Got a rematch? With three of last week’s top five BCS contenders (No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Oklahoma) losing over the weekend, the stars are aligning for SEC rivals LSU and Alabama to play again in the BCS championship game.
Not only are the top-ranked Tigers, who beat the Crimson Tide 9-6 in overtime Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, and No. 2 Alabama the top two teams this week. Fellow SEC West member Arkansas, which plays LSU on Friday, checked in at No. 3.
Beyond the SEC, another big winner in last weekend’s slip-and-slide shapes up as Michigan.
If it loses its SEC tie-in team, the Sugar Bowl will have the first at-large pick among the other BCS bowls. Its likely options include Houston, Stanford and the Wolverines. If Michigan beats Ohio State, it will be an attractive two-loss team.
This week’s BCS bowl projection:
BCS: LSU vs. Alabama.
Rose: Michigan State vs. Oregon.
Orange: Clemson vs. Louisville.
Sugar: Michigan vs. Houston.
Fiesta: Oklahoma State vs. Stanford.
On a bowl roll
A doff of the purple cap to Northwestern for becoming the ninth bowl-eligible Big Ten team by beating Minnesota. Purdue can give the league an even 10 bowl-bound squads if it wins Saturday at Indiana.
Even with more bowl-eligible team than its eight tie-in spots, “every Big Ten team will go somewhere,” a bowl source told the Sun-Times.
But it’s still possible that Ohio State could receive a bowl ban from the NCAA because of the scandal that cost coach Jim Tressel his job. Unlike Miami, which announced a self-imposed bowl ban Sunday, the Buckeyes will go bowling barring NCAA sanctions.
It was nice of the Rose Bowl to say that it would welcome Penn State “with open arms” – it’s contractually obligated to take the Big Ten champ. But other bowls remain very concerned about the Nittany Lions in light of their sexual-abuse scandal.
“They’re still radioactive,” said a bowl source who expects Penn State to fall to the TicketCity Bowl despite its impressive win at Ohio State.
Illinois and Northwestern are penciled in at the bottom of the Big Ten food chain. Their destinations easily could change.
This week’s projection for the other Big Ten bowls:
Capital One: Nebraska vs. Arkansas.
Outback: Wisconsin vs. South Carolina.
Insight: Ohio State vs. Baylor.
Gator: Iowa vs. Auburn.
TicketCity: Penn State vs. Iowa State.
Meineke: Northwestern vs. Texas.
Pizza: Purdue vs. Toledo.
Pinstripe: Illinois vs. Rutgers.
So close, and yet . . .
The near-miss against Wisconsin was fresh in Ron Zook’s mind Sunday. Coming on top of the near-misses against Penn State and Ohio State, the Illinois coach surveyed an upset-filled weekend and had a “why not us?” feeling.
“It looks like we’re miles and miles away,” Zook said. “But when you look at that [set of upsets], dadgummit, you see how close you are. We have to get over the hump.”
After blowing a 14-0 lead and losing 28-17 to the Badgers, Illinois also knows it’s running out of humps.
“After four straight losses, we were pumped,” said defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who leads the nation with 131/2 sacks. “An underdog against a ranked opponent, we had a chance to make a statement.”
The could-have-been-a-contender Illini will try to break their five-game losing streak Saturday at Minnesota.