Friday, November 20, 2009

Breaking Down the BCS Bowl Bids

Last year in this space, we watched anxiously throughout November as Boise State tried to make its case for a BCS Bowl bid on the field, and in the Standings, only to have the last at-large bowl bid go to a lesser-ranked Ohio State team. Anyone else getting a sense of deja vu here?

Wait, you say, Boise State is currently #6 in the BCS Standings, and there are 10 BCS Bowl bids (Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar, and the National Championship Game). Ah, but how do teams qualify for BCS games? In the rules, Boise State is what the latest politically correct college football language deems a "non-AQ group" school (that is, they are not from a conference with an Automatic Qualifier). A non-AQ group school can earn an automatic BCS berth if they do well enough in the Standings; but the rules are also very explicit that "No more than one such team from the non-AQ group shall earn an automatic berth in any year." Last year, that berth went to Utah. This year, if both TCU and Boise State win out, it will almost certainly go to TCU.

So does Boise State have any shot at getting an at-large selection this year? First, it obviously depends on their winning out; if they lose, their BCS bid is finished. Second, it depends on who wins the AQ conferences, because those winners take 6 of the 10 spots. If TCU wins out, they'll almost certainly take a 7th automatic qualification (and if they don't, then the discussion simplifies because an undefeated Boise State would get it instead). So who will get the other three at-large spots? The SEC runner-up, definitely a given. If Texas doesn't win the Big 12, they would almost certainly still be in the running for a bid. So there may be either one or two more slots for Boise State to try to take.

Remembering that BCS at-large bids do not need to follow the BCS Standings beyond a top-14 requirement (as when Ohio State was selected over Boise State last year), it's perhaps still reasonable to look at the top teams in the Standings to see who else might legitimately get selected over a non-automatic Boise State. In the Big East, Cincinnati is currently #5 and Pitt is #9, and obviously only one of them will win that conference. At #7, Georgia Tech might be a candidate for an at-large bid if they fail to win the ACC. Luckily for Boise State, #8 LSU is not a worry right now because each conference can only get two bids, and we already counted two to the SEC. Meanwhile, #10 Ohio State has already wrapped up the Big Ten, which is also good for Boise State. In contrast, #11 Oregon is still fighting in the Pac-10, and #12 Oklahoma State won last night to increase their chances. And the financial incentives for the bowl games built into the at-large selections might cause one to look at a second Big Ten school, with Iowa at #13 and Penn State at #14.

That's a lot of teams fighting for at most two spots. While some of the confusion might clarify this weekend or next, much might remain unresolved until the conference championships.

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Unsurprisingly, we aren't the only ones who have been talking about Boise State's BCS at-large chances. See also:
  • PR firm hired to make push for Boise St.
  • Boise State still in line for at-large
  • Boise State fans need to pull for Texas, root against Oklahoma State
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    Sunday, November 23, 2008

    Now the fun really starts?

    Volumes could be (and are being) written about the possible mess on the way to the national championship game selection. I can only hope that the near-playoff we're going to be treated to in the SEC and Big 12 will build some future interest in a true playoff system. From all accounts, it still appears that an Alabama-Florida SEC Championship game will be an unofficial national semifinal, assuming of course they both win out until then. In an amusing twist, the Big 12 conference championship matchup will be determined by the BCS standings if OU, Texas, and Texas Tech all win next weekend, the highest ranked among those three playing Missouri for the conference championship. If that team then beats Mizzou, they're all but assured a spot in the national title game; but if the conference championship goes to Missouri, it's going to be chaos...

    Meanwhile, in the "BCS Busters" department, I don't want to say it, but I have to acknowledge the facts, and those facts say it is now more unlikely that Boise State is going to get a BCS bowl bid. Don't send me hate mail over this; I wish it weren't so. But their chances under the governing BCS rules are becoming thinner after this past weekend. Utah has all but officially wrapped up an automatic BCS bowl bid, barring lots of pollsters changing their minds from previous weeks and moving Boise State ahead of the Utes. The special rules that force inclusion of high ranking conference champions outside the big 6 conferences only applies to a single school, which will be Utah, assuming again they stay ahead of Boise State in the BCS Standings. The second such school has to get a bid through the normal at-large selection process, of which there will only be 3 openings left. For Boise State's purposes, a hopeful key phrase in the rules is "No more than two teams from a conference may be selected, regardless of whether they are automatic qualifiers or at-large selections." Importantly, the top of the BCS Standings is packed full of teams from the SEC and Big 12, so it's safe to say that two from each will get BCS bowl bids. That is, two of the remaining three at-large bids will go to these two conferences. So does Boise State have a shot at that last spot if they win out? After yesterday, I'm not confident. Specifically, Oregon State is now one win away from a trip to the Rose Bowl, in which case you have to think that USC is going to get an at-large BCS bid. Indeed, if USC somehow climbs to #4 in the Standings before the end of the season, that at-large bid becomes automatic under the rules. So Boise State fans have to be cheering for Oregon to beat Oregon State next weekend, and for USC to win the conference to take the Rose Bowl bid. Alternatively, USC could drop out of the picture altogether with losses to both ND and UCLA; but that's not something I'd be counting on happening! So, Boise State fans need USC to win the Pac-10. Otherwise, there is no realistic route to a BCS bowl for Boise State. If USC does win the Pac-10, then the last at-large BCS bid appears to come down to a choice, made by the bowl games themselves, between Boise State and Ohio State (ignoring other teams that might become technically eligible but that I think are even less likely to be chosen).

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