Decoding the BCS Selection Process: The Possibilities for Every Major Bowl

Kevin TrahanAnalyst INovember 16, 2009

With college football's regular season winding down, bowl projections have been in full swing. The national championship has basically been decided as the SEC Champion vs. Texas, but besides that, there are plenty of mysteries to be solved.

The problem is that a lot of the bowl matchups being projected, such as TCU vs. Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl or TCU vs. Cincinnati in Glendale, are extremely unrealistic given the bowl selection process. So how are the BCS bowls decided? To find that out, we must first look at the selection order. And remember, this is all assuming the SEC champion meets Texas in the National Championship.

BCS Selection Process
1. National Championship: BCS #1 vs. BCS #2
2. Rose Bowl: Pac-10 Champion vs. Big Ten Champion
3. Sugar Bowl Pick #1: Replacement pick for SEC champion
4. Fiesta Bowl Pick #1: Replacement pick for Texas
5. Orange Bowl: ACC Champion vs. BCS at-large
6. Fiesta Bowl Pick #2: BCS at-large
7. Sugar Bowl Pick #2: BCS at-large

(at-large teams must finish in the BCS top 14)

1. BCS National Championship

There really is no dilemna here whatsoever. The BCS National Championship gets the top two teams in the BCS no matter what. For our purposes, we are assuming that the SEC Champion will play Texas.

Possible Teams (in order of likelihood of being chosen)
1. SEC Champion
2. Texas
3. TCU
4. Cincinnati
5. Boise State

Projected match-up : SEC Champion vs. Texas

2. Rose Bowl

Like the National Championship, the Rose Bowl is relatively easy to project. The Big Ten Champion will face the Pac-10 Champion unless one of those teams is chosen for the National Championship. Since there is no danger of that happening, it is safe to assume that the champions of each conference will face each other. The Big Ten is easy, as Ohio State already clinched that spot by beating Iowa last week.

The Pac-10 is much more messy. Oregon and Arizona each control their own destiny. If either of them win out, they go to the Rose Bowl. Stanford can get in if it wins out, Arizona beats Oregon, Oregon State beats Oregon, and Arizona doesn't win out. Oregon State can get in if it wins out and Arizona does not. How about that for a mess.

Possible Teams (in order of likelihood of being chosen)
1. Ohio State
2. Oregon
3. Arizona
4. Oregon State
5. Stanford

3. Sugar Bowl Pick #1

The Sugar Bowl gets the first at-large pick, receiving a replacement team for the SEC Champion, which will go to the BCS National Championship. The Sugar Bowl will almost certainly take the SEC runner-up with its first replacement pick.

Possible Teams (in order of likelihood of being chosen)
1. SEC runner-up

Projected Pick : SEC runner-up

4. Fiesta Bowl Pick #1

The Fiesta Bowl gets the second of the at-large picks, receiving a replacement team for Texas, the Big 12 Champion. But this is where things get tricky. Even if a Big 12 team is available, presumably Oklahoma State, the Fiesta Bowl doesn't have to take them because it is only obligated to take the Big 12 Champion if that team is not in the National Championship. With Texas going to the National Championship, the Fiesta Bowl would not be obligated to anyone.

As stated earlier, a TCU vs. Boise State or TCU vs. Cincinnati match-up almost certainly won't happen. The bowls are about money and the Fiesta Bowl certainly won't pass up a Big Ten team, such as Iowa or Penn State, for Cincinnati, TCU, Boise State, or Pittsburgh. None of those teams sell tickets and the Fiesta Bowl could have a financial disaster if they end up taking one of those teams and are forced to take another team from that group later on in the selection process. Iowa is projected to bring around 50,000 fans, while Cincinnati only brought 13,000 to the Orange Bowl last year. Boise State, TCU, and Pittsburgh would not have nearly as impressive numbers either.

That means the pick will come down to Iowa, Oklahoma State, and Penn State. The Fiesta Bowl projects that Iowa would bring close to 50,000 fans, considering its reputation for traveling well and its massive alumni base in Arizona. According to (a Scout affiliate), Fiesta Bowl sources have been hoping to have a chance at Iowa since mid-October and they would be the likely pick. Iowa brought 50,000 fans to the Orange Bowl in 2002 and brought 20,000 to a regular season game against Arizona State in 2004. Plus, they have never played in the Fiesta Bowl.

Penn State would also bring in a good number of fans and would be a nice TV draw, but it seems that the Fiesta Bowl will take Iowa over the Nittany Lions. Oklahoma State may need to win out and hope for Iowa and Penn State to lose this Saturday, but that doesn't seem very likely to happen.

Possible Teams (in order of likelihood of being chosen)
1. Iowa
2. Penn State
3. Oklahoma State
4. TCU
5. Boise State
6. Cincinnati
7. Pittsburgh

Projected Pick : Iowa

5. Orange Bowl

One of the Orange Bowl's picks will be the ACC Champion, most likely Georgia Tech, but the second choice is not as easy to predict. If the Fiesta Bowl decides to go with Oklahoma State, the Orange Bowl will almost certainly select a Big Ten team. Both teams have traveled very well to Miami and the Orange Bowl wouldn't pass that up. Iowa would be the more deserving team in this case, but Penn State may be more attractive for TV ratings' sake. But Iowa still would sell as many tickets as Penn State, so that one is a toss-up.

But with a Big Ten team most likely going to the Fiesta Bowl, the Orange Bowl would have Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, TCU, Boise State, and Oklahoma State to choose from. The Big East runner-up almost certainly won't be chosen due to ticket sales, and the same goes for the non-Big Six teams. That leaves Oklahoma State and the Big East champion. I don't see Oklahoma State getting by Oklahoma, but even if they do, the Orange Bowl will likely go for the Big East champion. There really isn't a reason, other than the fact that the Orange Bowl always seems to go for the most boring match-up possible.

Possible Teams (in order of likelihood of being chosen)
1. Georgia Tech
2. Cincinnati
3. Pittsburgh
4. Clemson
5. Oklahoma State
6. Iowa/Penn State
7. TCU/Boise State

Projected match-up : Georgia Tech vs. Cincinnati

6. Fiesta Bowl

The Fiesta Bowl gets the second to last pick in the BCS selection process and will likely end up choosing from four teams; TCU, Boise State, Oklahoma State, and the Big East runner-up. Oklahoma State would be the obvious choice in this spot, but I don't see them being eligible.

Since the Big East runner-up has almost no chance of being chosen, it comes down to TCU and Boise State. TCU seems like the obvious pick, but Boise State will sell the same amount of tickets. Ticket sales wouldn't be a deciding factor either, as Iowa will make sure the bowl sells out. I think the Fiesta takes Boise State here due to previous experiences. The Broncos played extremely well against Oklahoma and Iowa vs. Boise State is a more attractive match-up than Iowa vs. TCU.

Possible Teams (in order of likelihood of being chosen)
1. Boise State
2. TCU
3. Oklahoma State
4. Big East runner-up

Projected match-up : Iowa vs. Boise State

7. Sugar Bowl

This is one of the easiest picks yet. Since the highest ranked non-Big Six team in the BCS top 14 is guaranteed a bowl birth, TCU has to be chosen. If they are chosen by the Fiesta Bowl, it would make for an interesting debate between Boise State and the Big East runner-up.

Possible Teams (in order of likelihood of being chosen)
1. TCU
2. Boise State
3. Oklahoma State
4. Big East runner-up

Projected match-up : Alabama vs. TCU

Projected BCS match-ups
BCS National Championship: Florida vs. Texas
FedEx Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Cincinnati
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Iowa vs. Boise State
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. TCU
Rose Bowl presented by Citi: Ohio State vs. Oregon

Right now, the only thing that's clear about the BCS is that it's a mess. As the season continues to wind down, we will get a better and better picture of what the bowls will look like. Check back next week for and updated look at the BCS selection process.