Bowl Projections: Season's end brings clarity to postseason picture
If I'm being honest, every edition of Bowl Projections prior to this one has consisted almost primarily of educated guesses. Now, however, with the regular season in the books for nearly 80 percent of the teams in the FBS, I'm finally able to make more informed predictions.
While there's still much in flux, the following lineup is based on numerous calls and texts, as well as reporting from local beat writers. The conferences whose predicted pecking orders I feel most confident about are the American, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, Mountain West, MAC and Conference USA. The ACC's and, most notably, the SEC's, are more muddled. The Sun Belt's consists of two teams.
Some items of note:
• The Alamo Bowl, which has second pick from the Pac-12, is most likely going to get 10-2 Oregon, which would meet 9-3 (or 10-2) Oklahoma. That's a great matchup.
• Texas A&M's two-game losing streak to end the season has dropped the Aggies a few spots in the polls, but, Johnny Manziel still has broad appeal. Will the Cotton Bowl opt for 9-3 LSU or 8-4 A&M?
• The folks at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., must be crossing their fingers that the Outback Bowl chooses 8-4 Iowa, which would allow 8-4 Nebraska to fall to them -- especially if Texas is the Big 12 opponent.
• Notre Dame's most likely destination remains the Pinstripe Bowl, but the Fighting Irish may no longer be facing slumping Rutgers. Instead, 8-4 Houston could be their opponent. However, coach Brian Kelly's program is actively pursuing other warmer-weather alternatives. The problem is, few options provide a quality opponent.
• Due to their respective poor finishes, Minnesota and Texas Tech are probably going to get stuck in a second consecutive Texas Bowl matchup.
• The New Mexico Bowl may be a surprise landing spot for 8-4 Boise State, which would face a Pac-12 opponent, most likely 7-5 Arizona or 6-6 Washington State.
• Finally, we finished with 77 bowl eligible-teams for 70 spots. The teams that will be left out hail from primarily from the non-AQ leagues, but barring some back-room deals, one of these four 6-6 AQ teams -- Washington State, Oregon State, Pittsburgh and Syracuse -- will stay home, too. I went with the Beavers, who ended the year with five straight losses.
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 its location, the propensity of its fans to 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