge of returning the Cotton Bowl to major status (i.e. today's term-BCS) in the next three years, as of today, it is simply the most prestigious of the non-BCS Bowls (for the moment).
The opponent for the SEC representative in the Sugar Bowl will have a strong reputation—someone like Boise State. The Broncos are the winningest program in the 21st century with 102 wins in 119 games for an 86 percent winning rate.
Another possibility would be the runner-up of the Big 10. With the resurgence of Michigan and the superior performances of Iowa this season, one could certainly see an Ohio State vs. LSU, Penn State vs. Alabama, or Florida vs. Michigan as titanic clashes of national interests.
Expect the Sugar Bowl Committee to move mountains to put the best product on the field of any non-title bowl this season.
The Orange Bowl
The 2010 Orange Bowl could be resigned to a simple rematch of last year's game.
Although Georgia Tech, conquerors of the vaunted UNC and the highly-touted Clemson, may angrily deny it, the ACC Championship appears ready to run through Blacksburg for the third consecutive year. This leads to an automatic Orange Bowl bid.
The Big East Champion is provided a pass to one of the BCS Bowl sites. Because of the nature of locations and lack of recent national relevance of the "Beast of the East" there is often little interest in hosting their champion.
The one exception is West Virginia. The Mountaineers bring a free-wheeling group to grace the city of any bowl.
Unfortunately, the Mounties must go through defending champion Cincinnati. The Bearcats appear to have an inside track for the conference, which has no championship game to settle its title.
But, there is one unexpected wild card, the Pittsburgh Panthers.
With the teams available for the Miami classic, a rematch of the Hokies and the university from the Queen City seems somewhat attractive, just do not be surprised if the Pitt Panthers crash the party.
The Capital One Bowl
Bypassed in recent years by the resurrection of the glorious old Cotton Bowl as an SEC favorite locale, the high-paying Capital One (Citrus) Bowl of Orlando looks to snag a top flight SEC representative versus a top of the line Big 10 school.
Naturally, Florida would be the favorite, however, the Gators seem to have bigger fish to fry this season.
Although undefeated Auburn and highly-ranked Mississippi may have a large say in the matter, the Georgia Bulldogs seem the perfect choice for the Capital One Bowl as of today.
The Bulldogs will likely begin receiving feelers from Cap-Citrus representatives at any time, and with the reality of No. 1 Florida in front of them, expect the Bulldogs to be barking in Orlando this January.
Penn State is the most likely target of the central Florida vacation bureau types. Straight flight, good reputation, money flowing from a huge alumni and fanbase, and Joe Paterno on top of all that.
Not guaranteed to take any particular Big 10 team according to pecking order, the Capial One committee can simply reach out and choose who they want.
And they want Penn State.
The second choice is Michigan. The Wolverines have done well in traveling to the "other peninsula state" over the years and draw interest nationally through the media as well.
Penn State or Michigan vs. Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. The Bulldogs better strap it up, those are two teams who know how to bring the physicality.
The Liberty Bowl
The Memphis-based Liberty Bowl is licking its chops over the expected matchup between the champion of the Conference USA and an SEC opponent.
At this moment, Houston seems hands down the favorite to wrap up the C-USA title and move on to the Liberty Bowl as the host team.
There is money in Houston. If the fans bring it, they will be treated to one of the great cities in the country, and see a terrific game on Jan. 2.
As for the SEC representative, the past three seasons have seen South Carolina trim Houston, Mississippi State down Central Florida, and Kentucky pin East Carolina.
The high-scoring Cougars of 2009 promise to be a far greater obstacle to continued SEC dominance. If Southern Mississippi is the C-USA represenative, a low-scoring affair could result in lower attendance.
In the 50th anniversary of this great bowl of the mid-south, expect new President Kevin Kane to take a hard look at revitalized Auburn as his primary choice.
If the Volunteers of Tennessee or the Commodores of Vanderbilt can reach the six win barrier, a push for one of the home state teams could cloud the situation.
The Liberty Bowl began in Philadelphia in 1959. In the first game, Penn State defeated Alabama. By 1965, the Liberty had moved to Memphis, where it has been a fixture for 44 years.
During its time, the Liberty Bowl was host to the final game in the career of Bear Bryant, John McKay, and Ernie Davis.
This year's 50th celebration should do those great gentlemen proud.
The Sun Bowl
The 76th edition of the grand old Sun Bowl has one thing on its mind: Bring Notre Dame and California together for a battle of national interest and providing a huge influx of fans into west Texas.
They may not get their wish.
That being the case, there is a backup plan. The Sun Bowl matches the PAC-10 against the Big East with Notre Dame playing the role of a viable Big East team for selection process.
While Cal remains the choice of local leadership for many reasons (some personal as well as economic) the West Virginia Mountaineers remain the top choice of all opponents if the Irish opt for the sunny shores of Jacksonville or are provided an opportunity to go BCS bowling.
There you have it, Cal vs. Notre Dame or West Virginia. That's what you can expect at Sun Carnival time.
The Holiday Bowl
One of the most beloved of the traditional non-BCS bowls is San Diego's Holiday Bowl.
This fine contest matches the Big 12 against the PAC 10. It is normally followed closely by fans all over the country and has an exciting recent history for its often high-scoring contests.
Because of the teams available this season, fans are going to be in for another holiday season treat.
Texas has the second most appearances in the Holiday Bowl, trailing only Brigham Young.
If the Longhorns slip up in Dallas against the Sooners or fall beneath the pressure of a Big 12 title game and fall out of the BCS qualifiers, expect Texas to end up in San Diego for a fifth appearance.
A lot of fanbases talk the talk when it comes to traveling. The Longhorn community walks the walk and is embraced by cities all over the nation.
As a CBS executive once remarked, "We would broadcast Notre Dame vs. Texas each week if they would schedule it that way."
If not Texas, look for the huge Nebraska fanbase to make a case for San Diego. If the Longhorns stay on track for the BCS title game, the Cornhuskers could be your Big 12 team in southern California.
Since 2000, Oregon, Arizona State, and California have represented the PAC 10 a total of six times.
It is a good bet San Diego angles for one of them again.
An Oregon or California versus Nebraska clash would provide national interest and, more than likely, a typical high-scoring Holiday Bowl affair.
If it is the rugged Sun Devils and the Cornhuskers, look for a repeat of the 1975 Fiesta Bowl classic between the two teams, something around the 17-14 range.