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Bowl projections: Will Northern Illinois, Fresno State crash BCS?

Here are our fourth bowl projections of the season, which is the last with the BCS in place.

Once again, the projection this week is that Alabama and Oregon will meet in the title game. In addition, the projection is the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC will have two teams apiece in the BCS. The ACC never has had two BCS bids in the same season.

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Notre Dame will be a BCS team if it gets to 10 wins and probably would get in with nine. But getting to nine victories is going to be tough for the Irish, which already has two losses and games remaining against USC and Stanford, among others.

The first BCS standings of the season come out Oct. 20. The final standings will be released Dec. 8.

BCS rules stipulate that a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference (Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt) is guaranteed a spot if it finishes in the top 12 of the final BCS standings or finishes in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and is ranked ahead of a league champ from an automatic qualifying conference. The Mountain West's Fresno State and the MAC's Northern Illinois are unbeaten and should be favored in the rest of their games. If either of those teams finish unbeaten, pencil them in as BCS participants. Each also has a shot if it loses only once, as with Northern Illinois last season; NIU had a loss but still received an Orange Bowl bid.

Remember that a bowl's tie-in with a league doesn't necessarily mean it will get the third- or fourth-, etc., place team from the league; instead, it means it gets the third or fourth, etc., selection from that league.

BCS MATCHUPS

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Site: Pasadena, Calif.
Date: Jan. 6
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2
Projection: Alabama vs. Oregon
Note: SEC power vs. Pac-12 finesse. It would be a fitting end to the BCS era. But will either of these teams finish unbeaten? Both have tougher schedules than anyone in the Big Ten or Big 12.

SUGAR BOWL

Site: New Orleans
Date: Jan. 2
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: BCS/SEC vs. BCS
Projection: Florida State vs. Texas A&M
Note: The SEC champ is contractually obligated to the Sugar if it is not in the national title game. But the Sugar always wants an SEC team even if the champ is in the title game. A&M hasn't been in the Sugar Bowl since the 1998 season. And if Johnny Manziel does turn pro after this season, the bowl that has his final game will get a TV ratings boost. The Sugar gets the second pick among the at-large teams.

ORANGE BOWL

Site: Miami
Date: Jan. 3
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: BCS/ACC vs. BCS
Projection: Clemson vs. Baylor
Note: If the ACC champ is not in the BCS championship game, it is contractually obligated to go to the Orange Bowl. The Orange Bowl gets the first pick among the at-large teams. If Notre Dame is eligible for a BCS bowl, it's almost a certainty it will be the first at-large pick. But it will be tough for the Irish, given their schedule; they've already lost twice, and their Oct. 19 game vs. USC could determine whether they go to the BCS. A Baylor-Clemson game would blow out the scoreboard. Baylor hasn't been in a "major" bowl since the Cotton Bowl following the 1980 season; the Bears have made just four major bowl appearances in their history.

ROSE BOWL

Site: Pasadena, Calif.
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: 5 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: BCS/Big Ten vs. BCS/Pac-12
Projection: Ohio State vs. Stanford
Note: The Big Ten and Pac-12 champs head to Pasadena automatically if they are not in the title game. And even if one or both is in the title game, Rose Bowl organizers still crave a Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup.

FIESTA BOWL

Site: Glendale, Ariz.
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: BCS/Big 12 vs. BCS
Projection: Louisville vs. Oklahoma
Note: The Big 12 champ is contractually obligated to the Fiesta if it is not in the national title game. This season, the Fiesta gets the last pick among the at-large teams; hence, the AAC champ (Louisville) being picked to go here. Louisville went to the Sugar Bowl last season. Oklahoma is our pick, for the second week in a row, to win the Big 12, which might be the most wide open of any league race.

THE OTHER BOWLS

NEW MEXICO BOWL

Site: Albuquerque
Date: Dec. 21
Time/TV: 2 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Mountain West No. 4/5 vs. Pac-12 No. 7
Projection: Utah State vs. Arizona State
Note: The season-ending injury to Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton could make it difficult for the Aggies to get to the needed six wins.

LAS VEGAS BOWL

Site: Las Vegas
Date: Dec. 21
Time/TV: 3:30 p.m., ABC
Matchup: Mountain West No. 1 vs. Pac-12 No. 5
Projection: Fresno State vs. USC

FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL

Site: Boise, Idaho
Date: Dec. 21
Time/TV: 5:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Mid-American vs. Mountain West No. 6
Projection: Ball State vs. San Diego State

NEW ORLEANS BOWL

Site: New Orleans
Date: Dec. 21
Time/TV: 9 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Conference USA vs. Sun Belt
Projection: Tulane vs. Arkansas State

BEEF 'O' BRADY'S BOWL

Site: St. Petersburg, Fla.
Date: Dec. 23
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: AAC No. 6 vs. Conference USA
Projection: SMU vs. Middle Tennessee State

HAWAII BOWL

Site: Honolulu
Date: Dec. 24
Time/TV: 8 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Conference USA vs. Mountain West No. 4/5
Projection: Rice vs. Wyoming
Note: It makes sense to pick a Mountain West team that didn't play a regular-season game at Hawaii, and Wyoming fits that description.

LITTLE CAESARS PIZZA BOWL

Site: Detroit
Date: Dec. 26
Time/TV: 6 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Big Ten No. 8 vs. Mid-American
Projection: Western Kentucky vs. Bowling Green
Note: Projection is Big Ten won't be able to fill its slot. Western should get to at least six wins in coach Bobby Petrino's first season, and having Petrino would be a boon for any bowl of this ilk.

POINSETTIA BOWL

Site: San Diego
Date: Dec. 26
Time/TV: 9:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Army if bowl-eligible vs. Mountain West No. 2
Projection: Notre Dame vs. Boise State
Note: Projection is Army won't be eligible. If it doesn't qualify for the BCS, Notre Dame has no set "fallback position." But this matchup would appeal to a lot of people on a lot of levels, even if it is the day after Christmas.

MILITARY BOWL

Site: Washington, D.C.
Date: Dec. 27
Time/TV: 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: ACC No. 8 vs. Conference USA
Projection: Pittsburgh vs. Marshall

TEXAS BOWL

Site: Houston
Date: Dec. 28
Time/TV: 6 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Big Ten No. 6 vs. Big 12 No. 6
Projection: Northwestern vs. TCU

KRAFT FIGHT HUNGER BOWL

Site: San Francisco
Date: Dec. 27
Time/TV: 9:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: BYU if bowl-eligible vs. Pac-12 No. 6
Projection: BYU vs. Arizona

PINSTRIPE BOWL

Site: New York
Date: Dec. 28
Time/TV: Noon, ESPN
Matchup: AAC No. 4 vs. Big 12 No. 7
Projection: Cincinnati vs. Toledo
Note: Projection is Big 12 won't be able to fill its slot.

BELK BOWL

Site: Charlotte, N.C.
Date: Dec. 28
Time/TV: 3:20 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: AAC No. 3 vs. ACC No. 5
Projection: Rutgers vs. North Carolina State

RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL

Site: Orlando
Date: Dec. 28
Time/TV: 6:45 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: AAC No. 2 vs. ACC No. 3
Projection: UCF vs. Maryland
Note: UCF is in Orlando, but this bowl is played in Citrus Bowl Stadium, which is not UCF's home field.

BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL

Site: Tempe, Ariz.
Date: Dec. 28
Time/TV: 10:15 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Big Ten No. 4 vs. Big 12 No. 4
Projection: Nebraska vs. Texas
Note: Nebraska never liked how much sway Texas held in the Big 12. That would add an intriguing storyline to this matchup.

ARMED FORCES BOWL

Site: Fort Worth, Texas
Date: Dec. 30
Time/TV: 11:45 a.m., ESPN
Matchup: Mountain West No. 3 vs. Navy if bowl-eligible
Projection: San Jose State vs. Navy

MUSIC CITY BOWL

Site: Nashville
Date: Dec. 30
Time/TV: 3:15 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: ACC No. 6 vs. SEC No. 7
Projection: Georgia Tech vs. Ole Miss

ALAMO BOWL

Site: San Antonio
Date: Dec. 30
Time/TV: 6:45 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Big 12 No. 3 vs. Pac-12 No. 2
Projection: Oklahoma State vs. UCLA

HOLIDAY BOWL

Site: San Diego
Date: Dec. 30
Time/TV: 10:15 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Big 12 No. 5 vs. Pac-12 No. 3
Projection: West Virginia vs. Washington

ADVOCARE V100 BOWL

Site: Shreveport, La.
Date: Dec. 31
Time/TV: 12:30 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: ACC No. 7 vs. SEC No. 10
Projection: North Carolina vs. Ohio
Note: This formerly was known as the Independence Bowl. Projection is the SEC won't be able to fill its slot.

SUN BOWL

Site: El Paso, Texas
Date: Dec. 31
Time/TV: 2 p.m., CBS
Matchup: ACC No. 4 vs. Pac-12 No. 4
Projection: Virginia Tech vs. Oregon State

LIBERTY BOWL

Site: Memphis
Date: Dec. 31
Time/TV: 4 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Conference USA No. 1 vs. SEC No. 8 or 9/AAC No. 6
Projection: East Carolina vs. Missouri

CHICK-FIL-A BOWL

Site: Atlanta
Date: Dec. 31
Time/TV: 8 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: ACC No. 2 vs. SEC No. 5
Projection: Miami vs. South Carolina

HEART OF DALLAS BOWL

Site: Dallas
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: Noon, ESPNU
Matchup: Big Ten No. 7 vs. Conference USA
Projection: Iowa vs. North Texas
Note: North Texas hasn't been in a bowl since 2004. UNT is in Denton, a Dallas suburb.

GATOR BOWL

Site: Jacksonville
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: Noon, ESPN2
Matchup: Big Ten No. 5 vs. SEC No. 6
Projection: Michigan State vs. Auburn

CAPITAL ONE BOWL

Site: Orlando
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: 1 p.m., ABC
Matchup: Big Ten No. 2 vs. SEC No. 2
Projection: Michigan vs. Georgia

OUTBACK BOWL

Site: Tampa
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: 1 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Big Ten No. 3 vs. SEC No. 3/4
Projection: Wisconsin vs. Florida

COTTON BOWL

Site: Arlington, Texas
Date: Jan. 3
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m., Fox
Matchup: Big 12 No. 2 vs. SEC No. 3/4
Projection: Texas Tech vs. LSU

BBVA COMPASS BOWL

Site: Birmingham, Ala.
Date: Jan. 4
Time/TV: 1 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: AAC No. 5 vs. SEC No. 8/9
Projection: Houston vs. Vanderbilt

GODADDY.COM BOWL

Site: Mobile, Ala.
Date: Jan. 5
Time/TV: 9 p.m., ESPN
Matchup: Mid-American vs. Sun Belt
Projection: Northern Illinois vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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