We reach the halfway point of the BCS side in the 2009 Bowl Projection Series with the only remaining conference featuring an undefeated team: the Big East.
They are the “Big Least” no more, as although it is the smallest of the BCS conferences, the Big East has three to five very good teams almost every year.
At the top of the pack right now is Cincinnati, who needs only to defeat Pitt on Saturday to finish an unbeaten regular season and head to the BCS.
Of course, the Panthers, who are coming off a heartbreaking loss to West Virginia last week, would love nothing more than to steal that spot.
If that happens, 11-1 Cincy would be a candidate for a BCS at-large berth, but they were a ratings disaster for the Orange Bowl last year and won’t even be as attractive as a two-loss Big Ten team.
The Big East has seven tie-ins, six of which are exercised in any given year. This year, they have six eligible teams; Notre Dame can be taken by the Gator or Sun Bowl if they win seven or more games, but at 6-6 they have to wait on contingencies.
Thus, all eligible spots will be taken.
Every team in the Big East plays this weekend, but only these six will be eligible:
West Virginia (8-3)
South Florida (7-4)
Here, in order of selection, are the Big East's automatic bids:
No. 1: BCS (At-Large)
No. 2: Gator Bowl OR Sun Bowl
No. 3: Meineke Car Care Bowl
No. 4: International Bowl
No. 5: PapaJohns.com Bowl
No. 6: St. Petersburg Bowl
Lots of contingencies here as well, starting at the top.
While the Big East Champion gets an automatic BCS berth, they are not tied into any specific bowl and can be selected anywhere.
The No. 2 selection rotates between the Gator and Sun Bowls. They share an alliance with the Big East No. 2/Big 12 No. 4 selection and can also take Notre Dame.
In 2009, however, Notre Dame didn't win enough games, and the Gator Bowl must take a Big East team to fill their contract, so the second slot goes there.
Beyond that, the final two bowls have contingency plans with the Sun Belt if not enough Big East teams are eligible.
As it stands, the PapaJohns.com Bowl will be filled as usual, with the St. Petersburg going to contingency only if the Big East somehow gets a second BCS team.
They won't, because even an 11-1 Cincinnati team is unattractive to the big boys.
Projected Bowl selections:
No. 1: Sugar Bowl—Cincinnati
No. 2: Gator Bowl—West Virginia
No. 3: Meineke Car Care Bowl—Pittsburgh
No. 4: International Bowl—UConn
No. 5: PapaJohns.com Bowl—Rutgers
No. 6: St. Petersburg Bowl—South Florida
I project Cincinnati to win the Big East Championship, but even unbeaten, they’ll end up in the Sugar Bowl by default. The Orange will avoid them, and the Fiesta, already faced with having to replace their own tie-in, will stick with what they know (aka the Big Ten and Boise State).
That sends Cincy to the Sugar to take on 12-1 Alabama in the second-best bowl record-wise.
The Gator selects next, and West Virginia was the last Big East team to play (and win) there. Since they beat Pitt and will also likely finish 9-3, the Gator will take them as the next best team available.
That drops Pitt to the Meineke Car Care Bowl. They had West Virginia last year and would take them again, but Pitt is the best of the four teams remaining and would match up well with whichever ACC team ends up there.
The International Bowl would then pull a surprise and select UConn, who won the game last year. While they could finish 6-6 with a loss to South Florida, the Huskies would likely once again bring a big contingent north.
And yes, that picture is one last piece of love for Jasper Howard, whose life ended tragically and far too soon earlier this fall.
That leaves Rutgers and South Florida for the last two bowls. The PapaJohns.com Bowl gets an SEC team, which will draw in regional fans, so they’ll take the “better” team in the Scarlet Knights.
That leaves the Bulls with a virtual home game and the St. Petersburg Bowl possibly lucking out to get two in-state teams—their other tie-in is Conference USA No. 4, and it’s very likely that Central Florida will be there for that pick.