There's still a bit of volatility surrounding the BCS this season, as we're getting to the part of the season where three or four teams are inevitably going to go undefeated but never do. And as those upsets happen -- or near upsets, which helped Oregon make the predicted move past Notre Dame this weekend -- and rejigger the rankings, the bowl projects have to be adjusted as well. What is remarkable is that there are as many as seven teams that you see recurring over and over as we get closer to selection day.
Remember, this is an attempt to project how the bowls would end up if the season ended today; other than assuming that the highest-ranked team will win its conference and/or division, we try to keep everything else as is. Teams that have an automatic bid to a certain game are italicized.
BCS National Championship Game: Alabama vs. Kansas State
Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Oregon State
Orange: Florida State vs. Louisville
Rose: Oregon vs. Nebraska
Sugar: Notre Dame vs. Georgia
We might be waiting another week or two, at least, to see Oregon move past Kansas State. It's not terribly likely to happen this week, as Oregon travels to awful Cal and Kansas State takes on a decent TCU outfit in Fort Worth. Especially when take into account that the computers can't see margin of victory, anything short of a TCU upset is likely to keep the Wildcats ahead of the Ducks, given their current margin in the standings.
I haven't changed too much here from last week, though I did move Oregon State into the Fiesta ahead of Stanford. The reason I did that is because of the second (and little-noticed) aspect of the at-large requirement for BCS bowls, which stipulates that any team for at-large berth has to have at least nine wins. I'm not sure Stanford can get there; the Cardinal are 7-1 with remaining games against Oregon State, at Oregon and at UCLA. But Oregon State is almost a mortal lock to get to nine; after the trip to Stanford, they get Cal, Oregon and Nicholls State at home.
There have been some rumblings that the Fiesta Bowl might be interested in Louisville, for reasons that I cannot begin to understand. (The first problem I have with this is that I have no idea what Dodd means by calling it a "trade," scare quotes or none; there are no reasons that the Fiesta Bowl couldn't take Louisville regardless of what the Orange Bowl thinks.) The only thing I can come up with right now is that if an undefeated Kansas State emerges from the Big 12 and doesn't get to the national championship game, it might be interesting to pair them with the only other undefeated team available if you assume, as Dodd and I both do, that the Sugar takes Notre Dame first on the likely bet that the Fiesta won't take an SEC team.
But that's exactly the kind of projections I try to stay away from here if at all possible. We don't know for a fact that Oregon is going to go undefeated, or that Kansas State is going to go undefeated if Oregon does. (Or, for that matter, if Alabama is going to go undefeated, as a Tide loss to either Texas A&M or Georgia in the SEC Championship Game would make all of this moot.)
A couple of words about the Sugar Bowl. First, I still think that the New Orleans bowl snaps up Notre Dame with the first replacement pick, in part because the Irish will travel well to anywhere on the planet and in part because I don't see any reason why the Fiesta would retaliate by picking an SEC team. Business decisions are best not made out of revenge; and if it really mattered to the Fiesta Bowl that much, the Sugar would likely let them have Notre Dame. I think the Fiesta would like to have Notre Dame but wouldn't do anything stupid if they don't get the Irish. They take a nice enough matchup and things go back to the Sugar.
I'm still penciling Georgia in here in part because I think they'll give Alabama a good game. But the record on SEC Championship Game losers getting into the Sugar Bowl during the national title streak is mixed. It happened in 2008-09 (Alabama) and 2009-10 (Florida), but that was when those teams had separated themselves from the league as a whole. At the same time, in 2010-11 (Arkansas), 2007-08 (Georgia) and 2006-07 (LSU), the Sugar Bowl went with teams that had not won their divisions. In those cases, you could at least make a case that each of those teams was clearly superior to the SEC runner-up in that year.
This year seems to be between those two extremes. It would be hard to make the argument that Georgia has shown itself to be clearly better than the likes of LSU, South Carolina and Florida -- at least to the degree that Alabama in 2008 and Florida in 2009 appeared to have done against the comparable teams. On the other hand, it would be hard to make a logical argument that LSU, South Carolina or Florida had done anything to really distinguish themselves from Georgia.
The picture should clear up until and through the SEC title bout. If Georgia plays Alabama close, it will likely get into the Sugar Bowl. If it's a blowout, LSU in particular looks to benefit as long as the Bengals don't collapse.
So if we put Georgia into the Sugar Bowl for now, where does everyone else go?
Capital One: LSU
Cotton: Texas A&M
Chick-fil-A: South Carolina
Gator: Mississippi State
Music City: Tennessee
Liberty: Ole Miss
BBVA Compass: Vanderbilt
Independence: None eligible
Florida did play in Tampa two years ago, so I'm not sure that's enough to "circulate the inventory" and put the Gators back in the Outback Bowl again, but I think for the first time since I've been doing it that Florida will be available to the Outback. If it's LSU in the Sugar Bowl instead of Georgia, things could change -- but Floria is looking worse and worse as the season goes on and LSU is looking better and better. South Carolina fans get their fondest wish again, though I'm still not sure why so many of my fellow Gamecock fans want to go to a bowl lower in the pecking order.
Nothing else changes too much. The results of the lower-tier bowls could depend on who wins Vanderbilt-Ole Miss. Tennessee could be less attractive to the Music City Bowl if the USS Dooley continues to take on water, but we'll have to see what happens over the next several weeks, especially since the Vols splitting the vs. Missouri-at Vanderbilt leg of the schedule is looking shakier by the week.