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Clemson and the BCS: Tigers Outside Looking In

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

As we head into the final three games of the season, a lot of fans have been talking about Clemson's chances at another BCS bowl berth. After barely getting shut out of a spot last year, possibilities of returning to Miami for the Orange Bowl or a trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl are being bandied about. Unfortunately like last year, Clemson is definitely on the outside looking in despite their excellent record. Below we are going to take a look at the BCS selection process to see what needs to happen for Clemson to get in.

First step is the BCS rankings are released, for those who don't know, the rankings are comprised of the Harris Poll, Coaches Poll, and an average of the computer polls after throwing out the highest and lowest ranking. Each of these groups is 1/3 of the formula.

For the BCS Bowls, teams are divided into 2 groups, automatic qualifiers and at-large bids. Automatic qualifiers include the top 2 teams in the BCS standings, as well as the conference champions of the ACC, AAC, B1G, Big XII, Pac XII, and the SEC, also known as the AQ conferences.

Next up, if the champion from a non-AQ conference is ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings, they get an automatic bid. They also get an automatic bid if they are ranked in the top 16 of the BCS standings,  and they are ranked higher than a conference champion from a conference that gets an automatic BCS bid. It is important that unless 2 non-AQ teams finish 1 and 2 in the BCS rankings, only 1 non-AQ team gets automatic qualification.

After this, Notre Dame gets an automatic berth if they finish in the top 8 of the BCS standings.

At this point, count up the teams that get automatic qualifiers. If there are less than 10 automatic qualifiers, the 3rd ranked team in the BCS gets an automatic bid provided that they are a member of an automatic qualifier conference.

If there are still open spots, then the 4th ranked team in the BCS will also get an automatic bid like the 3rd ranked team.

Those are the only ways to guarantee a BCS bid. BCS bowls are required to have every team picked from the list generated using the above steps. Now the fun comes into play when it comes to at-large bids. If, after going through all of the above steps, there are still less than 10 automatic qualifiers, bowls may also select from at-large spots. The only rules for the at-large spots are that a team must have 9 regular season wins, and they must be in the top 14 of the BCS standings. Also remember that only 2  teams from a single conference may be selected to go to a BCS bowl minus a few circumstances that should never happen.

So all of this is fine and good, but let's apply it to this season. Because we still have some games to play, I had to make a few assumptions. I'm saying Alabama and Oregon remain undefeated. I'm also saying FSU and OSU finish 3rd and 4th. For all other conferences I took the highest ranked teams as their conference champ.

This leaves us with the following conference champions; Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State, Baylor, Florida State, University of Central Florida. All of these teams are automatically in. The next step is to look for an non-AQ conference teams. Right now NIU and Fresno State are both undefeated and at 18th and 16th in the BCS rankings. Fresno will be in as long as they keep winning, and I think they will. Even if Notre Dame wins out they don't get into the top 8, and the 3rd and 4th teams are conference champions. This gives us 7 automatic qualifiers.

Now it is time for bowls to select teams. Alabama and Oregon automatically go to the BCSNCG as 1st and 2nd in the rankings. Florida State is going to the Orange Bowl, Baylor to the Fiesta Bowl, and Ohio State to the Rose Bowl. Now, because the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl lost their conference champion tie-ins, they get to select replacements. The Sugar Bowl gets first dibs and the rules are that they can't select a conference champion tied to another Bowl, and they can't select a replacement from the same conference as the 2nd ranked team without the bowl losing the 2nd ranked team consents. In this case that would require the Rose Bowl consenting to allow the Sugar Bowl to pick a Pac 12 team.

Barring a strange event, bowls that lose a conference champion to the BCSNCG pick from the same conference. In this case the Sugar Bowl would take Missouri, LSU, or maybe even Texas A&M depending on how the standings shake out. For the Rose Bowl, they are definitely taking a Pac 12 team, especially with this being the 100th anniversary of the Rose Bowl. Stanford is Oregon's replacement.

Now that those positions have been filled, the remaining open spots in the BCS bowls are filled in specific order. This year that order is the Orange Bowl picks first, then the Sugar Bowl, and the Fiesta Bowl comes in last. At this point there are 3 slots open, and Fresno State and UCF are automatic qualifiers. This leaves only 1 at-large spot open for Clemson to potentially fill.

The problem though, is that the Orange Bowl has the first pick. The guys in Miami are not going to want to take UCF or Fresno State, they'd much rather take an at-large team with a huge fanbase. Hey Clemson fits that bill, but the problem is that we already played Florida State. Bowl games do not like rematches, especially rematches where one team got blown out at home in embarrassing fashion. This is why the Orange Bowl would be more likely to select someone like Wisconsin or Oklahoma. They can't select an SEC team, Pac 12 teams don't draw well in the Orange Bowl, and both Clemson and Miami already played the Seminoles. I'm throwing Wisconsin in here, but it could just as easily be Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, or even Texas depending on how things work out.

With the Orange Bowl taking the at-large team, that leaves the Sugar and Fiesta to pick from UCF and Fresno. These guys have to be selected so the bowls don't have the option to bypass. This leads to UCF in the Sugar Bowl and Fresno in the Fiesta Bowl giving us the following BCS matchups.

  • BCSNCG: Alabama (BCS #1) vs. Oregon (BCS #2)
  • Rose Bowl: Stanford (Pac 12 replacement) vs. Ohio State (B1G Champion)
  • Orange Bowl: Florida State (ACC Champion) vs. Wisconsin (At-large selection)
  • Sugar Bowl: Missouri (SEC replacement) vs. UCF (AAC Champion)
  • Fiesta Bowl: Baylor (Big 12 Champion) vs. Fresno State (non-AQ conference qualifier)

As for Clemson, their best hope is for Florida State to get into the BCSNCG. That leaves the Orange Bowl free to select a replacement, and that would almost certainly come from the ACC. Miami would have two losses and an 11-1 Clemson team in the top 5 would be a great draw. Behind that, the next best option is for Fresno State and Northern Illinois to lose a game each. This would keep both schools out of the top 16 and create a second at-large team. I think the Sugar Bowl would jump at the chance to have Clemson, winners of 3 straight against the SEC at that point, face off against another SEC team.

These are the best ways for Clemson to get into a BCS bowl, but without some help we will be looking at a second trip to the Peach Bowl if we are lucky. Oh, and in case I didn't say it, if we lose to USC or Georgia Tech don't plan on a BCS trip regardless of what happens elsewhere. It could happen, but it is highly unlikely.