And so it begins. The calendar has turned to November, which means I begin my annual tradition of trying to forecast the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl matchup a month in advance. If I keep trying long enough, I'll get it right one day.
My projections for the BCS games are the same as they have been in College Football Overtime for the past several weeks. Beyond the national title game, the two key questions that will ultimately determine the BCS lineup are whether Fresno State or Northern Illinois will remain undefeated and in line for a guaranteed berth; and who will be the SEC's second team, which is almost impossible to answer given the conference's logjam of five teams ranked from No. 8 to No. 15 by the BCS.
The SEC's parity caused me the most difficulty when filling out the rest of my lineup. Right now I'm projecting seven SEC teams to finish from 10-2 to 8-4. After placing Auburn as a BCS at-large team and then filling the Capital One, Outback, Cotton, Gator and Chick-fil-A bowls, that still leaves an eight-win or better team slipping to the Music City Bowl. This week that team is Georgia, in large part because the Chick-fil-A has Clemson on the other side. (And the Bulldogs' presence there then caused me to drop Georgia Tech a spot in the ACC order.)
A subject that will loom particularly large in determining bowl invitations early next month is a possible landing spot for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish, currently 7-2 and ranked No. 24 by the AP, have no deal in place this year if they don't win out (which would require a victory at Stanford on Nov. 30) and reach the BCS. That means they will have to wait and see which conferences fail to fill their allotments. As you'll see below, I found a scenario in which Notre Dame might end up playing a fellow ranked team in a highly unlikely spot.
A quick refresher on how all this works:
• After the No. 1 and 2 teams are slotted and replaced, the BCS at-large selection order this year is: 1) Orange, 2) Sugar and 3) Fiesta. The highest-ranked champion from a non-automatic qualifier is guaranteed a BCS berth if it finishes in the top 12 or in the top 16 and ahead of an AQ-conference champion.
• Most bowls are not obligated -- I repeat, NOT OBLIGATED -- to choose in exact order of conference standings. For instance, "Big 12 No. 3" means "third selection of Big 12 teams," not "the Big 12's third-place team." Bowls often pick a team with an inferior record due to geography, anticipated fan travel, the need to avoid a regular-season rematch or good old backroom politicking.
Teams in bold have accepted a bid.
* -- Replacement team for a conference without an eligible team