BCS Bowl Projections: The Race To The Finish

The college football regular season is in the books for most conferences, with only the Big 12, Sun Belt and American Athletic having regular schedules next week. The rest of the nation is moving on to conference championship games. Let’s take a look at how the BCS bowl projections are shaping up.

Auburn’s win over Alabama has reshaped the race for the national championship. Ohio State currently holds the #2 position behind Florida State, but Auburn is closing fast. The combination of Auburn’s win over ‘Bama, a presumed win over Missouri, Ohio State’s shaky showing at Michigan and the Big Ten’s generally poor display all make it a good bet that Auburn can shoot into the #2 spot so long as they win on Saturday.

Missouri is also a one-loss team, but not in as strong a political position. I believe both Mizzou and Auburn should pass Ohio State with a win. But the reality is that without the flash of a win over Alabama, Missouri is not going to get the same kind of credit. My guess is that Mizzou needs Ohio State to lose outright to Michigan State (which could very well happen) if they want to play for the national championship.

Then there’s the question of Alabama. Ranked #4, the Tide aren’t out of it. It would take a miracle–both Florida State and Ohio State would have to lose, and FSU is 28.5 point favorite over Duke. But if that happens, then we likely get a reprise of 2011 where Alabama plays the champion of its own conference for the national title.

I’ve been fully prepared to give the SEC champ every benefit of the doubt ,but extending that to its runner-up is too much for me. I would have a hard time taking an Alabama-Auburn rematch seriously as a true national title fight (unless Auburn won), and I’d have hard time doing the same with Ohio State-Florida State.

This week’s BCS bowl projections are split into two. I’ve done one set which show the matchups if Auburn wins and passes Ohio State into the #2 slot. The other set presumes either a Missouri victory or Ohio State simply holding off Auburn for #2. There are, quite obviously, any number of scenarios–from a Duke shocker to a Michigan State win that could further upend the applecart, and that extends down into the at-large field. But we’ll focus on the two most basic outcomes…

BCS National Championship: Auburn-Florida State
Orange: Baylor-Clemson
Sugar: Alabama-Northern Illinois
Fiesta: Oklahoma State-Central Florida
Rose: Ohio State-Arizona State/Stanford winner

BCS National Championship:
Florida State-Ohio State
Orange: Alabama-Clemson
Sugar: Auburn/Missouri winner-Northern Illinois
Fiesta: Oklahoma State-Central Florida
Rose: Arizona State/Stanford winner-Michigan State

One key subplot is the battle between Baylor and Michigan State for an at-large bid, a circumstance that assumes Baylor beating Texas and Michigan State losing to Ohio State. Most projections that I’m seeing have the Spartans being chosen for the Rose as a replacement for the Buckeyes, presuming the latter plays for the national title.

That’s very reasonable, but note that Michigan State is currently #10. If they were to lose decisively, they could fall out of the top 14 and be ineligible. The Rose would have to go outside its usual Pac-12 and Big Ten parameters for an at-large selection. And if Ohio State wins and ends up in the Rose per the first scenario, the Sugar Bowl would hold the key choice. They would likely find nearby Baylor at 11-1 more attractive in any case.

Most projections also have Northern Illinois in the Fiesta Bowl, which chooses last. First off, let’s note that we’re assuming NIU will beat Bowling Green on the MAC Championship, which is a risky assumption. A Huskie loss opens the door for both Baylor and Michigan State along with possibly Oregon.

But assuming Northern Illinois wins, why are they less attractive to the Sugar then Central Florida? NIU has one of the country’s dynamic quarterbacks in Jordan Lynch. Can you name one player on Central Florida? It’s not a big deal in any event–it’s not like there’s a difference in prestige between the Sugar and Fiesta, but it explains my thinking in the matchups.