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October 26, 2006 The BCS expanded to five games this year, with one of the main reasons being to make more opportunities for non-BCS schools to get into the big games. Six conference champions and a good Notre Dame team used to leave one at-large spot for non-BCS schools to try and grab, and they were up against the best non-champion school of the BCS conferences, which effectively shut out the non-BCS leagues. Now there are three spots out of ten to try and grab, meaning much better odds. Apparently these conferences missed this memo from the BCS though.

Boise State appears poised to take one of those BCS spots, but everyone knows the Broncos must stay undefeated or watch their BCS dreams disappear. TCU seemed ready to take the BCS up on its offer as well, but the Horned Frogs suddenly dropped off the face of the planet after two losses. Assuming Boise State is indeed the only team that can think about sniffing the BCS money this season (and with no other non-BCS school having fewer than 2 losses, this conclusion seems likely), what is left for the non-BCS conferences come this post-season? Let’s take a look at how all the other conferences currently stand and their bowl outlook at this point midway through the season.

Conference USA

This conference actually has five guaranteed bowl spots to claim, more than any other non-BCS conference. The Liberty Bowl gets the conference champion (vs. SEC), the GMAC Bowl takes second choice (vs. MAC), followed by the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces (in Fort Worth vs. MWC), Birmingham (vs. Big East), and New Orleans (vs. Sun Belt) bowls. The conference also has an automatic spot in the Hawaii Bowl if C-USA has six bowl eligible teams and if the Pac-10 does not have a sixth team for the spot. (Currently I would project this will be filled by a Pac-10 team since seven to eight of them should be bowl eligible at the end of the year.)

The East division has been beaten up this season, with Southern Miss currently carrying the only winning record (4-3). With East Carolina (3-4) having a tough schedule remaining and each other division team already having 5 losses, the East's postseason contribution should be limited to Southern Miss only. The West division is having much better days, as Tulsa (6-1) and Houston (5-3) are certainly going to be bowl eligible and UTEP (4-3) has a favorable schedule as well. SMU is currently 4-4 with two very winnable games left at Rice and home against UAB, so I expect the Mustangs to be in the mix as well. I predict Tulsa will continue rolling to the C-USA title and Liberty Bowl, while Southern Miss drops down past Houston and maybe even UTEP when the bowls come calling.

Bowl Locks: Tulsa, Houston, UTEP, Southern Miss
Bubble Teams: SMU, East Carolina, UAB

Mid-American Conference

The MAC only has three bowl tie-ins for this season. The Motor City bowl takes the champion and places them against the Big 10 #7 (which could be an at-large since Michigan and Ohio State in the BCS means this would be an 8th Big Ten bowl eligible team, and 4-4 Indiana and 4-4 Michigan State would both have to get to six wins for this to happen). The GMAC bowl takes MAC #2 against C-USA #2, and the new International Bowl in Toronto takes MAC #3 against Big East #4-5. There will also probably be opportunities for the MAC to fill in one or two at-large spots left open by the Big 12 or other major conferences with too many spots to fill. The exciting part of this three bowl schedule is that the International and GMAC bowls have moved back to after the BCS bowls but right before the BCS title game January 8, so a lot of national attention will be available.

In the East division, only three teams can merit consideration for bowls. Kent State (5-2) and Ohio (5-3) will play this week, likely for the East division title, and both should be bowl eligible. Bowling Green (4-4) also has an easy schedule the remainder of the season, having already played Kent State, Ohio, and West division leader Central Michigan, but the Falcons have not been impressive other than the road win at Ohio. The West division is Central Michigan’s to lose at 5-3 (5-0 in conference). Western Michigan (5-2) and Northern Illinois (5-3) also can become bowl eligible, but both must play Central Michigan yet (WMU defeated NIU earlier this season). After determining the best two teams in the MAC title game, the remainder of the bowl-possible teams will be hard to distinguish. I’ll hazard a guess of Ohio over Central Michigan in the MAC title game, with Western Michigan and Kent State being the next bowl choices. Bowling Green and Northern Illinois have some serious work to do.

Bowl Locks: Kent State, Central Michigan
Bubble Teams: Ohio, Western Michigan, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois

Mountain West Conference

Unlike the MAC, the Mountain West has all four bowl games on or before December 23, so the MWC will be the highlight of the beginning of bowl season. The MWC champ goes to the Las Vegas Bowl to take on Pac-10 #4, and the second choice goes to the Poinsetta Bowl in San Diego to battle an at-large team (probably another Pac-10 team). The Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth grabs a third team to play against C-USA #4, followed by the final selection by the New Mexico Bowl (vs. WAC #3).

BYU (5-2) has been the class of the conference since knocking off TCU three weeks ago, but the Cougars still have games against each of the next best five teams in the MWC. Wyoming (4-4) stumbled through a tough out-of-conference schedule in September, but a three game winning streak has them in position to perhaps be bowl eligible (if they can manage to win one of three remaining road games at TCU, BYU, and UNLV). TCU (4-2) still has six conference games left after a 0-2 start, but if the Horned Frogs get past Wyoming at home this week, the sailing is smooth until a December 2 showdown at home against Air Force. The Falcons (3-3), New Mexico (4-4), Utah (4-4), and Colorado State (4-3) all have talent, but it is hard to see which of these teams will rise above the rest to end up 8-4 or a more likely 7-5. The MWC could end up with a bunch of 6-6 teams, and if Air Force is one of these teams, they will be chosen for a bowl based on their out-of-conference schedule (Notre Dame, Tennessee, Navy, Army). I’ll guess the four bowl spots go to BYU, TCU, Air Force, and Wyoming.

Bowl Locks: BYU, TCU
Bubble Teams: Air Force, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado State

Sun Belt Conference

This conference is short, sweet, and simple: the champion goes to the New Orleans Bowl to play a C-USA representative, and everybody else stays home. This makes for a very interesting conference race as Arkansas State is currently 3-0 (5-2), Middle Tennessee State is also 3-0 (4-3), Louisiana-Lafayette is 1-0 (4-2), and Troy is also 1-0 (2-4). The Ragin Cajuns of Lafayette seems a little worse than the rest, and Troy has had the worst record against the high-level competition each of these teams has played out-of-conference. This leaves Arkansas State and MTSU. ASU has a brutal November schedule at Auburn, hosting MTSU, at Troy, and at Lafayette. Middle Tennessee has looked good overall, but close wins against the worst of the conference looks worrisome. As long as Auburn does not beat up too much on Arkansas State’s morale, they should prevail over MTSU. Arkansas State finishes 8-4 (6-1) and parties down in the Big Easy.

Bowl Locks: None
Bubble Teams: Arkansas State, Middle Tennessee State, Troy

Western Athletic Conference

Normally there are only three bowl games for WAC teams, but if Boise State goes undefeated as in 2004, the WAC will send 4 teams to bowls because the Broncos will either be BCS bound or will be picked up by a big at-large spot in another bowl. The MPC Computers bowl takes a WAC team to play an ACC team or an at-large, the Hawaii Bowl matches the WAC against the Pac-10, and the New Mexico Bowl matches the WAC versus the MWC.

As mentioned previously, there is no reason to expect anything other than an undefeated season out of Boise State. A loss could not only lose BSU millions of BCS dollars, but also an extra bowl bid for the conference. Hawaii (5-2) has one road trip left in six remaining games to lowly Utah State, so the Warriors will clearly be bowl-eligible (and will most likely be grabbed by the hometown Hawaii Bowl). Idaho (4-4), San Jose State (4-2), and Nevada (4-3) all have games against each other remaining, so the team who loses both those games likely will not be heading to a bowl. It is too hard to tell anything else for two more weeks, as the big story is how far Boise State can take the WAC this year.

Bowl Locks: Boise State, Hawaii
Bubble Teams: San Jose State, Idaho, Nevada

Moving to this week’s top games, I’ll start in honor of the little guys by putting a MAC game that should decide the MAC East title and might decide the conference champion overall: Ohio at Kent State. Ohio has one of the most ineffective offenses in college football this season, but their strong defense has kept them in many games. Kent State has a dual-threat QB in Julian Edelman with 7 TD passing and 5 TD rushing. Edelman has had more rushes than RB Eugene Jarvis, but both have been successful. That combination will challenge Ohio’s defense on the edges in option, bootleg, and screen plays. Ohio QB Austen Everson can also run from time to time, and Kent State may have to watch for that. I think Ohio’s offense does just enough to win this game on the road, cementing Frank Solich’s new legacy at Athens and Ohio’s status as a MAC contender. Ohio wins by 4.

I could preview Miami and Georgia Tech in the ACC, but my choice for second best game of the week is Clemson visiting Virginia Tech on Thursday night. CU is a shady kicking game in double-OT away from being undefeated and clearly winning the Atlantic division, while Virginia Tech has been very disappointing in league play this season at 2-2 (with wins over hapless UNC and Duke). The Tigers must hope for a Boston College loss to win their division, and a loss would all but eliminate them from BCS contention, as well as ACC contention. Blacksburg is not as tough a place to play as it used to be, but a cornered Virginia Tech team can be very dangerous. One “Beamerball” type of special teams turnover could devastate Clemson if they are not careful. The Tigers' rushing attack of C.J. Spiller and James Davis (if he plays) should set the pace and help QB Will Proctor lead the team past the Hokies. Virginia Tech is just having a down year (and using two QBs on Thursday will not help), and Clemson coming to town will not help before the Hurricanes show up next for the Hokies. Clemson by 14.

The game of the week comes from the SEC, and while I have to give a little love to Tennessee and Phil Fulmer trying to get revenge on nemesis Steve Spurrier and South Carolina, the Cocktail Party is just slightly better, and thus is the game of the week. Florida has serious aspirations and has had two weeks to fix whatever went wrong against Auburn. This is the only real threat left on UF's SEC schedule before the championship game. Georgia has been exposed after starting 5-0, and the weak offense cannot carry the Bulldogs through an SEC schedule. QB Chris Leak should have all day to pass on the Georgia secondary, and Tim Tebow is always a threat. Georgia has no go-to guys on offense, and this will make 16 out of 17 for the Gators in this rivalry. Florida rolls by 21.

GOTW 2006 Record to Date: 18-6
Last Week: 3-0

Fitzy’s Top 10 – Week 9
1. Ohio State (8-0)
2. Michigan (8-0)
3. USC (6-0)
4. West Virginia (7-0)
5. Louisville (7-0)
6. Texas (7-1)
7. Tennessee (6-1)
8. Auburn (7-1)
9. California (7-1)
10. Clemson (7-1)

Did anybody hear Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis complaining about Texas jumping his team in the BCS despite “playing a similar game, having to come back luckily at the end?” What a joke! Texas beat a better team on the road, and Notre Dame should not be complaining since they will get paid millions either way thanks to their sweet BCS deal. With so many one-loss teams and no way to distinguish them, nobody should complain until we all see what happens on the field. Either the system will work (meaning USC and OSU/UM win out and make it work) or it will not, and then we can complain. Until then, every little move is not worth getting upset over Charlie (and everyone else). Hopefully another great week of football greets us this Saturday. Have a great week!

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