In the final season of the Bowl Championship Series, the South Carolina football team isn’t headed to one of the four BCS bowl games despite a No. 8 national ranking because of the rule that allows two teams from a single conference in this format.
With No. 3 Auburn, No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Missouri from the SEC ahead of the Gamecocks in the rankings, it’s basically impossible for them to jump two of those teams with just the SEC title game between Auburn and Missouri remaining on the schedule.
But if this were next year?
Well, that would be a different story, according to Brad Edwards, ESPN’s BCS analyst. With the end of the BCS system, a 13-member college football playoff selection committee will make the decisions on the four teams in the playoffs as well as the eight teams playing in the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta bowls next season.
“They will not have any type of limit as far as number of teams per conference,” Edwards said Wednesday in a national teleconference. “For those six games, there would be an excellent chance that South Carolina, as well as the SEC game loser, would be in there. If we were sitting here a year from now, and you’ve got SEC teams going into the final weekend ranked 3, 4, 5 and 8, probably all four of them are going to end up in one major bowl game or another.”
Instead, the Gamecocks (10-2) must wait until Sunday to see where they will go bowling among the non-BCS games. Edwards believes South Carolina is likely headed to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, where it defeated Nebraska two seasons ago. But he also sees a scenario where the Capital One Bowl picks the SEC title-game loser instead.
“The Cap One Bowl will be very interested (in the Gamecocks). I’m not sure what will go into their decision,” Edwards said. “If they were not to choose them, I’m guessing the Outback Bowl (in Tampa, where USC defeated Michigan last season) wouldn’t want them for the second year in a row if they could help it.”
If that’s the case, the USC faithful might get their wish to go to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl, which traditionally chooses an SEC West team because of geographical reasons. The Gamecocks have traveled to central Florida in three consecutive seasons — the Capital One Bowl, the Outback Bowl, and a regular-season game at UCF in Orlando.
“I think they might be able to make an exception to that this year,” Edwards said. “I could see South Carolina actually ending up in the Cotton if they don’t go to the Cap One.”
The Gamecocks would get the opportunity to face a Big 12 opponent such as Baylor, Texas or Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl instead of a Big Ten opponent in the Capital One and Outback bowls.
USC ended its season with a fifth consecutive win against Clemson (10-2), which fell seven spots to No. 13 in the BCS rankings after the 31-17 loss. Despite that lower ranking, the Tigers have a better chance of making it into a BCS game this year because of their conference affiliation. If Florida State wins the ACC championship game against Duke as expected, that would give Clemson a shot as an at-large pick to the Orange Bowl as long as it remains in the Top 14 after this weekend’s results.
The Orange Bowl has a tie-in with the ACC to send its champion there that extends the next 12 years. But with FSU likely headed to the national championship game this season, the folks in Miami will strongly consider the Tigers.
“I think it really comes down to the relationship the ACC has with the Orange Bowl,” Edwards said. “It’s hard for me to imagine the Orange Bowl stiffing the ACC and going with someone else if Clemson’s available.”
But Edwards concedes the Orange Bowl might have concerns about Clemson fans traveling to the game coming off a loss to USC, as well as a poor showing two seasons ago in that game, a 70-33 loss to West Virginia.
“I remember how excited that fan base was after the win over Georgia to open the season. They, basically, had two games the rest of the year, Florida State and South Carolina, and they lost both of them,” Edwards said. “I can understand the Clemson fan base being deflated after that. I think that’s basically what the Orange Bowl is worried about, that they’re not going to travel as well as hoped.”
Edwards said the change from the BCS format to a four-team playoff next year will make the choices more interesting with anywhere from eight to 10 teams likely in the running for a spot in the championship round.
“It’s definitely going to add some excitement,” he said.