Thanks to the new rules regarding the Rose Bowl and non-automatic qualifying teams, this year's BCS drama will be far more interesting than in years past. The way the BCS has set it up, if either the Pac-10 or Big Ten champion plays in the National Championship Game, the Rose Bowl is contractually obligated to take a non-AQ team if they qualify for a BCS spot. For the January 2011 BCS games, both the TCU Horned Frogs and the Boise State Broncos fit that description, but only the top-ranked team will receive a guaranteed spot.
Straight from the BCS selection procedures:
For the games of January 2011 through 2014, the first year the Rose Bowl loses a team to the NCG and a team from the non-AQ group is an automatic qualifier, that non-AQ team will play in the Rose Bowl.
Keeping this in mind, the BCS National Championship Game takes an even greater importance of the rest of the BCS bowls than it ever has before. Without further ado, SBNation Arizona's BCS bowl projections for the 2011 bowl schedule:
|BCS Bowl Game
|BCS National Championship Game
|Oregon Ducks vs. Auburn Tigers
|Allstate Sugar Bowl
|LSU Tigers vs. Ohio St. Buckeyes
|Discover Orange Bowl
|Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Missouri Tigers
|Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
|Oklahoma St. Cowboys vs. Connecticut Huskies
|Rose Bowl presented by VIZIO
|Wisconsin Badgers vs. TCU Horned Frogs
Where is Boise State? Where is Stanford? Good questions, and I hope you find my logic to be well-reasoned.
For the January 2011 BCS bowl schedule, the following teams are automatically locked into their bowl games: Virginia Tech, OK State, Wisconsin, TCU, and the NCG combatants. That leaves the Sugar Bowl with the first two selections, and they will almost certainly go for the big-ticket matchup between LSU and OSU.
With only two slots left in the BCS picture, the Big East champion is still at-large and must be placed somewhere. Unless the Orange Bowl falls on its sword and selects the Huskies, the Fiesta Bowl will be forced to extend the invitation.
Since the Hokies and the Broncos already played in 2010 (with bad results for the ACC), it is extremely unlikely that they would be put in the same boat for a BCS contest. Since the Cardinal have a fanbase that doesn't travel well (or fill up their own stadium, for that matter), it would only be logical that the Orange Bowl would select the next most attractive candidate: the Missouri Tigers.
The SEC and Big Ten have already met their maximum participants at this point, leaving only Boise State, Stanford, and Big XII schools to choose from.
All of this analysis is for nothing if the BCS utilizes another of its little known clauses:
After completion of the selection process as described in Paragraph Nos. 1-4, the conferences and Notre Dame may, but are not required to, adjust the pairings taking into consideration the following:
1. whether two teams that played against one another in the regular season will be paired against one another in a bowl game;
2. whether the same two teams will play against each other in a bowl game for two consecutive years; and
3. whether alternative pairings may have greater or lesser appeal to college football fans as measured by expected ticket sales for the bowls and by expected television interest, and the consequent financial impact on ESPN and the bowls.
This means three things to me. First, TCU and Boise State will not play each other. Secondly, Tech and Boise State will not play each other. And finally, should ESPN see a legitimate financial interest in rearranging the bowl slate, they will do so.
Here's a scenario for you to consider: ESPN and the BCS realize that Boise State would command a strong television audience to take on an established power. In order to make that a reality, the BCS takes Virginia Tech and pits them against LSU in the Sugar Bowl. After freeing up two spots, there is now a tailor-made space for Boise State to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes.
This would take Missouri out of the BCS picture, but I would find that game to be quite interesting. In fact, I think the majority of college football fans would be satisfied with that slate of games. What is stopping ESPN from doing this? Nothing.
However, considering the establishment that runs the BCS, that scenario is highly unlikely. After all, they placed TCU and Boise in the Fiesta Bowl last year, and one year later such a culture shift would be impressive, if impossible. Expect more of the same in 2011.