Bowl Projections 2011: The BCS Chaos Theory, SEC Seedings and Likely Opponents

We know where the Honey Badger and Co. are going. After that, things get a little complicated.

In lieu of Topics for Discussion today.

The 2011 college football regular season ended the same way it lived: In a cloud of chaos, controversy and utter confusion. So what does that mean for the SEC teams when it comes to their postseason destinations?

The following post is going to get a little bit messy, because I'm going to try to game out all of the likely scenarios. My final guess at what this means for now -- or at least my final guess until the voting results start getting announced tomorrow -- is at the very end of this post, if you're the kind of person that skips to the end of the book to see what happens. But I find the process almost as intriguing as the results.

It all hinges on two critical questions: Does Alabama or Oklahoma State get the final spot in the national championship game? And do Michigan and TCU make it to No. 14 and No. 16, respectively, which is what the Wolverines need to be eligible for an at-large bid and what TCU needs to secure an automatic bid?

Fun BCS chaos theory first. I'm very conflicted about the merits of a rematch -- I've said before that I'm against rematches on principle, but I have to say that the thought of having two SEC teams in the BCS Championship Game is exciting. In any case, I'm pretty sure that that's the likeliest scenario right now. But I also agree with something Year2 said Saturday on Twitter: The voters have yet to actually have to vote on whether they want a rematch. That could change everything.

We'll do both scenarios, just to be on the safe side. First of all, Stanford becomes a lock at the No. 4 spot in the rematch scenario, because the BCS rules say a non-champ No. 3 or, if one is not there, No. 4 from an AQ league gets an automatic bid. The Sugar looks at the rankings -- with Oregon, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State and Clemson already off the board -- and picks Michigan. If Michigan doesn't make the Top 14, it gets dicier; the only way I see that happening is if Oklahoma stays in the Top 14, so they might go with Oklahoma instead.

Next, the Fiesta gets its next pick. There's not much to choose from. Stanford, TCU and West Virginia are locked in, and there are only three spots left. The Fiesta has to take one of them, and it goes with Stanford. The Sugar takes TCU and the Orange is left with ACC vs. Big East, Part 95.

BCS National Championship Game: LSU vs. Alabama
Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Stanford
Sugar Bowl: Michigan vs. TCU
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. West Virginia

If Oklahoma State goes to the national championship game, though, the wheels kind of fall off of all the expectations. First of all, Alabama takes the automatic bid that would go to Stanford at No. 4 under our first scenario. (That clause is moot if the No. 3 team isn't a conference champion, because the slot then goes to the No. 3 team.) After the Sugar Bowl takes Bama to fill in for LSU, the Fiesta Bowl gets two picks in a row (last compensation pick, first at-large selection under rules).

That's an interesting situation for the Fiesta Bowl to be in. The teams that make the most sense are Stanford, Kansas State, Michigan and TCU -- all of whom I expect to be eligible and/or autobidded. My guess is that the Fiesta wants to take Michigan for the same reason that the Sugar Bowl would want to, and the last thing the Fiesta wants to do is infuriate the Rose Bowl by taking Stanford. The choice between TCU and Kansas State is close, but the Fiesta goes with the Wildcats.

That chain reaction puts TCU in the Sugar Bowl with Alabama, which the New Orleans game can bill as Alabama's shot at avenging 2008. And the Orange Bowl still gets stuck with the ACC and Big East winners.

BCS National Championship Game: LSU vs. Oklahoma State
Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin
Fiesta Bowl: Kansas State vs. Michigan
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. TCU
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. West Virginia

The caveat is that if Michigan misses the Top 14 cut, the Fiesta goes with Oklahoma and muddies the water a lot. In that case, they might go with Stanford against Oklahoma. Everything else remains the same.

What if TCU doesn't qualify? Under the Bama-to-the-title-game scenario, I would think the Sugar probably takes Oklahoma or Baylor, depending on which is available. The Sooners would have the upper hand based on marketing power. If Oklahoma State is the one facing LSU in the title game, it's probably Stanford.

What if both TCU and Michigan are out? Then I think you get something like this.

BCS National Championship Game: LSU vs. Alabama
Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Stanford
Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Boise State
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. West Virginia

OR

BCS National Championship Game: LSU vs. Oklahoma State
Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Stanford
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Boise State
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. West Virginia

Really, if you look at the choices the Sugar Bowl has in either of those scenarios, they're not pretty. The New Orleans bowl is almost stuck with Boise State because of the teams that are eliminated.

Now, what about the other SEC bowl teams? There are seven, which means that they will go to the top seven non-BCS bowls. Those are:

Capital One Bowl: Gets the third selection no matter what.
Cotton Bowl: Gets the first selection from the SEC West after the Cap One OR the second selection out of the SEC East.
Outback Bowl: Gets the first selection from the SEC East after the Cap One OR the second selection out of the SEC West.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Next pick
Gator Bowl: Next pick
Music City Bowl: Next pick
Liberty / BBVA Compass: Share next two picks in consultation with the SEC office.

The Capital One Bowl's thinking is the mystery in all of this. Does it go with a Georgia team that was excited to win the SEC East but got clobbered in the title game? A Top 10 Arkansas team with fans maybe disappointed at how the season ended? Or a South Carolina team that had the best season in 27 years but didn't win the SEC East title many fans were hoping for?

I think they go Arkansas, setting up this scenario:

Capital One: Arkansas
Outback: Georgia
Cotton: South Carolina
Chick-fil-A: Auburn
Gator: Florida
Music City: Vanderbilt
Liberty: Mississippi State

There are two more scenarios for the top three bowls, though. With Georgia in the Capital One Bowl instead, the Cotton takes Arkansas and the Outback takes South Carolina. With South Carolina in Orlando, the Cotton takes Arkansas and the Outback takes Georgia. All of that is subject to the massive caveat that the Outback is completely insane and might offer its SEC spot to Ole Miss. Really.

Regardless, the Big East is basically guaranteed an SEC matchup in the Compass Bowl -- which ain't getting on this year -- or, failing that, in the Liberty Bowl. That pushes out Southern Miss and leads to this for your matchups IF Michigan is eligible for the BCS.

Capital One: Arkansas vs. Michigan State
Outback: Georgia vs. Nebraska
Cotton: South Carolina vs. Oklahoma
Chick-fil-A: Auburn vs. Virginia Tech
Gator: Florida vs. Penn State
Music City: Vanderbilt vs. Virginia
Liberty: Mississippi State vs. Cincinnati

If Michigan isn't eligible for the BCS, it probably looks something like this.

Capital One: Arkansas vs. Michigan
Outback: Georgia vs. Michigan State
Cotton: South Carolina vs. Baylor (remember, I think Oklahoma is probably BCS-bound if Michigan isn't)
Chick-fil-A: Auburn vs. Virginia Tech
Gator: Florida vs. Nebraska
Music City: Vanderbilt vs. Virginia
Liberty: Mississippi State vs. Cincinnati

For the record, the Liberty Bowl apparently thinks that it will get Vanderbilt and perhaps Cincinnati. I think they're going to be disappointed, but in that case, it would be Mississippi State against Virginia in the Music City Bowl.

To untangle all of that and go with what I really think will happen: I'm almost as torn on the Oklahoma State-Alabama question in realpolitik as I am on the merits. But I'll go with Bama for now.

BCS National Championship Game: LSU vs. Alabama
Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Stanford
Sugar Bowl: Michigan vs. TCU
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. West Virginia
Capital One: Arkansas vs. Michigan State
Outback: Georgia vs. Nebraska
Cotton: South Carolina vs. Oklahoma
Chick-fil-A: Auburn vs. Virginia Tech
Gator: Florida vs. Penn State
Music City: Vanderbilt vs. Virginia
Liberty: Mississippi State vs. Cincinnati

That's your official prediction for the time being. I'll update tomorrow as the polls begin to roll out.

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