Brenner: Orange Bowl still looks like Clemson’s destination

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

CLEMSON – I first refer you to last week’s blog post.

From Nov. 25: “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.”

100-point loss, six turnovers. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

Even with the 31-17 loss Saturday at South Carolina, and other results around the country, No. 13 Clemson’s still projected by ESPN*, CBS, Sports IllustratedPhil Steele and SBNation to be in the Orange Bowl, and all four say it’ll be against Alabama. (Sporting News, Yahoo! Sports and USA Today have yet to release their updated projections as of Monday at 2 p.m.)

*-Edwards has Clemson-Alabama; Schlabach is picking MSU to beat OSU, and then the Orange Bowl to select UCF over Clemson. We’ll address this below.

I agree, wholeheartedly.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Here’s why. (All rankings are BCS Standings.)

These are four situations that would range from crushing to somewhat inconvenient for Clemson’s BCS hopes:

Scenario 1: No. 20 Duke beats No. 1 Florida State in the ACC Championship (Charlotte.) Duke automatically goes to the Orange Bowl. 1-loss FSU gets any BCS at-large consideration over 2-loss Clemson. Clemson goes to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, pretty much automatically. Florida State is a 29-point favorite over Duke (via VegasInsider.com)

Scenario 2: No. 10 Michigan State beats No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship (Indianapolis.) MSU automatically goes to the Rose Bowl. 1-loss Ohio State would be pretty much a lock for a BCS bid, and since the Rose Bowl is unavailable, the Orange Bowl – which would have the first pick – would have extremely high interest. Seeing as an OSU loss pretty much sends the SEC Championship winner (No. 3 Auburn or No. 5 Missouri) to the BCS title game against No. 1 FSU, 1-loss No. 4 Alabama would be basically a lock for the Sugar Bowl, so you figure the Orange Bowl snaps up 1-loss Ohio State with its first replacement pick. Then the Orange Bowl has the NEXT pick … and an Ohio State-Clemson Orange Bowl isn’t out of the question. By any stretch. Ohio State is a 5.5-point favorite over Michigan State.

Scenario 3: You’ve got three other important games going on that haven’t been discussed yet: No. 7 Stanford at No. 11 Arizona State in the Pac-12 Championship … No. 25 Texas at No. 9 Baylor … No. 17 Oklahoma at No. 6 Oklahoma State. Stay with me here.

The Stanford-ASU winner goes to the Rose Bowl automatically; the loser has three losses, risks falling out of the top 14 completely, and probably loses all at-large BCS consideration since No. 12 Oregon is sitting there idle with two losses. Oregon would make a ton of sense for the Fiesta Bowl, because of geography; but it should be mentioned the Ducks have been there two of the previous three years (2010 in the title-game loss to Auburn; 2012 beating Kansas State). For what it’s worth (not much), Arizona State is a 3.5-point favorite over Stanford.

As for the pair of Big XII showdowns: this is the one piece of this rundown that makes my head hurt. You’ve got 1-loss OSU, 1-loss Baylor and 3-loss Texas each still in the mix to win the Big 12 and go to the Fiesta Bowl; you’ve got 2-loss Oklahoma maybe clawing its way into the BCS top 14 with a road upset of the Cowboys. The easy solution is, we know that Oklahoma State locks up the Big XII and a Fiesta Bowl trip with a victory (since OSU defeated both Baylor and Texas.) If Oklahoma pulls the road upset, the Baylor-Texas winner is off to Glendale. If you look at point spreads, OSU and Baylor are heavy favorites.

Personally, I think the Big XII’s been underrated this year; I wouldn’t mind seeing the league grab an at-large bid somewhere. It’d have to be either the Sugar or the Orange. All depends on matchups and politics. For what it’s worth (a little bit), Baylor is a 13.5-point favorite over Texas; Oklahoma State is a 10.5-point favorite over Oklahoma.

Basically, with Oregon and a few Big 12 teams, you’ve got a few nice-looking options who are ranked right around Clemson but don’t have the ACC partnership with the Orange Bowl, and either lack or are on par with the Tigers’ traveling fan base and TV ratings power that comes with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins.

Which brings me to scenario 4.

Scenario 4: Even if Florida State, Ohio State and Oklahoma State all hold serve: The fellows in the orange blazers who determine Orange Bowl invitations, and those who do the same for the Sugar, Fiesta and Rose Bowls, have a complete change of heart and elect to shake things up for the sake of shaking things up. In Clemson’s case, perhaps this means the Orange Bowl taking a big-time underdog like Northern Illinois or Central Florida to match up with either Ohio State or Alabama. (Note: UCF’s by far the most likely candidate simply because of geography. The Orange Bowl has virtually no chance of inviting back NIU in back-to-back years.)

Or, they decide to say, screw it, let’s take 2-loss Oregon, which has a slight edge over 2-loss Clemson in the BCS Standings but a discernible disadvantage in geography and regional interest … or 1-loss Baylor, which has a better edge over 2-loss edge in the BCS Standings but a seismic disadvantage in geography and regional interest.

One scenario I haven’t even numbered: Michigan State loses to Ohio State, barely stays in the BCS top 14, and gets considered by the Orange Bowl. You’ve got 2-loss Clemson or 2-loss Michigan State there. Just one Big Ten grad and Clemson beat writer’s opinion: it would be stunning if the Orange Bowl opted for MSU there. Again, TV ratings and star power. MSU’s got a great defense. But most fans can’t name a single Spartan. Not to mention, the ACC would be pretty ticked at the Orange Bowl if that happened. One last factor: in this case, Alabama vs. Clemson or Alabama vs. Michigan State gives the Tigers a huge edge – HUGE edge – since Dabo Swinney would be going against his alma mater and ex-employer. I could be wrong, and will eat my words if it happens, but 2-loss MSU getting saved by the Orange Bowl seems out of the question (especially since MSU is still a logical pick for the Rose Bowl, assuming Ohio State’s in the BCS title fight.)

Scenario 1 guarantees no BCS bid for Clemson. But of course, it’s highly, highly unlikely.

Scenario 2 is pretty bad for Clemson’s BCS hopes, but not an eliminator. The Orange could still pit Ohio State vs. Clemson and be quite pleased with that matchup; two of the most consistent programs in the country in recent years have only met once in their history (Clemson 17, Ohio State 15 in the 1978 Gator Bowl.)

Scenario 3 makes my head hurt. But the odds say it’s unlikely.

Scenario 4? I can’t say for sure. None of us can. But from my multiple conversations with three Orange Bowl folks, they literally told me, “it’s no secret we prefer to honor our partnerships.”

Trust that The Post and Courier will continue to research and report on Clemson’s bowl destination up until the announcement this Sunday.

I start and end with this: that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

-AB

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