Bowl projections: West Virginia the new No. 2

A weekend with more upsets has caused another shuffle of the bowl projections, starting at the top, where West Virginia moves into the championship game projection.  Actually, that was going to happen whether Florida State lost or not, but the Seminoles going down made it easier.

With that matchup set, the fun begins.  The Sugar Bowl gets to replace Alabama.  With LSU's loss to Florida this week, that projection changes from the Tigers to Georgia, losers to South Carolina yesterday.

I can hear you screaming already.  You started before I even wrote this.  "Did you watch the game yesterday, you very bad word!!???," you said.  I would have rather watched that than the one I was at (ND-Miami), however that doesn't really matter.

This projection is based on Georgia winning out, but USC-East still winning the division, and the Gamecocks losing to Alabama in the SEC title game.

Is this fair?  Nope.  Heck, no.  But let me check where "fair" is on the list of bowl selection priorities.....oh, wait.  It's not there.

If this were the NCAA tournament and you looked at the two teams resumes, South Carolina would likely get the nod, but this isn't.  The kind of things that matter to the basketball tournament are secondary considerations, at best, to bowls.

Bowls care about things like putting fans in seats and getting people to watch on TV.  They care about relationships with their sponsors, their TV partners, their conferences, and sometimes even individual relationships matter.  Things like where a team finishes in the conference standings, whether they may have beaten another team under consideration head-to-head, poll rankings, etc. aren't ignored, but come after all those other considerations.

In fact, it's because merit means so little that we have all these rules in place to force it to matter.  Everything from the rule that sets a 6-6 minimum record to the rule that automatically qualifies non-AQ teams into the BCS is in place because the NCAA wants to enforce some level of deservedness and bowls can't be trusted to consider that on their own.

Which brings me back to the selection of Georgia.  Bowls, the BCS games in particular, have a history of passing over teams that lost their league championship game if there is any other decent choice. Bowls fear that those fans, who just traveled to a neutral site game at the beginning of December and went home disappointed, might not venture out in as high of numbers a month later.

11-1 Georgia would qualify as a decent choice.  In fact, the Bulldogs might even automatically qualify under BCS rules if they finish in the top 4 of the standings. 

It would seem like South Carolina is being punished for winning the division and having to play an extra game.  Those league title games are high risk/high reward.  Gamecocks' fans would feel like their team got "screwed."  That's only if you think bowl selection is about merit.  If you're a college football fan long enough, your team will likely get "screwed" by a bowl at some time.  Maybe several times.

After Georgia is taken (the first at-large team selected by the BCS), the Fiesta gets to replace West Virginia, and like the Sugar Bowl, would look to fill with a team from its conference partner.  The Fiesta also gets to choose first after the title game participants are replaced, so it picks twice in a row.

Oklahoma is a sexier pick than Kansas State, and both are projected to be BCS eligible, but Notre Dame is sitting there also, and the Fiesta Bowl (heck, every bowl) would like them too.  The Irish and Sooners play each other this year in the regular season though, so to avoid the rematch, I'm projecting that the Fiesta will take the Wildcats to face Notre Dame.

That takes care of the second and third at-large teams out of four total in the BCS.  I am also still projecting Boise State to automatically qualify, which means the at-large pool is full.

The Fiesta Bowl could also choose to rematch what was arguably the best non-title game in BCS history and match Oklahoma and the Broncos.  If Notre Dame isn't available, and they have a chance to do that, they won't pass it up.

The Sugar Bowl would choose next for an opponent for Georgia.  Big East champ Louisville would likely get the nod over Boise State, which would then go to the Orange Bowl to face projected ACC champ Florida State.

The Rose Bowl is not part of the at-large selection process because both of its champions, projected to be Nebraska and USC-West, are available to it.  Note Oregon could go 11-2, losing only to the Trojans, and like South Carolina, be left out the BCS.  Bet Ducks fans would feel "screwed" too, although if there is no non-AQ automatic qualifier, Oregon would likely land somewhere.

The other big change to the bowl projections this week is that I'm down to 67 eligible teams for 70 spots.  This past off-season, the NCAA finally addressed this possibility by creating six qualification standards that bowls could use if the overall number comes up short.  Those are detailed here.  However, Duke is the only team projected to qualify by those standards.

Note that while the BCS is still treating UCF as an eligible team while it appeals its sanctions, my bowl projections are based on that appeal failing.

That still leaves us two teams short.  If we get to Thanksgiving and this still looks like a strong possibility that we're going to come up short, expect the NCAA to broaden the scope of the qualifications even further.  My guess is they would allow as many 5-7 teams as necessary to fill the spots and they would go in APR order to select the teams.  I really don't think they want to cancel a game, which would be the other option.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jerry Palm started writing about sports on the Internet right after Al Gore invented it. He was the first to bring RPI out in the open and is one of the pioneers of predicting the March Madness bracket.... Full Bio

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