Bowl projections: Fighting Irish could be Rose Bowl bound
Obviously, No. 3 Notre Dame has its sights set on the BCS championship game. However, should Kansas State and Oregon reach Miami instead, the Fiesta (Big 12) and Rose (Pac-12) would have the first shot to replace those teams -- and that would mean a race to claim the Irish.
For the Fiesta, replacing K-State with Notre Dame would be a no-brainer. With the Big 12 taking its future business to the Sugar Bowl, there would be no need to appease that conference and take one of its teams. But if Oregon wins out, it will likely rise to No. 1 in the BCS standings, giving the Rose Bowl first dibs. While that game is incredibly loyal to its partners, its lone Pac-12 options would likely be a three-loss Stanford or UCLA team. While it would not be an easy decision to buck tradition, the Tournament of Roses folks may ultimately not be able to pass up 12-0 or even 11-1 Notre Dame.
Should that happen, the BCS at-large spot that would have gone to a second Pac-12 team may wind up in the hands of ... the ACC. After the Fiesta Bowl takes Oklahoma to replace K-State and taps red-hot Texas A&M as its opponent, the Sugar Bowl's most appealing option would be 11-1 or 10-2 Clemson. Because the ACC is so mediocre, its next-best team won't finish better than 7-5. In my latest projections, the Chick-fil-A Bowl has to pit BCS Top 10 team South Carolina against 7-5 NC State. Yuck.
A couple of smaller notes:
• This week, I actually had one surplus eligible team for the first time. Central Michigan was the unlucky one left out.
• Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Missouri and SMU moved in. Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Western Michigan moved out.
• Last week I incorrectly listed the Heart of Dallas (formerly TicketCity) Bowl as a Conference USA partner. It is a Big 12 game this year. Either way the spot will likely be open.
As always, please remember:
• 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." Bowls often pick a team with an inferior record due to geography, anticipated fan travel, the need to avoid a regular-season rematch, or just plain politics.