Early Bowl Projections

Early Bowl Projections

Early Bowl Projections
By Bruce Marshall
VegasInsider.com

NEW MEXICO BOWL: Arizona State vs. Nevada...Both of these sides have been losing momentum in recent weeks, with ASU in particular being somewhat exposed after its quick 5-1 break from the gate against mostly-suspect opposition (it turns out that we didn't need to get excited about the Sun Devils' early romp past Illinois). The late-season slump is also more than a bit reminiscent of last season's meltdown that cost Dennis Erickson his job. At least Nevada already has the six wins it needs to get bowl-eligible; the Sun Devils need one more win, which we assume will come November 17 vs. Mike Leach's struggling Washington State in Tempe.

FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO: Utah State vs. Kent State...A potential highlight "mid-major" bowl game, with these sides a combined 16-3 straight up. The Aggies' recent win at San Jose State sets up a WAC title showdown at La Tech on November 17, and this is the loop's only contractually-guaranteed bowl slot. But with plenty of expected openings in southern-flavored bowls, the Bulldogs should have no trouble finding an open spot closer to Ruston, which paves the way for the Utags' to return to Boise after losing a heart-stopper vs. Ohio U in this bowl a year ago. Kent State will be one of several MAC reps appearing in a bowl near you.

POINSETTIA: BYU vs. Fresno State...For a moment, we were wondering if BYU (which has a thing about losing close games) might blow bowl eligibility all together, but a win this week vs. Idaho sews up an invitation to the Poinsettia. Fresno has been a pleasant surprise under first-year HC Tim DeRuyter; among other things, the Bulldogs are 9-1 vs. the number this season.

BEEF O'BRADYS ST. PETE: UL-Monroe vs. UCF...Unlikely that the Big East fills its allotted slot aside CUSA in this matchup at The Trop. We might begin to wonder a bit about Monroe's bowl status and appeal as a fill-in squad for non-Sun Belt affiliated events now that QB Kolton Browning is apparently out until further notice with a foot injury. Otherwise, the Warhawks are already bowl-eligible and should land somewhere. Perhaps in St. Pete vs. nearby UCF, which is back among the bowl-eligibles with its postseason ban put on hold. The Knights and Tulsa likely engage in a winner-take-all showdown for the Liberty Bowl spot in the CUSA title game.

NEW ORLEANS: Houston vs. Arkansas State...A recent surge by Gus Malzahn's Arkansas State has us thinking the Red Wolves might steal the Sun Belt crown and earn a ticket to 'Nawlins. We're not sure CUSA fills its allotted slot at the Superdome; we're assuming Houston has the best chance to qualify, but the Cougs need two more wins (as do Rice and Marshall) to get bowl-eligible.

LAS VEGAS: Arizona vs. San Diego State...Arizona is behaving a bit bipolar lately, crushed by Oregon and UCLA but also rising up to stun USC and lay 52 on Washington in the Tucson in recent weeks. The Cats likely get to the six wins they need for bowl eligibility this week vs. Colorado. San Diego State now has the inside track on the MWC title after its weekend win at Boise State. By the way, how are the Aztecs going to fit in with some of the Big East's bowl slots three time zones away next season?

SHERATON HAWAII: East Carolina vs. Boise State...Now that Boise's longshot BCS dreams are in the dust, the Broncos can begin to plan their move to the Big East next season. Before they leave the Mountain West, maybe one more trip to Honolulu (where the Broncos play this week as well, vs. Hawaii, could be in the offing. At the moment, ECU is one of only three certain CUSA bowl entries, and this would be a rematch of an exciting Pirate win (under Skip Holtz) over the Broncos in the 2007 renewal of this bowl.

LITTLE CAESAR'S: San Jose State vs. Northern Illinois...With only two losses but likely out of contention for the WAC's long guaranteed slot in the Idaho, SJSU becomes a free agent and could land in the place of the Big Ten (which likely can't fill this slot) in Detroit. Lively NIU is likely to be involved in the MAC title game at this same Ford Field a few weeks earlier.

MILITARY: Duke vs. Ball State...This spot was being held for Army if the Black Knights could get bowl-eligible, but that can't happen with West Point on seven losses. This is the same matchup in D.C. we forecast a month ago, with Ball State one of many projected MAC bowl-eligibles, as David Letterman's alma mater lands somewhere in December. Duke is fading a bit but is already bowl-eligible, and might make a nice attraction for several Blue Devil alums in and around the D.C. Beltway.

BELK CHARLOTTE: Wake Forest vs. Cincinnati...We're not sure if more than three Big East reps get bowl-eligible, but we know 7-2 Cincy is going to be one of them, which could land the Bearcats in Charlotte. Nearby Wake Forest needs one more win in its last three games (no gimmes, either, vs. NC State, Notre Dame, and Vanderbilt) for the Deacs to get bowl-eligible.

HOLIDAY: Texas vs. Stanford...Stanford might still have a look at a BCS slot if it can win out, but the schedule is awfully tough the rest of November (try Oregon State, Oregon, and UCLA) for the Cardinal, which also looks like it is switching QBs (Josh Nunes perhaps out, RS frosh Kevin Hogan perhaps in). Texas has stabilized after early October losses vs. West Virginia and Oklahoma and still has BCS hopes, although we suspect the Longhorns land outside of the top bowl tier.

INDEPENDENCE: La Tech vs. Vanderbilt...Expect some horse-trading here, as the ACC, with North Carolina ineligible and Miami-Fla. likely to be so, probably won't be able to fill its allotted berths. WAC heavyweight La Tech, which filled in this spot in nearby Shreveport four years ago when Derek Dooley was coaching the Bulldogs, could do so again for Sonny Dykes. Meanwhile, Vandy needs just one win in its last three (Ole Miss, Tennessee, Wake Forest) to get bowl-eligible for a second straight year, which should be good enough to get HC James Franklin another raise.

RUSSELL ATHLETIC: Ohio U vs. Pittsburgh...We're not sure the ACC can even fill this slot in Orlando, which opens up the possibility of a desirable MAC rep, such as Frank Solich's Ohio U, to fill the gap. We're not sure the Big East can fill its allotted berth in Orlando, either, though we suspect Pitt has a better chance of winning two of its last three (UConn and B.J. Daniels-less USF, along with Rutgers, still to go) than Syracuse as both strive for 6-6 and bowl eligibility.

MEINEKE TEXAS: Iowa State vs. Michigan State...Both the Cyclones and Spartans need one more win to get bowl-eligible. Michigan State's last hope of getting involved in another Big Ten title game was probably dashed in last week's bitter loss to Nebraska.

ARMED FORCES: SMU vs. Air Force...Again, any CUSA bowl projections are iffy, and hometown SMU needs win in two of its last three (USM and Rice providing good chances) to get eligible and have a chance to play a bowl on its home field. As for Air Force, it needs one more win to get bowl-eligible (we say there's a good chance that happens on Nov. 17 vs. Hawaii) and would be a proper fit as the MWC rep in this aptly-named bowl for the Falcons.

YANKEE PINSTRIPE: Rutgers vs. West Virginia...This would resurrect a Big East rivalry that ended when West Virginia bolted for the Big 12 this season. It also indicates how far the Mountaineers have fallen in the bowl queue since talk of a BCS spot (and QB Geno Smith's since-relinquished Heisman bid) not even a month ago. Rutgers could still land in the BCS by beating Louisville on Thanksgiving but we think probably earns its second straight bowl trip (and third game in 13 months) at Yankee Stadium.

KRAFT FIGHT HUNGER: Navy vs. Washington...With five straight wins, Navy has earned bow eligibility for the ninth time in ten seasons; we were among the few who still believed the Mids were going bowling even when they were struggling in September. Meanwhile, Steve Sarkisian's U-Dub only needs one more win to get bowl-eligible (for a third straight year) after last Friday's crucial win at Cal.

ALAMO: Oklahoma State vs. Southern Cal...How far they have fallen; preseason No. 1 SC will land far outside of the BCS unless it catches fire in November, and probably won't do much better than San Antonio. Which is also a bit of a letdown for Ok State (battling some serious QB injuries at the moment) after last year's BCS win at the Fiesta.

BUFFALO WILD WINGS: Texas Tech vs. Indiana...Just to warn you, Indiana still has a clear shot at the BCS if it can win out and reach the Big Ten title game. The Hoosiers also need two wins in their last three just to get bowl-eligible, but IU has "big mo" on its side right now. Texas Tech's hopes for a better bowl slot took a hit in last week's loss at Lubbock vs. Texas.

MUSIC CITY: Tennessee vs. Utah...This is a tricky matchup, as both of these need two wins in their last three games to get bowl-eligible. With North Carolina and likely Miami not participating in bowls, the ACC is a good bet not to fill its slot in Nashville, and the Pac-12 Utes (hot in recent weeks a good bet to get two more wins to get to the needed six) could slip into the postseason mix in its place. Tennessee is more likely than Arkansas to be the SEC's last hope of filling this spot at LP Field.

SUN: Oregon State vs. Virginia Tech...OSU still has legit BCS dreams, but the Beavers are going to have to beat both Stanford and Oregon in the next few weeks to have a chance. At least Mike Riley's team is bowl-eligible; Frank Beamer's massively-disappointing VPI still needs two more wins to qualify. But we think the Hokies can still get to the needed six wins by beating sub-.500 BC and Virginia in the next three weeks.

LIBERTY: Tulsa vs. Ole Miss...One of the better storylines being authored in the SEC is actually taking place at Ole Miss, where new HC Hugh Freeze has revived a Rebel program that had gone stale under Houston Nutt. With Freeze's Memphis connections, and with Oxford a short drive from the Liberty Bowl, Ole Miss would be a popular choice for this date. As for Tulsa, it gets to Memphis if it can beat UCF in what looks like the matchup in the CUSA title game.

CHICK FIL-A: Mississippi State vs. NC State...If Clemson qualifies as a BCS at-large (which we expect), then the ACC might not do any better than a 6-6 team for its berth in Atlanta. Somewhat-disappointing NC State looks a decent bet to qualify in what would be its second game of the season at the Georgia Dome (opened up the season by losing to Tennessee). Meanwhile, recently-unbeaten MSU's BCS dreams have gone up in smoke in lopsided losses the past two weeks vs. Alabama and Texas A&M.

TAXSLAYER.COM GATOR: Northwestern vs. South Carolina...We like this sponsor's name so much we have to include it in the title. Pat Fitzgerald still has NU in position to get into the Big Ten title game, though we think a New year's Day trip to one of the Florida games is probably in order for the Wildcats. Steve Spurrier was hoping for a BCS berth a few weeks ago, but his Gamecocks have fallen back in the SEC queue after recent losses to LSU and Florida.

TICKET CITY/HEART OF DALLAS: TCU vs. Minnesota...We've included the old sponsor's name to this game at the Cotton Bowl because we're too embarrassed by the new name (perhaps temporary) to leave it out there by itself. Nearby Metroplex entry TCU might prove a nice fit as the Big 12's rep for this spot, and Minnesota could get what appears to be the Big Ten's last bowl slot with just one more win (we say it happens this week vs. lowly Illinois).

OUTBACK: Michigan vs. Florida...Michigan has hit some bumps this season and likely lands outside of the Big Ten title game and any chance to make the BCS, so Tampa becomes a nice consolation prize. We suspect Florida's chances of becoming a BCS at-large entry rest in its season-ender at Florida State, as the Gators are effectively out of the SEC East race unless downtrodden Auburn somehow upsets Georgia this week.

CAPITAL ONE: Wisconsin vs. LSU...LSU's late loss vs. Alabama probably condemns the Tigers to bowl duty outside the BCS this season; although an at-large berth is possible, we suspect a couple of other SEC entries are more likely recipients. Wisconsin still has a decent chance get to the BCS and looks a good bet to make the Big Ten title game, which could provide passage to another Rose Bowl, but with think a Florida New Year's Day trip to Orlando is more likely.

ROSE: Nebraska vs. UCLA...Bowls usually aren't wild about regular-season rematches, but UCLA has been involved in three of those in past rose Bowls ('66 vs. Michigan State, '76 vs. Ohio State, '83 vs. Michigan), so this would not be unprecedented after the Bruins' 36-30 win over Nebraska at this Pasadena site back on September 8. Seeing UCLA in the BCS would be a stunner, but we expect the surging Bruins to win the Pac-12 South, and even a loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game might not keep a 10-3 UCLA from filling the Pac-12's spot in the Rose. We also think Bo Pelini's Cornhuskers now appear to be the most-likely Big Ten champ.

ORANGE: Florida State vs. Louisville...FSU is still kicking itself for that one-point loss at NC State on October 6; otherwise, the ‘Noles are in the middle of the BCS title mix. Even if Louisville stays unbeaten through the regular season, we highly doubt the Cards get title game consideration. But as Big East champs they would get this date in Miami.

SUGAR: Georgia vs. Clemson...We're kicking around lots of scenarios for the SEC's BCS at-large entry behind Alabama, and believe that Georgia, should it win the SEC East as expected, has the best case, even if it loses to the Tide in the conference title game (which, by the way, is not a certainty). With the Big Ten being down and other Big 12 contenders outside of Kansas State all with at least two losses, we think Clemson could slip into the last ACC at-large slot.

FIESTA: Kansas State vs. Notre Dame...If all stays intact in the next four weeks, this optimally would be half of a national semifinal, with Alabama-Oregon the other half. But we have to wait two more years for a real playoff, and in the meantime we wonder about Cat QB Collin Klein's injury (first reported to be a wrist, then a possible concussion...but who really knows with Bill Snyder controlling the information?). Also, we suspect Notre Dame at least gets a BCS berth (if not the title game) it suffers a loss in November.

COTTON: Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma...This isn't a Big 12 matchup anymore with A&M having bolted to the SEC. But what a tantalizing QB shootout it would be with Aggie frosh Johnny Manziel trading scoring shots with OU's Landry Fields.

BBVA COMPASS: Toledo vs. Western Kentucky...We don't think either the Big East or SEC fills allotted berths in this game, so expect Toledo (MAC) and WKU (Sun Belt) to put on a good show in Birmingham.

GO DADDY: Bowling Green vs. Middle Tennessee...As always in Mobile, however, we will be counting the Danica Patrick GoDaddy.com commercials as this one is being aired. Both Middle Tennessee and Bowling Green are bowl-eligible and could be matched together.

BCS TITLE GAME: Alabama vs. Oregon...Still our prediction, as it was last month. Stay tuned!

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