Brenner: Don’t book your Orange Bowl flights/hotels yet, but …

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

CLEMSON – Careful swearing on your own health, or your mother’s health, what I’m selling you right now. But you’d probably be safe with a great-aunt or distant cousin or crazy neighbor or something.

Hey Clemson: Welcome to Miami. (Bienvenido a Miami.)

Based on reasonable logic, rock-solid recent history and a few conversations The Post and Courier has had with bowl officials, we’ve known for a few weeks now that Clemson was almost destined for a return to the Orange Bowl – about as sure a thing as there could be in the world of at-larges.

With one week left in Clemson’s regular season, and two weeks of games remaining across the country, it’s close to inconceivable that could change, unless an extraordinary event or two happens. Namely, some bubble-bursting upsets (aka Michigan State over Ohio State or Arizona State over Stanford), but even that might not make a difference.

In fact, one extraordinary event like a 100-point loss to South Carolina probably wouldn’t even matter. Unless the Orange Bowl committee had a stunning change of heart.

You: That sure, huh? Why? Me: Here’s why.

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Let’s start with some undeniable truths. Follow me here.

  • BCS bowl officials select the best teams for their games within the BCS bylaws based on selling tickets, boosting television ratings and maximizing revenue. That should be obvious by now.
  • Alabama is No. 1 in the country. If it beats Auburn and its SEC title opponent, it’s going to the national championship as No. 1 in the country. But honestly, even if Bama goes down, that doesn’t affect the formula too much just because the SEC is absolutely getting two BCS bids and only two BCS bids. (“Only two teams per conference” is a silly rule going away next year.)
  • Florida State is No. 2 in the country. If Florida State beats Florida – which just lost to Georgia Southern – and its ACC Coastal foe in the league title matchup, which will be a heavy underdog, the Seminoles are going to Pasadena for the BCS National Championship game. If anything, a Bama loss putting FSU as No. 1 only improves the Orange Bowl’s draft pick – the bowl who loses the No. 1 team in the country to the BCS title game gets the first replacement selection.
  • If Florida State blows this, all bets are off. If Florida State takes care of business, everything below looks very solid.
  • Clemson is No. 7 in the BCS Standings this morning. At 9 p.m. tonight, it will almost certainly be No. 5, passing Baylor and Oregon (I’ll allow for a chance Baylor doesn’t fall quite that far, or even that Missouri hops Clemson, but not both.) Let’s say the Tigers are no worse than sixth. South Carolina, the only team left on Clemson’s schedule, is a very strong No. 11 right now; we’ll see if the Gamecocks climb over the Bears or Ducks, but with Texas A&M and UCLA going down Saturday, there’s a clear gap between the Elite 11 and everyone else.
  • No. 6 Clemson at No. 11 South Carolina Saturday night. Let’s say South Carolina blows out Clemson by 7 touchdowns. (Sorry for the imagery. I’ll wait until you stop shuddering.) There’s really no realistic way the Tigers fall out of the top 14 in the final BCS standings.
  • There are no other ACC squads in the top 25 of the current BCS Standings. Maybe Duke squeezes in there tonight. Doesn’t really matter. Barring a Florida State collapse in the ACC Championship game, which would give its conqueror an automatic trip to the Orange Bowl, Clemson will be the only non-FSU team in the top 14 of the BCS from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
  • One other hypothetical to scoot out of the way: Tajh Boyd stays healthy. A Clemson team without Tajh Boyd loses its shine to a national audience.

Now, for some more complex explanations. Here are the BCS selection process guidelines to help you along.

  • You have to remember that if Alabama and Florida State go to the national championship game, the Orange Bowl will get the second and third overall draft picks out of the five available. (Again, if Bama goes down, the Orange gets first and third.) That’s because of the at-large draft order this year: Orange, then Sugar, then Fiesta. That part’s important: less of a chance New Orleans poaches Clemson, because, well, the Sugar Bowl won’t even have a chance by then.
  • The Post and Courier has it on good authority that the Orange Bowl would most prefer to have an ACC team. And that the Sugar Bowl would most prefer to have an SEC. And that the Rose Bowl would most prefer a Big Ten-Pac 12 matchup. This is somewhat common knowledge; but our reporters have spoken with bowl officials, who don’t really make it much of a secret. Conference loyalty is the way they operate.
  • In fact, the BCS selection procedures don’t explicitly outlaw conference-affiliated bowls cheating on their own conferences, but they strongly discourage them. From the rules: “Further, when two bowls lose host teams, the bowl losing the No. 1 team may not select a replacement team from the same conference as the No. 2 team, unless the bowl losing the No. 2 team consents.”
  • So, if it’s No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Florida State, the Sugar would get to pick before the Orange. If it’s No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2, say, Auburn, the Orange would get to pick before the Sugar. But if the Sugar wanted to poach an ACC team, or the Orange wanted to poach an SEC team, that bowl would have to call up the other bowl and ask permission. Let’s use this metaphor: call up your buddy and suggest switching wives for the week. See how hard he laughs or how quickly he hangs up. Yeah. So there you go.

With all that in mind, what are the odds it’ll be Orange descending on Orange on Jan. 3?

About 14 out of 15. Literally.

The BCS was born in 1998. Its first eight years involved one of the four major bowls serving as the national championship, and its past eight years have instituted the plus-one matchup. The ACC has been contractually tied to the Orange Bowl since the switch, in 2006. The relationship goes back further than that. Hold that thought.

The ACC champion has played in the Orange Bowl 11 of the 15 years of the BCS era. In two of those years, Florida State (1998 and 1999) was elsewhere playing for a national title; after the 2004 season, the Orange Bowl had to host USC and Oklahoma for the national title, sending Virginia Tech to the Sugar Bowl.

And then there’s New Year’s Day 2003: a bizarre sequence of events when the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl were fighting over Southern Cal-Iowa, a game ending up in Miami … sending poor Florida State to the Sugar Bowl. How did that happen? It was No. 4 USC vs. No. 5 Iowa; the Seminoles were No. 14. It took about as wide a gap as you could sketch in the rankings for the guys in orange jackets to pass on its ACC champion.

Again, the Trojans and Hawkeyes were in the top 5. The Orange wanted what was referred to as a “Rose Bowl East”, and this happened before the plus-one switch which then contractually obligated conference champions to certain bowls. So if you’re thinking the Orange Bowl would go for Ohio State-Stanford, it can’t. Not anymore.

Realistically, after last night’s results (OK State over Baylor, Arizona over Oregon), the highest-rated team in the final BCS Standings that doesn’t win its conference crown and is not from the SEC … will be somewhere around No. 8 or No. 9. Clemson, with a bad USC loss, would be No. 12-ish. That’s not a seismic gap, like it was in 2003. Not even close.

One outlying year out of 15. The Orange Bowl wants an ACC team, and has said so. Clemson will be perfectly available and attractive. Florida State will be attractive, but unavailable (once again: barring an ACC title calamity.) All other ACC teams are neither.

Here’s guessing fans who hated those purple uniforms will scream to wear orange at the Orange.

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