It came down to one play in the SEC championship game that decided who got to play Notre Dame in the BCS championship game. As for the last BCS bowl berth, it will come down to a few votes.
In the least surprising BCS development in some time, Alabama earned a spot in the BCS title game after winning a de facto playoff semifinal against Georgia. It'll be the Tide's second consecutive appearance in the championship game and their third in four years. Nick Saban also will be going for a record fourth BCS title, to go with his two at Alabama and one at LSU.
But what holds the most intrigue for Sunday's revelation of the final BCS standings is not who's No. 1 or No. 2, but who's No. 16. If MAC champion Northern Illinois somehow squeezes into that spot, it will earn an automatic BCS berth and with it, a near-$10 million windfall for the conference. In that case, the Huskies will have to do it without coach Dave Doeren, who earlier Saturday accepted a job to go to N.C. State.
But based on our projections, Northern Illinois will fall tantalizingly short.
Final BCS projections:
1. Notre Dame
6. Kansas State
9. Texas A&M
10. South Carolina
12. Oregon State
14. Florida State
17. Northern Illinois
19. Boise State
The Huskies made it close because Nebraska played a stinker of a game, falling to 7-5 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game by the shocking score of 70-31. The voters are expected to punish Nebraska for the embarrassing loss, and to what extend will determine whether Northern Illinois gets to the magic No. 16 slot or not.
Since we do think the Huskies will fall just a bit short, the BCS bowl picture is rather straightforward:
BCS Bowl Projections:
BCS championship: Notre Dame vs. Alabama
Rose Bowl: Stanford vs. Wisconsin
Fiesta Bowl: Oregon vs. Kansas State
Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Oklahoma
Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Louisville
The biggest loser in this scenario is obviously Georgia, which fell one play and 3 yards short of making it to its first BCS championship game in history. But the loss also likely knocks the Bulldogs out of consideration for any BCS bowls because Alabama and Florida should fill up the SEC's two allotted BCS spots. Alabama will play for the BCS title, and Florida, which suffered its only loss against Georgia, is likely guaranteed a BCS berth by virtue of finishing third in the final BCS standings.
The Gators would then be headed to the Sugar Bowl as the first replacement pick, where they should meet Oklahoma to reprise the 2008 BCS title game in Miami, won by Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer. The Fiesta will get what everyone thought would be the BCS title game two weeks ago, pitting Big 12 champ Kansas State against Oregon. The Orange Bowl, despite picking last, gets a pair of 10-plus-win teams in Florida State and Louisville - it could've been worse.
But should Northern Illinois sneak into the top 16, then Oklahoma will be bumped from the BCS picture and perhaps into the Cotton Bowl - to face Georgia in the ultimate BCS consolation prize. Louisville, whose coach Charlie Strong was Florida's DC during the Meyer era, will then get its shot at the Gators, while the Huskies will face the Seminoles in Miami. It will also create a huge ripple effect as bowls must scramble to rework a once-seemingly settled pecking order.
Because of the lack of transparency in the BCS system, we will never know how the votes shifted from last week to this. In the Coaches poll, four of the 59 voting coaches have been fired, while the three coaches with the most vested interest - Doeren, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Boise State's Chris Petersen - all have a vote. They will reveal their final ballots, but we can only conjecture what sort of changes from last week took place based only on numbers.
Ultimately, Nebraska has a floor because there simply aren't that many teams with three or fewer losses to allow it to really crash. Also, the fact that the Huskers defeated both Northwestern and Michigan will be on the minds of at least some voters, preventing them from completely falling out of the top 20 in the polls.
Boise State is out of the picture because of the weakness of its computer rankings, where it might get 0 points for the entire component. Of all the non-AQ teams, Kent State would've had the best shot and would've been in the top 16 had it outlasted Northern Illinois in overtime in the MAC championship game.
So it looks like the big boys will get to hog the BCS all to themselves for a second year in a row, while Northern Illinois, instead of taking its talents to South Beach, will earn a return trip to Detroit, this time without a head coach.
To the poobahs of BCS, all's well in their world.
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