Time to put the BCS puzzle together.
There’s not a lot of mystery going into championship weekend. Mostly, everything should simply fall into place.
The spot opposite Notre Dame in the championship game will go to Alabama or Georgia, whichever one takes the SEC title. The winners of the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC championship games will each advance to a big game, as will the team that comes out on top in the Big East matchup between Louisville and Rutgers on Thursday night.
Florida and Oregon aren’t playing this weekend, but both are safe bets to land at-large bids to BCS games. Pencil in the Gators for the Sugar Bowl and the Ducks for the Fiesta.
The real BCS intrigue this weekend will happen at a most unlikely place: Detroit, where No. 18 Kent State and No. 19 Northern Illinois will be playing for the Mid-American Conference title Friday.
The MAC has never sent a team to the BCS, but it could benefit from the Big East’s struggles this season.
BCS rules state that if a champion from a conference without an automatic bid, such as the MAC, ranks in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and is ranked higher than a champion from one of the AQ leagues, such as the Big East, that non-AQ champ is guaranteed a spot in the BCS.
Neither Rutgers nor Louisville was ranked in last week’s BCS standings, so that opens the back door to a bid for the MAC champ.
Kent State was 17th and stands a good chance to move up one spot with a victory. UCLA is in 16th place and has to play at Stanford in the Pac-12 title game on Friday night.
"I won’t talk about that at all," MAC coach of the year Darrell Hazell said about Kent State’s BCS prospects. "I’ll talk about Northern Illinois. If our guys don’t focus on this Friday we won’t have the opportunity to play in some of those big games.
"This is huge, huge game for this university."
Northern Illinois is 21st in the BCS standings and could also get into the top 16, but would need a little extra help. It’s just as likely an NIU victory in the MAC title game will eliminate both the Huskies and the Golden Flashes.
Boise State, 20th in the standings, plays at Nevada on Saturday and can win a share of the Mountain West title. The Broncos also have a long shot chance at getting into the top 16, but it’d be tough for them to jump the MAC champion.
If a BCS buster does emerge, the biggest loser could be the Big 12.
No. 12 Oklahoma plays TCU on Saturday with a chance to close its season 10-2 (losses against Notre Dame and Kansas State) and earn a share of the conference title.
The Sooners can still win the Big 12 if they win and Kansas State loses to Texas. Still, there’s room for both in the BCS unless space needs to be created for Kent State or one of the other potential BCS busters.
If the Golden Flashes (11-1), who lost to Kentucky by 33 early in the season and later won at Rutgers, do find their way into the BCS, expect it to be in the Orange Bowl.
The Orange Bowl has the last selection among the BCS bowls and it’s not likely any other game will be rushing to take Kent State, or Northern Illinois (11-1) for that matter.
But rest assured those teams won’t be picky.