Bowl Projections 2011: Predictions, Scenarios For Michigan, BCS

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 26: Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates with students after beating Ohio State 40-34 at Michigan Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

UPDATE: Michigan is headed to the Sugar Bowl to play Virginia Tech.

Going into Saturday, Michigan needed some help to be in a position to land an at-large bid to a BCS bowl game. Thanks to an upset and some blowouts, the Wolverines did get quite a bit of help, but not quite enough to silence all doubt about them ending up in a BCS game. While it certainly looks like Michigan will jump into the top 14 and be one of the at-large teams, there are no guarantees. And even if the Wolverines do make the BCS, right now it's not clear where they would go or who they would play.

As it stands right now, the general consensus among the many bowl projections out there is that Michigan is headed to a BCS game. As has been the case the last few weeks, the most often mentioned destination is the Sugar Bowl, where Michigan was expected to play Houston. Since the Cougars lost on Saturday, there are a few teams that could end up in New Orleans to potentially take on the Wolverines. To say the least, there are a ton of different scenarios out there for Michigan's bowl game, so let's break everything down and take a look at the situation at hand.

Cracking the top 14

The biggest question mark for Michigan before Saturday was if enough would happen to propel the Wolverines into the top 14. To be eligible for an at-large selection, Michigan needs to be ranked in the top 14 of the final BCS standings, and last week the Wolverines were 16th. Considering No. 6 Houston, No. 10 Oklahoma and No. 14 Georgia all lost in blowout fashion, it's possible Michigan could gain three spots by passing those teams. No. 13 Michigan State could also fall below Michigan after losing to Wisconsin. At the same time, Michigan could potentially be jumped by No. 17 Baylor and possibly even No. 18 TCU and No. 20 Clemson, although only the former is viewed as a legitimate threat.

Because Michigan only needs to move up two spots, the Wolverines could jump into the top 14 even if Baylor moves ahead of them. Michigan just needs to pass three of the teams in the group that includes Houston, Oklahoma, Michigan State and Georgia. The odds are pretty good that Michigan will move past at least two of those schools, and three is certainly possible as well. Michigan could conceivably jump all four teams, but then again, the polls could also conceivably shake out in a way that keeps Michigan just outside of the top 14.

If Michigan is left out of the BCS

Should the BCS standings not have Michigan in the top 14, thus making the Wolverines ineligible for an at-large bid, they will likely play in the Capital One Bowl. Michigan State has played in a bowl game in Orlando in three of the last four seasons, and although Nebraska is an attractive option, it's a good bet that the Wolverines will be the Capital One Bowl's choice if they miss out on a BCS bowl, and it's also a good bet that their opponent would be South Carolina.

If the Capital One Bowl surprises people and goes with Nebraska or MSU, expect the Outback Bowl to jump at the chance to select Michigan. In Tampa, the Wolverines would likely be matched up against Georgia.

If Michigan cracks the top 14

If the Wolverines do end up in the top 14, it is considered a lock that a BCS game will select them as an at-large team. Although there are other teams in the at-large pool with similar or better records -- Stanford, Boise State, Kansas State and Virginia Tech, for example -- Michigan is expected to be the first at-large choice if it is eligible. The Wolverines will travel well, and if the matchup is right, they should bring in some solid ratings as well. While what happened on the field this season is part of the criteria, putting together matchups for the four non-national championship BCS games ultimately comes down to money. Luckily for Michigan, its fan base and overall appeal means it is an attractive option for bowl games.

Path to the Sugar Bowl

Michigan has been predicted to end up in the Sugar Bowl for weeks based on LSU and Alabama meeting in the BCS National Championship. LSU is for sure going to be in the game and will be ranked No. 1 in the nation, meaning the Sugar Bowl will get the first at-large selection to fill the vacancy created by losing the SEC champion. Normally Alabama would get this spot, but if the Crimson Tide end up playing LSU in the title game, then the Sugar Bowl will have to look elsewhere. This is where Michigan comes in as the most attractive at-large option and becomes one of the teams playing in the Sugar Bowl.

Who will the Wolverines play if this scenario plays out and they end up in the Sugar Bowl? Right now it's not clear. If TCU moves into the top 16 of the final BCS standings and automatically qualifies for an at-large bid, chances are the Horned Frogs would play Michigan. If TCU fails to crack the top 16, however, Michigan could potentially be matched up against Kansas State (at-large bid), Boise State (at-large bid) or even West Virginia (Big East champion). It would come down to which team the Sugar Bowl thinks is the most attractive in terms of the matchup. The consensus seems to be that Kansas State would be selected to play Michigan, but given all that happened with Michigan and West Virginia and Rich Rodriguez, it would not be surprising if the Sugar Bowl went with a Wolverines/Mountaineers matchup.

Path to the Fiesta Bowl

Thanks to Oklahoma State crushing Oklahoma, the Cowboys are back in the conversation for the BCS National Championship. There is a debate raging on about if Oklahoma State should get a shot at LSU or if Alabama deserves a rematch. If Michigan makes the top 14, where it ends up in the BCS will come down to which side of the debate wins. If Alabama is tabbed as LSU's opponent, as noted above, Michigan will likely be chosen to play in the Sugar Bowl. However, if Oklahoma State jumps to No. 2 and is selected as LSU's opponent, the Wolverines are likely headed to Glendale for the Fiesta Bowl. Allow me to explain why.

If the Big 12 champion isn't ranked in the top two in the nation, it plays in the Fiesta Bowl. This means that the Fiesta Bowl would lose its tie-in if Oklahoma State ends up in the BCS National Championship. The expectation would be for the Sugar Bowl to replace LSU with Alabama. The Fiesta Bowl would then get to select its replacement for Oklahoma State, and just like the scenario in the last section, Michigan is expected to be considered the most attractive option. Since the Fiesta Bowl would get back-to-back at-large picks in this scenario based on the selection order, it could choose Michigan and a team like Stanford to meet in Glendale on Jan. 2.

Prediction

To arrive at a prediction for where Michigan will be playing this upcoming bowl season, some questions need to be answered. For starters, will Michigan crack the top 14 of the BCS standings? If no, pencil Michigan in for the Capital One Bowl. If yes, it's necessary to ask this question: Will Oklahoma State or Alabama play LSU in the BCS National Championship? If you go with the former, Michigan is likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl, whereas the latter likely puts Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.

After sorting through everything, my prediction is that Michigan will take on Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. I do think Michigan will be ranked in the top 14, and I think Oklahoma State will surprisingly jump up to No. 2 in the nation. This scenario would put Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and open up the door for the Fiesta Bowl to put together a matchup between Michigan and Stanford that features Denard Robinson vs. Andrew Luck and the team that wanted Jim Harbaugh a year ago vs. the team that Jim Harbaugh left a year ago.

Should Alabama make the BCS National Championship, I expect Michigan to be matched up against West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl. I do not think TCU will be in the top 16, and I don't see the Sugar Bowl going with Kansas State as Michigan's opponent. Michigan/West Virginia is the more appealing matchup, as it would almost certainly be dubbed the "Rich Rodriguez Bowl." There are storylines galore with this matchup, and that can't be said about Michigan/Kansas State.

To sum this all up, Michigan seems to be in good shape as far as the BCS is concerned. Where specifically Michigan will end up depends on what happens with the BCS National Championship. I personally think the Fiesta Bowl is where the Wolverines will be playing, but the key thing is that a BCS bid -- Fiesta or Sugar -- does seem likely for Michigan.

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