ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 03: A general view of play between the Oregon Ducks and the LSU Tigers at Cowboys Stadium on September 3, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
College football's 35 bowl games are in need of projecting, so let's get right to it. (And just think: in two years we'll be able to do this with playoff brackets.) Follow @SBNationCFB SI.com: Stewart Mandel's bowl projections, including the return of Duke!
I don't know if I think LSU and Oregon are the two best teams in the country. But I definitely think they'll meet in Miami to play for the national title. LSU's my No. 1 despite losing Tyrann Mathieu, and Oregon's in the top five (along with Alabama, Florida State and probably USC). The last time the two played, in the 2011 Dallas opener, the Tigers won, 40-27, though four turnovers made that one less of a brawl than it might've been. I'd like to watch it again, if you please.
The SEC and Pac-12 are shaping up to be the most important conferences this season, with the two teams at the top of each expected to control much of the top 10. I like LSU over Alabama in part because of home field advantage and less roster turnover and probably in part because I'm tired of the Tide. Just being honest. Only human.
Oregon is better than USC because it's stronger defensively, less reliant on a handful of superstar offensive players, and boasts more winning leadership. That's not to discount USC, which really could see the country's best passing game win a title (provided they have some impressive injury luck), but I think we've overvalued the scholarship-lacking Trojans due to their name and aura, the neat awakened-beast-NCAA-vengeance story line, and a string of good games to close 2011 down. (What if they'd had to play Oregon again in the Pac-12 title game after winning by a missed field goal, then play an elite team in a BCS game? Losing either of those would've had us feeling very differently about USC than we were after 50-0.)
Among the other games I really like here are Ohio-Arkansas State, Washington-Navy, Toledo-SMU, Boise State-Stanford (which would be a BCS-level matchup any other year), Bama-West Virginia (yep, I have Texas and WVU topping Oklahoma in the Big 12 -- if Mike Leach can win 11 games in the Big 12 despite not playing defense, why can't West Virginia do the same?), and of course the bowl season return of Leach against Fresno State.
As almost always, Notre Dame's playing for BCS or scraps. Having cashed in its Champs Sports card last year, it won't be able to again this year, and will either have to finish in the top eight and make a BCS bowl or wait for the best available spot to open up.
Luckily for the Irish (and others!), three likely bowl teams won't be in the postseason this year. Ohio State, North Carolina and Penn State are all taking the holidays off. Also, UCF is currently eligible but might not be for long.
UNC's ineligibility makes the ACC look much worse here than it should. I debated Wake Forest, Miami and Boston College, but ended up with a really thin crop of six bowl teams. The Big Ten was even harder, since I think Ohio State's going to be the best team in that league by the end of the year. And probably the 2013 USC.
So, here we are. Asterisks are for teams taking over another conference's vacant bowl bid. Let me know what you think below. (And yeah, the Russell Athletic here is a rematch of a recent, disappointingly attended bowl. It'll be great this time, though!)
While we’re here, let’s watch some of the many fine college football videos from SB Nation’s YouTube channel: