Our First Ever College Football Bowl Matchup Projections: LSU Snubbed?

Three weeks into the 2012-13 college football season we’re starting to get a clearer picture of teams. Some, like USC or say, the entire Big Ten, have stumbled to open the year. Others, like Alabama, have exceeded even some of our loftiest preseason expectations. It’s still early, but these early results do mean something, even if most people tend to overreact to them.

To get a good picture for expectations going in to conference play, we can use our college football projections page. These numbers use our power ratings to simulate the season thousands of times, while also applying some nifty techniques like error analysis.

(Since it’s still very early in the season, we don’t have very high confidence our current ratings are correct — or very close to correct — for all teams, so when we do our season simulations we also analyze “what if” scenarios that assume our rating for each team is actually wrong by a certain amount. It’s cool stuff.)

From these season projection models, we calculate odds of winning the conference, being bowl eligible, or even going undefeated. However, because of all the complexity and subjective factors at play, one thing our automated projections don’t do is forecast which teams will play in which bowl games. We may have Florida State projecting at 11.2 wins this year, but our simulator has no idea what bowl that will likely result in.

As much as we like computerizing everything, sometimes a good old human being’s judgment layered on top of our computer outputs is still the best way to go.

So for the first time, we present to you the 83.2% automated, 16.8% subjective TeamRankings.com 2012-13 college football bowl game matchup projections. We hope to update these a few more times throughout the 2012-13 season in follow-on blog posts.

One final note — there are a lot of rules and rules of thumb that go into bowl game matchup selections, along with trying to guess at  judgment calls that other humans (the selection committees for various bowls) get to make. If we made what you feel is an error or a preposterous assumption, let us know in the comments and we’ll discuss/update if warranted. It’s our first swing at this.

2012-2013 BCS Bowl Game Matchup Projections

BCS National Championship Game:  Alabama vs. Florida State

Alabama has been dominant so far, and looks head and shoulders better than any other team in college football. Don’t get us wrong here…any team can screw up, especially in a perpetually loaded SEC, but it would be foolish to project the Crimson Tide to be anywhere besides sunny Miami come early January.

As for forecasting the Tide’s opponent, Florida State is definitely a less certain pick. The Seminoles have a history of greatness, but they haven’t been an elite team for a while. Still, three dominating wins so far this year have them in prime position to steamroll the ACC, and an undefeated season (35.5% chance right now) should get them to the BCS title game. FSU projects very well right now.

Why not LSU? Keep reading…

Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Stanford

LSU is actually #2 in our New Rankings, which would normally put them in position for the championship game. Alabama is looking so good, though, that barring a major slip up, the Tide’s performance should look clearly superior to LSU’s this year. My sense of human nature says that gap in perception will prevent LSU from reaching the #2 slot in the human polls. Unlike last year, I don’t think most humans will believe that a matchup between these two SEC powers represents the most righteous national championship game, which leaves the Tigers in the Sugar Bowl after another elite season.

After a shaky start to the year against San Jose State, Stanford’s win over USC wasn’t just another episode in what’s become a serious NorCal vs. SoCal rivalry — it was very important for the Cardinal’s bowl prospects. Two Pac-12 teams will probably make the BCS bowls, and Stanford is now running second behind Oregon in projected wins. We’ll see if Week 3’s success generates lasting momentum the post-Andrew Luck program can build on, but as of now, that’s our bet.

Rose Bowl: Nebraska vs. Oregon

The Big Ten has really struggled so far this year, and Nebraska was one of the culprits with their loss to UCLA. Still, between preseason expectations and their two easy wins the Cornhuskers are our highest ranked Big Ten team, and the favorite to make the Rose Bowl. Purdue is also a dark horse threat to come from the vacuum in the Leaders division, though.

Oregon got knocked back a little when USC got upset at Stanford this past Saturday, as the Cardinal are now breathing down Oregon’s neck in terms of conference win odds. As of now, the Ducks will probably have to take care of their own business and beat Stanford to make the conference championship. Although it’s far from a lock, odds are they will, and we see roses in their future.

Orange Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Texas

Cincinnati gets the automatic Big East big in our analysis, but it’s really a tossup with Rutgers and Louisville. None of the those three teams look good enough to deserve a spot in a BCS bowl, though, and consequently this auto-bid will be an easy target for whomever their opponent is. Lambs to the slaughter…

The Orange Bowl technically has an ACC tie-in, but our ACC champion ends up in the title game, and no other member is worthy of the BCS. Texas is currently our #2 in the Big 12, assuming they continue the quality play they’ve displayed so far this year.

Fiesta Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

Before the season we noted that Notre Dame had one of the hardest schedules in the nation. So far the Fighting Irish have been up to the task. Even with a couple of losses likely to come, they are well on their way to their first BCS bowl game since 2007, despite Rick Reilly’s preseason rants.

Like LSU, Oklahoma is a serious contender for the title game. Our rankings currently have Oklahoma and Florida State almost neck and neck. Oklahoma has a considerably harder schedule though, and while this could be a boon in the computer ratings it also gives the Sooners many more chances to mess up. So the Fiesta bowl is probably the most likely outcome for them.

All Bowl Game Matchup Projections (After Week 3)

We can’t step through all of the bowl games occurring this year with explanation, but we present our forecasted matchups for all bowl games in the table below. We considered any team that our models currently give over 50% odds of being bowl eligible as qualified to be listed below.

Keep in mind that the stated tie-ins don’t always play out because of a lack of bowl eligibility (in the lower tier bowls especially), multiple teams from a conference qualifying for BCS bowls, etc.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.

BowlDateLocationTie- InsTeam OneTeam Two
BCS National ChampionshipJan. 7Miami, Fla.BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2AlabamaFlorida St.
GoDaddy.comJan. 6Mobile, Ala.MAC No. 2 vs. Sun Belt No. 2ToledoLouisiana Monroe
BBVA CompassJan. 5Birmingham, Ala.SEC No. 8/9 vs. Big East No. 5/C-USAMissouriSouth Florida
CottonJan. 4Arlington, Tex.Big 12 No. 2 vs. SEC 3/4Oklahoma St.Texas A&M
FiestaJan. 3Glendale, Ariz.Big 12 vs. BCS At-LargeOklahomaNotre Dame
SugarJan. 2New Orleans, LaSEC vs. BCS At-LargeLSUStanford
OrangeJan. 1Miami, Fla.ACC vs. BCS At-LargeTexasCincinnati
RoseJan. 1Pasadena, Calif.Big Ten vs. Pac-12NebraskaOregon
TicketCityJan. 1Dallas, Tex.Big Ten No. 7 vs. C-USAIllinoisWashington
OutbackJan. 1Tampa, Fla.Big Ten No. 3 vs. SEC 3/4PurdueGeorgia
GatorJan. 1Jacksonville, Fla.Big Ten No. 4 vs. SEC No. 6MichiganMississippi St.
Capital OneJan. 1Orlando, Fla.Big Ten No. 2 vs. SEC No. 2Michigan St.Florida
SunDec. 31El Paso, Tex.ACC No. 4 vs. Pac-12 No. 4NC StateArizona
Music CityDec. 31Nashville, Tenn.ACC No. 6 vs. SEC No. 7DukeVanderbilt
LibertyDec. 31Memphis, Tenn.C-USA No. 1 vs. Big East/SEC No. 8/9TulsaTennessee
Chick-fil-ADec. 31Atlanta, Ga.ACC No. 2 vs. SEC No. 5Georgia TechSouth Carolina
PinstripeDec. 29New York, N.Y.Big 12 No. 7 vs. Big East No. 4Iowa St.Connecticut
Kraft Fight HungerDec. 29San Francisco, Calif.Pac-12 No. 6 vs. NavyUtahBaylor
Buffalo Wild WingsDec. 29Phoenix, Ariz.Big 12 No. 4 vs. Big Ten No. 5Texas TechNorthwestern
Armed ForcesDec. 29Fort Worth, Tex.MWC No 4/5 vs. C-USA No. 3San Diego St.East Carolina
AlamoDec. 29San Antonio, Tex.Big 12 No. 3 vs. Pac-12 No. 2TCUUSC
Russell AthleticDec. 28Orlando, Fla.Big East No. 2 vs. ACC No. 3RutgersClemson
Meineke Car CareDec. 28Houston, Tex.Big 12 No. 6 vs. Big Ten No. 6West VirginiaWisconsin
IndependenceDec. 28Shreveport, La.SEC No. 10 vs. ACC No. 7Louisiana LafayetteUtah St.
MilitaryDec. 27Washington, D.C.ACC No. 8 vs. Army/C-USA No. 6San Jose St.Ball St.
HolidayDec. 27San Diego, Calif.Pac-12 No. 3 vs. Big 12 No. 5UCLAKansas St.
BelkDec. 27Charlotte, N.C.Big East No. 3 vs. ACC No. 5LouisvilleVirginia Tech
Little CaesarsDec. 26Detroit, Mich.MAC No. 1 vs. Big Ten No. 8OhioIowa
HawaiiDec. 24Honolulu, HawaiiMWC/WAC vs. C-USA No. 2Air ForceCentral Florida
New OrleansDec. 22New Orleans, La.Sun Belt No. 1 vs. C-USA No. 5Western KentuckyHawaii
Las VegasDec. 22Las Vegas, Nev.MWC No. 1 vs. Pac-12 No. 5Boise St.Arizona St.
Beef O'Brady'sDec. 21St. Petersburg, Fla.Big East No. 6 vs. C-USA No. 4North TexasWestern Michigan
PoinsettiaDec. 20San Diego, Calif.MWC No. 2 vs. BYUFresno St.BYU
New MexicoDec. 15Albuquerque, N.M.MWC No. 4/5 vs. Pac-12 No. 7/WACNevadaOregon St.
Famous Idaho PotatoDec. 15Boise, IdahoMAC No. 3 vs. WACNorthern IllinoisLouisiana Tech