College football wrap-up #5: Early BCS bowl predictions

“Last week”: we broke down undefeated teams’ chances of playing in the national title game. What about the other four BCS games? The Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar Bowls also select participants based on conference titles and BCS rank. Let’s determine who is going to be playing where come January.

The BCS National Championship Game — Since the 2007 title game, the BCS National Championship has been a stand-alone game played a week after New Year’s Day that pits the top two teams in the BCS ranking against each other. This year, it will be difficult to argue against the SEC champion and the Big 12 champion playing in this marquee matchup. If Oklahoma or Oklahoma State and LSU or Alabama run the table and win their respective conferences, we will see a team from Oklahoma and an SEC juggernaut compete for a national title. The rivals from each of the Big 12 and SEC play each other before the end of the regular season, which will leave at most one undefeated team from each conference.

The wild card in this situation is Kansas State, which also has the chance to beat Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and win the Big 12 with an unblemished record. Considering how far back it is in the polls as of now, it might still be hard for it to crack the BCS top two. That might leave the door open for an undefeated Big Ten or Pac-12 champion.

*Verdict: Oklahoma and LSU will win their conferences while going 12-0 and 13-0, respectively, and meet with a national championship on the line.*

The Rose Bowl — Each year, this historic bowl game is a matchup between the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions. The exception to this is when either conference champion is selected to play in the national championship, in which case the open slot or slots go to BCS at-large picks. The Rose Bowl is required to select the highest-ranked non-automatic-qualifying (AQ) team if it is ranked in the top four of the BCS, given that it has not followed this provision in the last four years.

Last year, the Rose Bowl took No. 3 TCU when Oregon was selected to play in the national championship. Therefore, the Rose Bowl will not be required to take a non-AQ team, and will take the second place team from either conference.

*Verdict: Wisconsin and Oregon will win the Big Ten and Pac 12, respectively, and neither will be selected for the national title game, creating a matchup of Badgers and Ducks.*

The Orange Bowl — The ACC champion meets an at-large bid in this BCS bowl. Clemson seems to be running away with the ACC, unless it suffers an upset loss to Wake Forest, or to another conference rival in the ACC championship game. Because the Big East champion does not receive a bid to a specific bowl, it could end up playing Clemson in the Orange Bowl. West Virginia is the favorite in the Big East, and will go 11-1 as long as it avoids an upset at Rutgers and Cincinnati.

*Verdict: Clemson will face off with West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.*

The Fiesta Bowl — The Big 12 champion takes on an at-large invitee in this case. Because the Big 12 champion will most likely end up in the national championship, the second-place team in the conference will serve as a replacement. With Oklahoma winning the Big 12, Oklahoma State will take its place. After Oregon beats Stanford, the Cardinal will end up as the at-large bid in this case. There is an outside chance that the second place Big Ten team could receive the invitation over Stanford, so a Michigan State-Oklahoma State matchup is not out of the question, either.

*Verdict: Oklahoma State and Stanford will face off in the Fiesta Bowl.*

The Sugar Bowl — The SEC champion faces an at-large team in the Sugar Bowl. Assuming the SEC champion will end up in the national championship, another SEC team will get an invitation. This does not necessarily have to be the loser of the SEC championship, especially considering LSU and Alabama might be the top two BCS teams heading into their regular season matchup. If South Carolina completes the regular season at 11-1 and loses the SEC championship to the winner of LSU and Alabama, it would technically take second place, but the Sugar Bowl might still invite the team that did not make the SEC championship. If South Carolina wins the SEC championship in an upset, that would throw a wrench in everything.

The Gamecocks could end up in the national championship, but are they more deserving than an undefeated Wisconsin or possibly Stanford? The SEC would have three one-loss teams, two of which played in the championship, and one of which won the championship but lost to an unranked team in the regular season. The cries for a playoff will be louder than ever.

The at-large bid will end up as Boise State, which has no true challenge left on its schedule. A Boise State win over an SEC team in the Sugar Bowl, especially LSU or Alabama, would give playoff proponents even more ammunition. Other scenarios would put Michigan State or Stanford in this game, and Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl versus Oklahoma State. The less likely outcome would be Notre Dame going 10-2 and ending up in the top eight of the BCS rankings. This would mean an automatic BCS bowl bid for the Irish, who would take the place of Boise State in the Sugar Bowl or Stanford or Michigan State in the Fiesta Bowl.

*Verdict: Barring a massive meltdown by Boise State, it will face Alabama in a huge statement game for all non-AQ teams.*

h2. A Note on Expansion

Expansion just gets nuttier and nuttier. Maybe it should be called “expansion with a side of desperate survival tactics.”

As rumors of Big East expansion swirled, the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA came out of left field and announced a 22-team football alliance, set to begin play in 2013.

Yes, seriously.

Forget 16-team superconferences, let’s expand to 22! In theory, this destroys “my proposed realignment scenario”: . However, the Big East reportedly has interest in adding Boise State and Air Force as football-only members, and Houston, SMU and Central Florida as full members. This would decrease the MWC-Conf. USA alliance membership, while building up the Big East to 11.

All the while, the Big 12 would still like to add two teams to create a 12-team conference, and the SEC will sit at an awkward 13 teams next year. The ACC will have 14 unless it decides to add two more.

h2. Depression Meter

This is the point in the season where “panic” doesn’t apply anymore because one loss is enough to dash a team’s hopes for a national or conference title. Depression sets in for the fans, and only gets worse with more winless Saturdays.

Indiana Hoosiers — Another week, another loss. Its only win this season was against South Carolina State, which can barely put 22 guys together to form a college football team. The Hoosiers will be underdogs in every game left on their schedule, and a 1-11 season is not out of the question. I hesitated while putting Indiana on this list because I wasn’t sure if one could be eligible for a Depression Meter without anyone apparently caring about the outcome of the games. I’ll assume there are some people out there who are far too emotionally invested in Indiana football. In their case, the Depression Meter sits at a 10.

Texas Longhorns — After a promising 4-0 start, the Longhorn faithful believed there was a chance for something special if plans for an upset win over Oklahoma and/or Oklahoma State came to fruition. Losses in both of those games shouldn’t be considered hugely disappointing, considering both teams are national title contenders, but Texas doesn’t take well to losing football games.

For die-hard Texas fans, it must seem like eons ago that Colt McCoy was piling up 10-win seasons like it was no big deal. Some fans are keeping the faith in true freshman quarterback David Ash, but others have given up hope. Depression Meter sits at a 9.

Arizona State — There were rumblings of a national title run on the ASU campus during the preseason. The schedule was favorable, and quarterback Brock Osweiler and linebacker Vontaze Burfict were set to lead the squad on both sides of the ball. A 17-14 loss at Illinois took away national title hopes, and last week’s loss to Oregon eliminated all realistic hopes of a Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl birth. It’s time to finish strong and get ready for next year. Depression Meter sits at a 7.

h2. Games to Watch Next Weekend

(Note: Rankings are AP)

No. 19 Auburn at No. 1 LSU — Auburn still has an outside shot at an SEC title. If the Auburn Tigers can figure out how to somehow beat LSU and Alabama, and if Arkansas loses, they will win the SEC West.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. LSU has been nothing but dominant, and Auburn has to travel to play this game. If Auburn plays flawlessly and gets a few takeaways, this SEC battle could get very interesting. However, LSU is too solid, and Auburn will fail to execute on big plays. LSU wins 35-21.

No. 4 Wisconsin at No. 15 Michigan State — The Spartans are suddenly in control of the Big Ten Legends division, although games against Wisconsin and Nebraska will not be easy. Last week’s win over Michigan will give Michigan State a ton of confidence, and East Lansing will not be an easy place to play for the Badgers. On the other hand, Wisconsin is hungry, and can sense a national championship on the horizon. With its powerful running game, Michigan State will not be able to keep up. Wisconsin wins, 24-17.

USC at Notre Dame — Both teams in this classic rivalry have had tough times since the days of Leinart and Quinn. Notre Dame suffered through a 3-9 season and USC dealt with allegations of illegal recruiting and was stripped of its national championship victory following the 2004 campaign. Both programs are now on the rise again, and seem to be a few victories away from being nationally relevant again.

Although USC is not eligible for postseason play this year, a 10-2 campaign would do wonders for recruiting and team morale. Notre Dame still has an outside shot at a BCS birth if it can climb in to the top eight in the BCS rankings by the end of the year. USC has had no trouble putting points on the board since its loss to Arizona State, and Notre Dame has been nothing but fundamentally solid in all four victories following its 0-2 start.

USC is at a disadvantage without running back Marc Tyler, who dislocated his shoulder last week. The game will hinge on whichever team can stop the ball on defense and prevent turning the ball over. Expect South Bend to be up for grabs after a 35-34 Notre Dame win.

_Ed is a senior in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @cubsfan2310._