Final College Football Preview Extravaganza

We’ve been previewing each conference in college football throughout the month of August here at TheSportsNotebook and with the season set to begin tomorrow, it’s time to tie it all together into one final college football preview preseason extravaganza. Let’s start with a recap of who TheSportsNotebook picked to win the five major conferences…

ACC: Florida State
Big Ten: Michigan State
SEC: South Carolina
Big 12: Oklahoma
Pac-12: USC

Now let’s move to the middle class. The Big East champ gets an automatic bid to a BCS bowl game, while the Mountain West does not, but I have a hard time seeing these conferences as being all that different in terms of quality play (well, the Mountain West might be better, but that’s another debate entirely).

Big East: Syracuse
Mountain West: Wyoming

And finally the populist rebels of the Football Bowl Subdivison in Conference USA, the WAC, MAC & Sun Belt.

C-USA: Marshall
WAC: Louisiana Tech
MAC: Kent State
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky

I’m going to forgo the usual methods of ranking a Top 10 or Top 25. That really doesn’t answer the question of who will play in college football’s biggest games at the end of the season. There are ten spots available in the top-tier games (BCS National Championship, Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl). Six of the spots are reserved for the winners of the five power conferences plus the Big East. The four at-large bids have to be further spread out, because no conference can claim more than one extra spot. So when you see a Top 10 and there’s four SEC teams in it that doesn’t tell you much about who’s going to play in the major bowls.

My own selections for the four at-large spots are Alabama, Michigan, Clemson, Oklahoma State. That sets up a projected major bow lineup that looks like this…

BCS National Championship: USC vs. Oklahoma
I know, there’s no SEC team here. But with LSU and Alabama both doing some rebuilding, I think we’re looking at a two-loss champ in the nation’s top conference. USC and Oklahoma, on the other hand, look vastly superior to everyone else in their league. And unlike SEC teams, who have to play a neutral-site conference championship game, the Pac-12 plays its title game at a homefield site, which presumably the Trojans would hold if they have the kind of year everybody expects. Oklahoma doesn’t have to deal with the extra hurdle. And in the end if it’s an election year with a championship game scheduled in Miami, book the Sooners for being there, just as we saw in 2000, 2004 & 2008.

Rose Bowl: Michigan State-Alabama
With USC going to the national title game as the projected #1 team, the Rose Bowl gets the first choice of remaining teams as a replacement pick. Alabama won a national title in Pasadena in 2009 and I’m sure the Rose Bowl would be happy to have them back.

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State-Michigan
The Fiesta Bowl first picks to replace the loss of Oklahoma, as the Big 12 is tied to the Fiesta Bowl. This game then has the first choice in the natural selection order once replacement picks are made. So they make back-to-back selections to both maintain their relationship with the Big 12 and then bring in a marquee name. Both Okie State and Michigan would be looking for their second straight major bowl victory.

Sugar Bowl: South Carolina-Syracuse
The Sugar’s in a tough spot here. Clemson is clearly the more attractive of the teams remaining, but South Carolina-Clemson would have just played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, so unless there’s some kind of bizarre finish that could justify a rematch, the Sugar will take the New York market and a Big East champ better suited to a midlevel bowl.

Orange Bowl: Florida State-Clemson
Yes, I know they’re from the same conference—the same division even. But the bowls, to the best of my knowledge, don’t coordinate with each other to avoid a circumstance like this where the Orange has no other choice left. Of course it actually plays out this way, the Orange can hope that the Pac-12 runner-up gets BCS-eligible by finishing in the top 16 (not something I am currently predicting) or that a qualified midmajor emerges (not something I am currently predicting). Or that the Fiesta Bowl takes one for the team, as it were and chooses Clemson further up, enabling the Sugar and Orange to avoid rematches (definitely not something I am currently predicting). Any which way, the potential mess around this final bowl reminds us why we’re glad a selection committee is taking over this process next season.

And the national champion? I’m concerned about their depth, but at the end of the day USC has the best combination of talent and schedule and if they get to Miami, as I’m predicting, they’ll win it all.