Week 13 Bowl Projections
By Matt Smith
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With the regular season nearly in the books, the bowl picture is starting to show some clarity.
Saturday held about as true to form as any of the prior 12 had this season. No. 10 Florida State was the highest-ranked team to lose, and that came at the hands of No. 4 Florida. The BCS picture is much clearer, with Notre Dame locking up a spot in the BCS Championship Game and Oregon likely ensuring a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. The SEC now incredibly has six teams with at least 10 wins, while the ACC will see only five of its teams go to a bowl, unless Georgia Tech upsets Florida State in the ACC Championship Game or the NCAA grants the Yellow Jackets a special waiver. With one week to go, let’s look at the current SEC and ACC bowl projections, along with the entire BCS lineup.
BCS Championship Game (Miami Gardens, Fla.) – Notre Dame vs. Alabama
We entered the weekend with six teams still holding out reasonable hope for a national title, but that number was cut in half when Notre Dame defeated USC to become one half of the BCS Championship Game. The Irish’s opponent will be the SEC Championship Game winner, either Alabama or Georgia, who square off next Saturday in Atlanta. There is history in both potential matchups, as Notre Dame claimed the 1973 national title with a win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, while Georgia knocked off the Irish, also in the Sugar Bowl, to win the national championship in 1980.
Fiesta (Glendale, Ariz.) – Kansas State vs. Oregon
The expected national title game just 10 days ago will now be rerouted from South Florida to Arizona. Kansas State will rebound to defeat Texas next weekend and lock up the Big 12 title. Oregon will be the obvious pick for the bowl after the Sugar Bowl replaces its lost SEC champion to the BCS Championship Game, with the Ducks at 11-1 and likely No. 4 in next week’s final BCS Standings. Glendale wasn’t what either fanbase was hoping for, but it’s a great consolation prize and should be an entertaining game in a contrast of styles
Sugar (New Orleans, La.) – Florida vs. Oklahoma
Florida and Clemson controlled their own destiny for the Sugar Bowl heading into Saturday, but only the Gators held serve, as the Tigers fell apart in their fourth consecutive loss to South Carolina. That opens the door for Oklahoma, who will need a win at TCU on Saturday to lock up a trip to New Orleans. The Sooners could still end up in Arizona, but will need Kansas State to lose to claim the outright Big 12 title. Florida’s national title hopes were squashed with Notre Dame’s victory, but going from 7-6 to a BCS bowl is still a remarkable turnaround for Will Muschamp and the Gators.
Orange (Miami Gardens, Fla.) – Florida State vs. Rutgers
It will be another Orange Bowl lacking sizzle, as the bowl is more or less locked in to the Big East and ACC champions. Florida State fell at home to Florida, but winning the team’s first ACC title in seven years next Saturday would still be a significant accomplishment. The ‘Noles will likely be more than a two-touchdown favorite over Georgia Tech. The Big East race will be decided on Thursday night if Rutgers defeats Louisville in Piscataway. If Louisville wins, tiebreakers, which favor the Cardinals, will decide the title depending on the outcome of next weekend’s Cincinnati-UConn game.
Rose (Pasadena, Calif.) – Nebraska vs. Stanford
By defeating UCLA in the Rose Bowl on Saturday, Stanford now must defeat UCLA again next week to return to the Rose Bowl again on New Year’s Day. Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game will be held in Palo Alto, where the Cardinal have lost just once in the past three seasons. Nebraska and Wisconsin will meet in the Big Ten Championship Game, a rematch from September in which the Cornhuskers rallied from a 27-10 deficit to defeat the Badgers in Lincoln. The last meeting between Wisconsin and Stanford came in the 2000 Rose Bowl. Nebraska and Stanford haven’t met since the 1941 Rose Bowl.
Capital One (Orlando, Fla.) – Texas A&M vs. Michigan
The SEC bowl picture remains a bit murky, with four teams who will be either 10-2 or 11-2. The Capital One gets the first pick after the BCS selections are made, and the call for now is them to take projected Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and the Aggies. Despite Northwestern having a better record than Michigan, the bowl will go with the Wolverines A) for interest and B) to avoid a rematch of last year’s Meineke Car Care Bowl between the Aggies and Wildcats. Michigan’s 8-4 season seems like a disappointment, but its four losses all came away from home to teams which finished a combined 45-3.
Cotton (Arlington, Tex.) – LSU vs. Texas
LSU struggled vs. Arkansas in a classic letdown situation on a short week, but held on to get to 10 wins for the sixth time in Les Miles’ eight years in Baton Rouge. The Bayou Bengals fell out of the BCS bowl picture when Florida defeated Florida State, but a second trip to the Cotton Bowl in three years is no small feat. Despite an ugly loss at home to TCU on Thanksgiving Night, Texas takes the slot vacated by rival Oklahoma with the Sooners now in line for the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma State could still sneak into this spot, which would create an interesting matchup between Miles and his former team. Texas A&M could also end up filling the SEC’s slot here, allowing for the Aggies and Longhorns to renew their storied rivalry that appeared dead after the former left the Big 12 after last season.
Outback (Tampa, Fla.) – South Carolina vs. Northwestern
The Gamecocks get bumped up a spot this week after an upset of Clemson in Death Valley to get to 10-2. They could still fall anywhere from the Capital One Bowl to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but for now we’ll call for South Carolina to return to Tampa for the first time in four years. Northwestern will either be in Orlando or Tampa after a surprising 9-3 season and will be looking for its first bowl win in 64 years. What better way for the streak to end than against an SEC heavyweight?
Chick-fil-A (Atlanta, Ga.) – Georgia vs. Clemson
After a 42-10 win over Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs now stand just a win over Alabama in the SEC Championship Game from playing Notre Dame for the national title. A loss in Atlanta, however, could drop the ‘Dawgs all the way back to the Georgia Dome on Dec. 31, where Georgia would likely face the team it’ll face to open the 2013 season, Clemson. The Tigers saw Sugar Bowl hopes fade with their loss to South Carolina, but they’ll at least get another chance to knock off one of the SEC’s best teams in a major bowl game after four straight losses to South Carolina and the infamous 70-33 loss to West Virginia in last year’s Orange Bowl. If Oklahoma falls to TCU, Clemson could climb back in the BCS picture, but would need quite a bit of help.
Gator (Jacksonville, Fla.) – Mississippi State vs. Wisconsin
The SEC slot in Jacksonville is between 8-4 teams Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, with the Bulldogs the call at the moment to return to the Gator Bowl for the second time in three years. The Commodores are the hotter team at the moment, but must spend the next week convincing the bowl’s selection committee that their fanbase will travel as well as that of the Bulldogs. Should Wisconsin lose to Nebraska next week and be denied its third straight trip to the Rose Bowl, the Badgers should be headed to Jacksonville. Michigan could land here if Wisconsin upsets Nebraska and slides Northwestern and Michigan down a rung or two.
Russell Athletic (Orlando, Fla.) – Virginia Tech vs. Louisville
It wasn’t pretty, but Virginia Tech kept its bowl streak alive with an ugly 17-14 win over Virginia after needing overtime to defeat hapless Boston College a week ago. Even at 6-6, expect the bowl formerly known as the Champs Sports Bowl to invite the Hokies and their passionate fanbase over 7-5 N.C. State. This is an even more likely scenario if Louisville is the Big East pick here, as the Cardinals and Wolfpack met in last year’s Belk Bowl. Louisville needs a win over Rutgers on Thursday night to get to the Orange Bowl, with the loser likely ending up in Orlando against the Hokies. Louisville and Virginia Tech haven’t met since the 2006 Gator Bowl, a win by the Hokies marred by Marcus Vick stomping on Elvis Dumervil.
Sun (El Paso, Tex.) – N.C. State vs. USC
The Wolfpack have never been to El Paso, but appear in line to make their first trip there next month. This should be the floor for where Tom O’Brien’s team could fall, with the Russell Athletic Bowl and even the Chick-fil-A Bowl both still in play. When USC began the season ranked No. 1, the Trojans never thought they would fall all the way to the Sun Bowl. After falling to No. 1 Notre Dame, they finished a shocking 7-5 and should head back to the Sun Bowl for the first time since 1998.
Belk (Charlotte, N.C.) – Duke vs. Cincinnati
Duke now gets a much shorter trip for its first postseason game in 18 years after getting the bump from the Music City Bowl. At 6-6, the Blue Devils are the least attractive ACC team, but will be the only team available for the Belk Bowl. The Bearcats saw their Big East title hopes go by the wayside in an ugly home loss to Rutgers two weeks ago, and now seem all but certain to land in Charlotte if they can defeat Connecticut and finish 9-3. The Russell Athletic Bowl could show some interest in Butch Jones’ team depending on the outcome of the Louisville-Rutgers game.
Music City (Nashville, Tenn.) – Vanderbilt vs. Arkansas State
The Commodores remain slotted in their hometown bowl this week after a rout of Wake Forest. It’s not a great fit, since Vanderbilt fans won’t be buying many hotel rooms in Nashville, but it may be the only option that the bowl has. Taking a 6-6 Ole Miss team over the 8-4 Commodores could be frowned upon within the community. Duke moves up a slot this week after Miami (FL)’s bowl ban and Georgia Tech’s presumed ineligibility, so the bowl won’t have an ACC team available. They’ll snatch up Gus Malzahn and Arkansas State, who will win the Sun Belt title with a win over Middle Tennessee next week.
BBVA Compass (Birmingham, Ala.) – Ole Miss vs. Syracuse
The Rebels became bowl-eligible with a blowout win over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, a remarkable accomplishment in Hugh Freeze’s first year after going 2-10 last season. With Pittsburgh looking to get to 6-6 next week with a win at USF, the call is for the Panthers to steal the Orange’s Pinstripe Bowl slot to avoid Pittsburgh going to Birmingham for the third straight year. Legion Field will never be confused for Yankee Stadium, but getting a chance to defeat a second SEC team this season (Syracuse won at Missouri on Nov. 17) would be a great opportunity for the Orange.