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2011 Bowl Projections - Opening Call

Too soon? Nah... I've been thinking about this since the Big 12 Championship Game ended the chance to project the 2010 Bowl Season. So what do we see coming at us in 2011? I don't see a repeat, that's for sure. I think that Oregon is in a better position than Auburn to return to a BCS Bowl, and that has as much to do with the conferences that they play in as the talent that they'll lose.

As for our conference, it's been a while since we've had a season with this much uncertainty.  Aside from the fact that the divisional alignments will add a new wrinkle, we have three defending champions, each with their own struggles coming into the new year. Ohio State will face the specter of substantial suspensions (for any of the Tattoo Five return), Wisconsin is losing its strength and experience in the trenches, and Michigan State has to shake off one of the worst bowl performances in Big Ten history (That's actually not hyperbole.  Look it up). Nebraska joins, Michigan starts over (again), and Penn State, Northwestern and Iowa lurk. If you think you know who'll represent the Big Ten in Pasadena, you're just guessing as much as I am. And who will it be? First, let's remember that there are rules:

  1. The best teams don't always go to the best games.  In the end, butts in the seat and eyes to the television are the biggest factors.
  2. The order of BCS selection is 1) Replacement for #1 Team; 2) Replacement for #2 Team; 3) Fiesta Bowl; 4) Sugar Bowl; 5) Orange Bowl.
  3. If a Big Ten or Pac-10 team qualifies for the BCS Championship Game, the Rose Bowl will NOT be required to take a non-automatic qualifier.  This was only required of the Rose Bowl the first time it occurred over the current four-year contract. 
  4. The Insight Bowl picks its Big Ten team ahead of the Gator Bowl this year.  It will rotate the other way next year.

 Got it?  Good.  Let's get on to the projections.

Hey ya'll, Off Tackle Empire is on Facebook here. One day we'll get around to putting up pictures and such, but for now just "like" OTE...

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Oklahoma gets an easier road, with no threat of Nebraska in a Big 12 Championship Game. They have a stacked lineup returning and a great chance to run the table to get to New Orleans. 

Alabama has a rougher go, and while the losses of Ingram, Jones and McElroy may weaken the offense, the defense is going to be stronger and the offensive replacements more than adequate. If you don't already, expect to know a lot about AJ McCarron by this time next year.

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Penn State? Really? Yes. Really. JoePa knows why he's sticking around, and this group of Lions is the reason. They'll lose to Alabama, and I suspect that they'll drop one conference game, but 11-2 with a victory in the innaugural Big Ten Championship Game sends Paterno and his boys on their third trip to the Rose Bowl.

Who in the Pac-12 can stop Oregon? Arizona? Utah? Stanford? I don't see it.  Too many holes all around. It won't be a perfect season, but it should be a third straight Duck crown.

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And the Fiesta Bowl gets this year's embarrassment of riches. It selects 10-2 Texas to replace Oklahoma. Then, with the first at large pick, it grabs 10-2 Notre Dame. While a huge game for the BCS, the order of selection means that the Big Ten will be without two BCS selections for the first time since 2004.

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The SEC balance of power still lies in the West, and runner-up LSU gets chosen to replace Alabama and stay in Louisiana to face Boise State.

Boise State makes some new history in 2011. They become the first non-AQ team to make a BCS game with a loss. At 11-1, they win the Mountain West and get selected by Sugar with the second to last pick.

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It's an annual tradition. Predict the Seminoles to win the ACC and then watch them lose. They have the best squad returning, and should win the return bout against VaTech to get here.

The Big East Champ, for the fourth consecutive year, is the last selection of the BCS Bowls.

Capitalonebowl2002_small_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium Ohio_st_medium_medium_medium_medium Georgia_medium_medium Ohio State goes10-2, but they don't get the at large bid to the BCS this season. Instead, the Cap One bowl is thrilled to pit them against Georgia, the SEC East Champion. Georgia? I like the experienced lines. And, is it any crazier than picking South Carolina at this time last year?
Outbackbowl_2008_sm_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium_medium Nebraska_medium_medium_medium_medium Florida_medium_medium_medium_medium And here is the first of the Legends' co-champions. Nebraska finishes 10-2, but loses to Penn State in the Indy. It does go to the Outback Bowl, where it faces a Florida team that is better than its record would indicate. The Gators face Alabama, @ Auburn, and @ LSU from the SEC West. One win in those three is a success next year.
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Northwestern also finishes at 10-2, but loses the tiebreaker to Nebraska for the Legends Division crown. They head west to face the 5th selection from the Big 12. I have the Cowboys behind the Sooners, rejuvenated Horns, Tigers, and Aggies.

Gator_medium_medium_medium_medium Wisconsin_medium_medium_medium_medium Tennessee_medium_medium For Tennessee, this is a step forward. For Wisconsin, it's a big step back. We've now entered the realm of 7-8 win Big Ten teams.
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Michigan rides their talent to a 7 win season. Regardless of the coach, they should be able to do that. Texas Tech gets to 6 wins as well. This seems like a good place to note that the conference reshuffling has resulted in some imbalance. The Big 12 is no loner deep enough for all of its bids, and the Pac-12 is under-represented. For the next three seasons, there will be some mismatches in the mid-level bowls until the next contracts get that worked out.

Ticketcity-150x137_medium_medium_medium_medium Iowa_medium_medium_medium_medium Southern_methodist_medium_medium_medium Iowa has another 7-5 season, but this time it's not under-achieving. It's also not able to move up any higher on the bowl pecking order. The Ticket City Bowl will pit the Big Ten against C-USA in odd numbered years. It also has to look to C-USA to replace the B12 if the league can't fill the slot. With the smaller membership, you can expect to see B1G v. C-USA here for the next three years.
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Who was a big winner in the Big Ten expansion? Pizza Pizza! One more team means that the league should fill this bowl almost every year. Sparty falls to seven wins. It's not a bad season for Michigan State, but it's underwhelming after high-expectations at the outset. Think Iowa 2010. And you know that the Detroit Bowl will pick a Michigan team every time against the best of the non-MAC Division winners, which are the most favored choices for Detroit.

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I think that Illinois gets to 6 wins. As the 9th Big Ten team with only 1 BCS bid, that puts them on the market. I suspect that they'll be an attractive choice, and I can see them filling a Big 12 slot in the Bronx.

Connecticut has enough coming back to contend for the Big East title again, but my guess is that they don't get all of the breaks this year.

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When you can't get to six wins, you know that you'll spend the bowl season On the Couch with the Queso Bowl (sponsored by Ro*Tel).

Minnesota will be improved, as they won't have Tim Brewster. That said, they start the season against USC and have a pretty tough slate in the conference. 5 wins seems like their cap.

Indiana looks destined for another losing season. The question is: will they lose a road game versus a non-AQ teams (Ball State or North Texas), a home game against Virginia, or a combination of both. Sadly, I'm on the latter.

I keep wanting to believe that Purdue will get to six wins. However, the more I look at their roster, the less I see the talent necessary. Is Danny Hope on the hottest seat entering the 2011 season? Probably.