Despite the end of most of the regular season this past week, there are still a lot of moving pieces to the BCS and SEC bowl pictures right now. The most significant could be that we have no earthly idea who Florida State is going to be playing the Orange Bowl next week, assuming that the Seminoles are able to topple mighty Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. And the ACC's mess is beginning to affect the SEC's bowl seedings -- but first things first.
Remember, this is an attempt to project how the bowls would end up if the season ended today; I'm assuming that the highest-ranked team will win its conference and/or division (or any significant remaining games) unless there's a reason not to, and otherwise I try to keep everything else as is. Teams that have an automatic bid to a certain game are italicized.
BCS National Championship Game: Notre Dame vs. Alabama
Fiesta: Kansas State vs. Oregon
Orange: Florida State vs. Big East winner
Rose: Stanford vs. Nebraska
Sugar: Florida vs. Oklahoma
Hey -- did you know that the B1G is still playing football? Yeah, I also thought they would have given up by now, but they even get to put their champion in the Rose Bowl and everything. And somehow, despite having two teams ineligible for the postseason and gaining a reputation among those without a pecuniary interest in the B1G as one of the worst leagues in the country, the Up North Conference still has only the second most nonsensical situation in the BCS right now. We'll get to that in a moment.
Florida gets in through the same contract provision we talked about last week. I think even a narrow loss to Alabama knocks Georgia down one or two spots, which is enough for Florida to grab an automatic berth and get selected by the Sugar Bowl with its replacement pick. After South Carolina defeated Clemson in their annual rivalry battle (excuse me a moment while I laugh hysterically), the Fiesta and the Sugar have easy picks. The Fiesta gets Oregon for a woulda-coulda-shoulda bowl, while the Sugar takes Oklahoma to set up a matchup between two brand-name programs.
And why doesn't Georgia get a BCS spot after a great season? Because we have the two-team-per-conference rule, and because someone has to host the Big East champion. Whomever that will be. We still don't know, and I'm not sure that anyone will know until the bowls actually make their selections. Because I can see a plausible scenario where no one is quite sure after Saturday's games or possibly even after Sunday's rankings are initially revealed which Big East team gets the nod.
Let's get the easy scenario out of the way first. If Rutgers wins its game against Louisville on Thursday, the Scarlet Knights are going to the BCS despite losing to Kent State. WOO! If Rutgers loses, things get a little bit more complicated. That's because the Big East's tiebreaker rules are slightly harder to understand than the Talmud. But here we go.
If Rutgers loses and Cincinnati wins, I think that Louisville has the inside track. If Rutgers and Cincinnati lose, I have no idea who's going, but I think it could be either Louisville, Rutgers, Syracuse or Angela Merkel. It depends on how you read these phrases: "the highest ranked team" and "tied for the highest ranking."
That's because no Big East team is currently ranked in the BCS. So in the former scenario, after you create the "mini-conference" the Big East rules call for (and, really, the Big East should be avoiding creating new conferences at this point, but I digress), it gets down to Louisville and Rutgers. If the Big East rules are taken to mean that there is a difference between being ranked 29th and 32nd if the numbers were hypothetically calculated to that extent, I suppose there's still a chance Rutgers could be ahead of Louisville even if neither team is ranked in the Top 25. But the common-sense reading of the rules would seem to indicate that the two are "tied for the highest ranking" -- that being not ranked at all -- and Louisville wins on head-to-head.
But let's be careful about that reading in the latter scenario, which ends up with Louisville, Rutgers and Syracuse in a 2008 Big 12 South-style tie. Back to the rules.
In this case, the highest ranked team amongst the three earns the bid. If two of the three teams are tied for the highest ranking, the bid is earned by the team winning the head-to-head match up.
Well, that's interesting. What if all three teams are unranked and we go under the common-sense reading of the rules mentioned above? Who, precisely, wins if three teams "are tied for the highest ranking"? It's not clear. And even if we go under the theory that the BCS rankings extend until infinity -- or at least 124 -- there's no way to tell in this scenario who would end up the highest "ranked" team. So we'll go for now with a fill-in, because I have no idea of how to handicap this race.
Again, Orange Bowl, you will no longer have to deal with this foolishness when the new college football playoff rules take effect. Remind yourself, two more years.
I'm still tweaking the final outlines of the bowl situation for the SEC right now, but for the time being it looks something like this.
Capital One: Georgia
Cotton: Texas A&M
Outback: South Carolina
Music City: Mississippi State
Liberty: Ole Miss
BBVA Compass: None eligible
Independence: None eligible
I put the Commodores in the Gator Bowl because the Gator now concedes this is a possibility (don't pay attention to that article on the Capital One Bowl, though its Chick-fil-A bit is interesting) and the SEC might have a role in it. I think the conference would want to make sure Vanderbilt gets a reward even if it ends up with the same record as Mississippi State simply because it's an eight-win Vanderbilt team, and that only happens once every 30 years or so.
SEC pressure might also come into play when in the Outback and Chick-fil-A spots. To my mind, the Capital One Bowl still wants Georgia (or Alabama if it loses) and the Cotton still wants Texas A&M, whether Texas ends up as the Big 12 team in that game or not. Left to its own devices, the Outback would probably go with LSU because that's what the Outback does. But there's not a clear alternative for the Chick-fil-A to take ahead of Clemson from the ACC -- meaning taking South Carolina from the SEC is almost certainly out of the question.
Mike Slive is aware of this, and probably doesn't want to get in the habit of allowing eight-win teams to leapfrog 10-win teams in the bowl pecking order. My guess is that he tries to persuade the Outback Bowl that South Carolina-Michigan or South Carolina-Northwestern are both solid options, with the LSU-Clemson game in the Chick-fil-A Bowl also being a nice get for the Atlanta-based game. But whenever the Outback Bowl is involved, there is a chance that the final decision will make little sense.