Breaking Down the BCS Bowl Bids
Last year in this space, we watched anxiously throughout November as Boise State tried to make its case for a BCS Bowl bid on the field, and in the Standings, only to have the last at-large bowl bid go to a lesser-ranked Ohio State team. Anyone else getting a sense of deja vu here?
Wait, you say, Boise State is currently #6 in the BCS Standings, and there are 10 BCS Bowl bids (Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar, and the National Championship Game). Ah, but how do teams qualify for BCS games? In the rules, Boise State is what the latest politically correct college football language deems a "non-AQ group" school (that is, they are not from a conference with an Automatic Qualifier). A non-AQ group school can earn an automatic BCS berth if they do well enough in the Standings; but the rules are also very explicit that "No more than one such team from the non-AQ group shall earn an automatic berth in any year." Last year, that berth went to Utah. This year, if both TCU and Boise State win out, it will almost certainly go to TCU.
So does Boise State have any shot at getting an at-large selection this year? First, it obviously depends on their winning out; if they lose, their BCS bid is finished. Second, it depends on who wins the AQ conferences, because those winners take 6 of the 10 spots. If TCU wins out, they'll almost certainly take a 7th automatic qualification (and if they don't, then the discussion simplifies because an undefeated Boise State would get it instead). So who will get the other three at-large spots? The SEC runner-up, definitely a given. If Texas doesn't win the Big 12, they would almost certainly still be in the running for a bid. So there may be either one or two more slots for Boise State to try to take.
Remembering that BCS at-large bids do not need to follow the BCS Standings beyond a top-14 requirement (as when Ohio State was selected over Boise State last year), it's perhaps still reasonable to look at the top teams in the Standings to see who else might legitimately get selected over a non-automatic Boise State. In the Big East, Cincinnati is currently #5 and Pitt is #9, and obviously only one of them will win that conference. At #7, Georgia Tech might be a candidate for an at-large bid if they fail to win the ACC. Luckily for Boise State, #8 LSU is not a worry right now because each conference can only get two bids, and we already counted two to the SEC. Meanwhile, #10 Ohio State has already wrapped up the Big Ten, which is also good for Boise State. In contrast, #11 Oregon is still fighting in the Pac-10, and #12 Oklahoma State won last night to increase their chances. And the financial incentives for the bowl games built into the at-large selections might cause one to look at a second Big Ten school, with Iowa at #13 and Penn State at #14.
That's a lot of teams fighting for at most two spots. While some of the confusion might clarify this weekend or next, much might remain unresolved until the conference championships.
Unsurprisingly, we aren't the only ones who have been talking about Boise State's BCS at-large chances. See also: