[Note: My apologies for these being so late. Let's just say that leaving Atlanta at around 5:30 p.m. on the Sunday after Thanksgiving was probably not the brightest idea I've ever had.-BL]
An object lesson in why I do these things based on the standings as they are now: I got a completely legitimate complaint from a Wisconsin fan about not including the Badgers in last week's projections based on the assumption that if defeated Penn State, Wisconsin would be in the Top 14 and get a ticket to the Orange Bowl. Whoops. In addition to the possibility of upsets, there are just too many permutations of how the rankings will move as we start determining games to make it a reliable exercise.
Think of it this way: When you're doing bowl projections for a conference, it's a bit easier. You figure out how many bids to the BCS are likely, then start seeding teams based on their place in the standings, whatever conference rules there are, and then the marketing dollars and ratings points that bowl executives love. But every move in the BCS has a ripple effect that can change everything. If Ohio State loses to Michigan State, then Auburn moves into the national championship game, Alabama's going to to the Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl has some difficult decisions to make.
So we'll keep things the way we've done them for a couple of seasons now: The ratings as they are now, with the highest-ranked team in each conference assumed to win the title.
BCS National Championship Game: Florida St. Seminoles vs. Ohio St. Buckeyes
Sugar Bowl: Auburn Tigers vs. Central Florida Knights
Rose Bowl: Stanford Cardinal vs. Michigan St. Spartans
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma St. Cowboys vs. Northern Illinois Huskies
Orange Bowl: Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Oregon Ducks
That's different, which is something that we often see after a huge upset shuffles the deck of cards. Let's break it down.
The Sugar Bowl now has no gymnastics to go through when it comes to choosing an SEC team; unless the eventual champion jumps Ohio State (one way or the other) or Florida State loses, the champion will go to the Sugar Bowl. Now, the Orange Bowl gets the first replacement selection and quickly snaps up Alabama, which is currently in line for an automatic berth.
The Rose Bowl goes next to replace Ohio State, and Sparty gets the call to set up a traditional Pac-12 vs. B1G matchup. As long as any B1G team is on the board at this point, they will go to Pasadena. That's a certainty. Tradition and such, you know. The problem is, I'm not sure that Michigan State will remain in the Top 14 if they lose the title game. It could be really close.
Things then go back to the Orange Bowl for the first at-large pick. This is a tough one, and Brad Edwards has Clemson going (I see what you're doing there, Mark Schlabach), which is a reasonable projection. My guess, and it's just a guess, is that we're looking at a very close race between the Ducks, who haven't played well in a couple of weeks now, and the Tigers, who did not play very well at all against South Carolina last week. Just ask Steve Spurrier. Besides, the last time Clemson went to the Orange Bowl -- let's just say it didn't go well.
Plus, putting the Ducks into this one sets up the BCS National Championship Game that a lot of us wanted to begin with. All of that makes me think that the Orange Bowl decides to go with Oregon -- but just barely. The other contenders right now are Baylor and Arizona State, though I think the Sun Devils are probably out if they lose to Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
After that, it's the usual. Central Florida and NIU are good teams that need homes, and the Sugar Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl are kindhearted people, so they'll take them in. And UCF, when you're up a touchdown late in the game -- just go ahead and surrender. Auburn has you right where it wants you.