Anarchy

At some point, you thought, "This won't happen anymore."

At some point, you had to figure the season would refind its footing, and what better time to do that than the last weekend?

Sure, Missouri was an underdog, but they could find a way to beat Oklahoma with a shot at the national title on the line, right? Sure, West Virginia was in a rivalry, but couldn't the Mountaineers show why they were a huge favorite over hapless Pittsburgh?

Wrong. And wrong.


Dear BCS: You're welcome. Signed, Sam Bradford and LeSean McCoy

For an opponent of a playoff system -- which is not equivalent to a supporter of the bizarre number-crunching exercise we have now -- this has been a hard season to argue against the allure of the bracket. I'll nonetheless try to do that later this week, but the immediate question is, "Who should play for the crystal football?"

Here's my quick Top Five, which I reserve the right to change before casting a BlogPoll ballot.

First, a note: I started by jotting down the five teams I thought should get a chance, which happened to be the top five teams on my last BlogPoll ballot when Missouri and West Virginia were dropped. Why automatically drop them? Missouri lost to the same team twice, getting drilled the second time, while West Virginia has lost to a low-ranked team (South Florida) and a team that's not even bowl eligible (Pittsburgh). Neither has the high-caliber wins they need to offset those black marks.

The five teams were, in alphabetical order, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech suffered what is easily the worst loss of the bunch, a 48-7 waxing at the hands of LSU, comes from the weakest conference and has arguably the weakest schedule.

This is how I see the other four shaking out, borrowing a page from Gary Danielson and SMQ, though mine is not as sophisticated at SMQ's model. The chart includes the wins for each team, as I rank them, and the losses for each team, as I rank them.


Quibble with my methodology if you want, but my conclusion is this: Ohio State's wins might be ever so slightly less impressive at the top end when lined up next to Oklahoma's, but I think the middle is just as strong and the bottom only marginally weaker if at all. The losses for Oklahoma, on the other hand, are both less impressive than the Buckeyes' sole defeat.

Georgia has two very good victories, but after Kentucky or Georgia Tech, their strength of schedule and strength of victories falls off precipitously. And, yes, I have a hard time putting a team that didn't even win its division in the top two or three slots. The loss to a mediocre South Carolina team has not aged well, and the clubbing at the hands of Tennessee is not as bad as it looked at the time but not particularly good, either.

LSU, meanwhile, lost in triple overtime to two decent teams, one of them likely Cotton Bowl-bound and another on the road. They also have what are arguably the strongest top five wins in college football.

So, in case you can't figure it out, my current Top Five:

1 LSU
2 Ohio State
3 Oklahoma
4 Georgia
5 Virginia Tech

I will likely be following that Top Five when I submit my BlogPoll ballot, unless someone can talk me out of this.

The other question raised by all this chaos is who, exactly, will play in which of the BCS bowls. I'll try to sort through that, for those who are interested, after the jump.

It's a fairly lengthy analysis, though, so the Cliff Notes version is this:

NATIONAL TITLE GAME: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 LSU
ROSE BOWL: At-Large Illinois vs. Pac-10 Champion Southern Cal
ORANGE BOWL: Big East Champion West Virginia vs. ACC Champion Virginia Tech
FIESTA BOWL: ((At-Large Hawaii vs. Big XII Champion Oklahoma OR At-Large Arizona State vs. Big XII Champion Oklahoma))
SUGAR BOWL: ((At-Large Kansas vs. At-Large Georgia OR At-Large Hawaii vs. At-Large Georgia))

All of the multiple-choice answers are teased out below.

First, let's seed the automatic teams, basing our exercise on the official BCS selection rules.

The top two teams in the final BCS Standings shall play in the National Championship Game.

As near as I can tell, and according to SportsCenter's BCS expert, FWIW, the top two teams will be Ohio State and LSU, respectively. So let's go ahead and say

NATIONAL TITLE GAME: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 LSU

What are our remaining teams? A few more are spoken for, even with Ohio State and LSU removed.

The champions of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and Southeastern conferences will have automatic berths in one of the participating bowls after the 2006 and 2007 regular seasons.

That leaves us:

ACC -- Virginia Tech
Big East -- West Virginia
Big XII -- Oklahoma
Pac-10 -- Southern Cal

Who else could earn an automatic berth?

The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, or the Western Athletic Conference will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:

A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or,
B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.

With the Hawaii win, they're in.

If any of the 10 slots remain open after application of provisions 1 through 4, and an at-large team from a conference with an annual automatic berth for its champion is ranked No. 3 in the final BCS Standings, that team will become an automatic qualifier, provided that no at-large team from the same conference qualifies for the national championship game.

That should be Georgia if the numbers hold up, and I believe LSU wouldn't be a strike against the spelling-challenged Dawgs because the Bayou Bengals aren't an at-large team.

If any of the 10 slots remain open after application of provisions 1 through 5, and if no team qualifies under paragraph No. 5 and an at-large team from a conference with an annual automatic berth for its champion is ranked No. 4 in the final BCS Standings, that team will become an automatic qualifier provided that no at-large team from the same conference qualifies for the national championship game.

This could very well be Kansas, depending on how things shake out. But Oklahoma could inch above them.

Otherwise, any team that's in the Top 14 and has won nine games is eligible for an at-large slot.

First of all, we have to look at who's a lock to play where.

Unless they qualify to play in the NCG, the champions of selected conferences are contractually committed to host selected games:

Atlantic Coast Conference-Orange Bowl
Big Ten Conference-Rose Bowl
Big 12 Conference-Fiesta Bowl
Pac-10 Conference-Rose Bowl
Southeastern Conference-Sugar Bowl

As of right now:

Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech
Rose Bowl: Loses Big Ten champion, gets Southern Cal
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma
Sugar Bowl: Loses LSU

So what recourse do the Rose and Sugar Bowls have:

If a bowl loses a host team to the NCG, then such bowl shall select a replacement team from among the automatic-qualifying teams and the at-large teams before any other selections are made. If two bowls lose host teams to the NCG, each bowl will get a replacement pick before any other selections are made. In such case, the bowl losing the No. 1 team gets the first replacement pick, and the bowl losing the No. 2 team gets the second replacement pick. ...

A bowl choosing a replacement team may not select any of the following:

A. A team in the NCG;
B. The host team for another BCS Bowl;
C. When two bowls lose host teams, then the bowl losing the number one team may not select a replacement team from the same Conference as the number two team, unless the bowl losing the number two team consents. [Emphasis added.]

The emphasized part is important because it means, contrary to Georgia fans' ardent desires, they can't go to the Rose Bowl unless the Sugar Bowl says it's okay, something I think the colored jackets in New Orleans are unlikely to do. (I also think the Rose Bowl's traditionistas are unlikely to allow it, anyway, but that's neither here nor there.)

The Rose Bowl makes such a big deal out of the tradition of matching a Big Ten and Pac-10 game that I think they'll select Illinois. So now the BCS looks like this:

NATIONAL TITLE GAME: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 LSU
ROSE BOWL: At-Large Illinois vs. Pac-10 Champion Southern Cal

Sugar Bowl goes next and will pick Georgia, regardless of whether they're an automatic qualifier.

After that, the bowls select in a set order:

The bowl played on the date nearest to the National Championship Game (for 2008, Orange Bowl) will pick first

The Orange Bowl faces a few options. It could go with Kansas, though there's a question of how well the Jayhawks would travel to Florida (because, let's face it, they haven't been there in a while, if ever), or it could go with West Virginia, which has no assigned home. BC, Arizona State and Hawaii are other possibilities, as is Missouri if Kansas isn't an automatic qualifier.

Of all these teams, I think West Virginia is probably the most attractive to the Orange Bowl, even though it might be seen as "second-best" after the Mountaineers had a shot at the title game.

So now we have:

NATIONAL TITLE GAME: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 LSU
ROSE BOWL: At-Large Illinois vs. Pac-10 Champion Southern Cal
ORANGE BOWL: Big East Champion West Virginia vs. ACC Champion Virginia Tech

The bowl played on the date second-nearest to the National Championship Game (for 2008, Fiesta Bowl) will pick second.

The Fiesta Bowl is held in Glendale, Arizona. If they have a choice, they'll pick Arizona State.

NATIONAL TITLE GAME: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 LSU
ROSE BOWL: At-Large Illinois vs. Pac-10 Champion Southern Cal
ORANGE BOWL: Big East Champion West Virginia vs. ACC Champion Virginia Tech
FIESTA BOWL: At-Large Arizona State vs. Big XII Champion Oklahoma

But if Hawaii and Kansas are both automatic qualifiers, the window closes on Arizona State. In that case, there would be two bowl teams left (Hawaii, Kansas) and two slots for them: One in the Fiesta Bowl opposite Oklahoma and one in the Sugar Bowl opposite Georgia.

The Fiesta would probably like to avoid another WAC vs. Oklahoma match-up, but the only alternative would be for the Sooners to play Kansas, the kind of intraconference tilts that are against the basic purpose of the bowls. So the fix is pretty much in at this point.

NATIONAL TITLE GAME: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 LSU
ROSE BOWL: At-Large Illinois vs. Pac-10 Champion Southern Cal
ORANGE BOWL: Big East Champion West Virginia vs. ACC Champion Virginia Tech
FIESTA BOWL: At-Large Hawaii vs. Big XII Champion Oklahoma
SUGAR BOWL: At-Large Kansas vs. At-Large Georgia

If Kansas isn't an automatic qualifier, things could get more complicated. The Fiesta would have BC, Hawaii, Arizona State, Missouri and Kansas to choose from.

Hawaii goes to Fiesta if that's what the Arizona colored jackets want; otherwise, it ends up in the Sugar. More than likely, Arizona State would be Glendale-bound and Hawaii heads to New Orleans.

NATIONAL TITLE GAME: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 LSU
ROSE BOWL: At-Large Illinois vs. Pac-10 Champion Southern Cal
ORANGE BOWL: Big East Champion West Virginia vs. ACC Champion Virginia Tech
FIESTA BOWL: At-Large Arizona State vs. Big XII Champion Oklahoma
SUGAR BOWL: At-Large Hawaii vs. At-Large Georgia

Again, this is a semi-educated attempt to bring order to an inherently chaotic process. But it should hold up. We'll know one way or another starting at 8 p.m. Sunday.

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