My national championship and other BCS bowl projections will likely garner the most interest, but some of the most intriguing issues for me this year deal with the bottom of the bowl pecking order.
For one thing, this season's rash of ineligible teams (Ohio State, North Carolina, Penn State and possibly UCF, pending appeal) creates a very real possibility of not having enough six-win teams. The NCAA has already devised a contingency plan for this very scenario. However, much to my surprise, I still wound up with 73 eligible teams for 70 spots. Maybe I'm forecasting too much parity in some conferences (like the Big 12, where nine of 10 teams reached six wins).
Some other surprises you may find on this list: The Duke Blue Devils, ending an 18-year bowl drought; Mike Leach restoring Washington State to the realm of .500 (and drawing a postseason date with Boise State); and Notre Dame, which has no contracted bowl partner this year if it fails to reach the BCS, making a return trip to Hawaii for Christmas Eve. (It was that or the Military Bowl.)
A quick refresher:
• After the No. 1 and 2 teams are slotted and replaced, the BCS at-large selection order this year is: 1) Fiesta, 2) Sugar and 3) Orange. 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."
* -- Replacement team for a conference without an eligible team.
** --The former Champs Sports Bowl is now the Russell Athletic Bowl.
*** --The former Insight Bowl is now the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
**** -- UCF is currently appealing an NCAA-sanctioned postseason ban and remains eligible until a decision is rendered.