First, the rules. The six "BCS Conferences (Big East, ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-10) get automatic bids.
There are four bowl games (Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Rose), plus the BCS National Championship game to fill. So the remaining four spots are filled by at-large selections, for which the following rules apply:
--Any team in the top 14 of the BCS standings is eligible to be chosen.
--A team from a midmajor conference is guaranteed a bid if they are in the top 12, HOWEVER, only one is required to be chosen if two are eligible.
--And this final rule, take it and drill it into your head, because the national media won't. NO CONFERENCE CAN HAVE MORE THAN ONE AT-LARGE TEAM. This opens up the field considerably. For example, there are teams that are going to be chosen whose resume is, at least as of this writing, not as good as LSU's. But the Tigers are the third wheel in the SEC right now and frozen out.
Those are hard-and-fast rules. Other principles to keep in mind is that losers of conference championship games have fared poorly. The only time the losers of such games have been chosen is Oklahoma in 2003, and Alabama last season. In both of those cases, they had been undefeated prior. Two-loss runner-ups have less a chance of success. Their fans have already traveled once and are coming off a loss. The former fact will be especially important in troubled economic times. That will be something to keep in mind if either Alabama or Florida stumble prior to playing each other.
Five of the BCS conferences are tied to a specific bowl (ACC--Orange, Big Ten & Pac-10--Rose, SEC--Sugar, Big 12--Fiesta). The Big East is eligible to go anywhere. The others can only be removed to play in the BCS National Championship Game. If a bowl loses a team to the top game, there is a tendency to like the runner-up from the same conference (if realistic) in the interests of maintaining tradition and the relationship with the league.
After the automatic slots are filled, the draft of teams begins. The first two picks are "replacement picks" for bowls that lost the #1 or #2 teams. Beyond that, it's a rotating order. This year, it goes Orange, Fiesta, Sugar.
With all that in mind, on with our story. Here's projected automatics.
Big East: Cincinnati
ACC: Georgia Tech
Big Ten: Ohio State (Stanzi's injury too much for Iowa to overcome)
SEC: Florida (picked them at the start, no reason to change now)
Big 12: Texas
BCS National Championship Game: #1 Florida vs. #2 Texas.
Sugar: Alabama. The Sugar not happy about a disheartened 'Bama team for a second straight year and would much prefer the Tide beat Florida. But a 12-1 SEC team can't be passed up. Should the SEC runner-up lose in the regular season, look for LSU to get this spot.
Orange: Penn State. I know, they lost to Iowa (who would also be 10-2 presumably) and haven't beaten anyone. But at 10-2, with a huge fan base in the East, they can drive up TV ratings in a bowl that needs a marquee name to carry the ACC.
Fiesta: TCU. At 12-0, they rank higher than Boise State and get the bid. The Fiesta has USC to carry the TV ratings and the Horned Frogs will bring a lot of fans from relatively nearby Fort Worth.
Sugar: Cincinnati. The last team left and guaranteed a spot.
That leaves our matchups as...
Rose: Ohio State-Oregon
Orange: Penn State-Georgia Tech
The Rose & Orange matchups intrigue me, as they would be opportunities for the Big Ten to bounce back. They aren't games that restore the league to the national elite, but they do indicate the bleeding has stopped. And TCU's game would be another opportunity for a midmajor program. I suspect USC would take this game seriously, as they've been out of the national title picture for awhile and would want to send a message. If the Horned Frogs won it, it would be another statement for the midmajors.