It's looking more and more likely that the ACC will be one of the few conferences to have more bowl eligible teams than contractual bowl tie-ins this season. If that's the case, the programs at the bottom of the ACC bowl pecking order will have to hope that another conference won't be able to fill all of their bowl game obligations; allowing them to slot in to a bowl as an at-large.
Notre Dame will need to hope for the same and the Irish will likely land in one of these bowls. Let's review which bowls may be looking for at-large bowl teams in a few week's time.
American 1 - BCS at-large
American 2 - Russell Athletic (Orlando)
American 3 - Belk (Charlotte)
American 4 - Pinstripe (New York)
American 5 - BBVA Compass (Birmingham)
American 6 - Beef 'O' Brady's (St. Petersburg)
Outlook: The American will likely finish with one less bowl eligible team than bowl tie-ins (and just one BCS at-large spot), freeing up the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg. Rutgers has a difficult two-game stretch upcoming but finishes @ UConn and vs. South Florida. The Scarlet Knights pick up at least one more win to become bowl eligible. The remaining team's bowl hopes appear bleak. SMU needs to win three of four and ends the year @ Houston and vs. UCF. USF and Memphis both need to win out, but have yet to face one another, so one of those two will be out after this weekend. The winner then still has to win @ UCF (USF) or @ Louisville (Memphis). Neither scenario seems likely.
Bowl Free Agent: Beef 'O' Brady's (St. Petersburg)
Big 12 1 - Fiesta Bowl (Glendale)
Big 12 2 - Cotton (Arlington)
Big 12 3 - Alamo (San Antonio)
Big 12 4 - Buffalo Wild Wings (Phoenix)
Big 12 5 - Holiday (San Diego)
Big 12 6 - Texas (Houston)
Big 12 7 - Pinstripe (New York)
Big 12 8 - Heart of Dallas
Outlook: The top of the Big 12 standings is still a bit of a mess considering Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State have yet to play one another. As such, and even without a conference championship game, the Big 12 has very little chance of getting a team in the BCS besides its conference champion. The Big 12 has five eligible and three still alive. Kansas State needs just one win and ends the season @ Kansas. West Virginia needs to win out in games @ Kansas and Iowa State. TCU needs to win out with a schedule of Iowa State and @ Baylor. K-State and WVU are likely in, but TCU is out. That leaves the conference's no. 8 bowl, the Heart of Dallas bowl, unfilled.
Bowl Free Agent: Heart of Dallas
Big Ten 1 - Rose Bowl (Pasadena)
Big Ten 2 - Capital One (Orlando)
Big Ten 3 - Outback (Tampa)
Big Ten 4 - Gator (Jacksonville)
Big Ten 5 - Buffalo Wild Wings (Phoenix)
Big Ten 6 - Texas (Houston)
Big Ten 7 - Heart of Dallas
Big Ten 8 - Little Caesars (Detroit)
Bowl Eligible Teams (7): Ohio St. Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0), Michigan St. Spartans (8-1, 5-0), Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-2, 4-1), Wisconsin Badgers (7-2, 4-1), Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-2, 4-2), Iowa Hawkeyes (6-4, 3-3), Michigan Wolverines (6-3, 2-3)
Outlook: Barring some unforeseen craziness like Ohio State losing in the Big Ten title game, it doesn't look like the Big Ten will be able to get two teams into the BCS this year. That leaves seven bowl eligible teams for eight bowls. Northwestern, Indiana and Illinois are all fighting to become bowl eligible, but things don't look too promising for any of these programs. NU needs two wins out of Michigan / Michigan State / @ Illinois. Indiana also needs two wins but draws @ Wisconsin and @ Ohio State over the next two weeks. Illinois has to win out and has yet to play Ohio State (this weekend). My guess is the Big Ten already has all the bowl eligible teams it will have this season.
Bowl Free Agent: Little Caesars (Detroit)
C-USA 1 - Liberty (Memphis)
C-USA 2 - Hawaii
C-USA 3 / Navy - Armed Forces (Dallas) - taken by Navy
C-USA 4 - Beef 'O' Brady's (St. Petersburg)
C-USA 5 - Military (Annapolis)
C-USA 6 - New Orleans
Bowl Eligible Teams (6): East Carolina Pirates (7-2, 5-1), North Texas Mean Green (7-3, 5-1), Marshall Thundering Herd (6-3, 4-1), Rice Owls (6-3, 4-1), Middle Tenn. St. Blue Raiders (6-4, 4-2), Tulane Green Wave (6-4, 4-2)
Outlook: With no threats to crash the BCS, Conference USA is right at an even 6 bowl eligible teams, 6 conference bowl tie-ins. Even though FAU needs to win out, the schedule is favorable (@ Southern Miss, New Mexico State, FIU) and the Owls should become bowl eligible. UTSA may also become bowl eligible win a win in one of its final two games (@ North Texas, Louisiana Tech) but the transitional FBS program may not wind up in a bowl game, especially if the ACC has more bowl teams than tie-ins. Louisiana Tech might pick up two more wins over the final three games, but will be facing a similar challenge as UTSA. Historically, teams from Conference USA, MAC and the Sun Belt are the ones that get left out if there are more bowl eligible teams than bowl slots. That's not good news for the teams with work left to do (FAU, UTSA, La. Tech).
Bowl Free Agents: None
MAC 1 - Little Caesars (Detroit)
MAC 2 - GoDaddy.com (Mobile)
MAC 3 - Idaho Potato (Boise State)
Bowl Ineligible (6): Akron Zips (3-7, 2-4), Kent St. Golden Flashes (2-8, 1-5), Eastern Michigan Eagles (2-8, 1-5), Western Michigan Broncos (1-9, 1-5), UMass Minutemen (1-8, 1-4), Miami (Ohio) RedHawks (0-9, 0-5)
Still Alive (1): Central Michigan Chippewas (3-6, 2-3)
Outlook: The combined record of Central Michigan's final three opponents is 4-25, so it's entirely possible that the Chippewas become the MAC's seventh bowl eligible team. The problem is that there are only three contractual conference bowl tie-ins and NIU needs Fresno State to lose to crash the BCS party for the second straight season. The MAC may be able to get some of these eligible teams into a bowl, but not if there are more than a few ACC teams that need to be thrown into the at-large pool.
Bowl Free Agent: None
MWC 1 - Las Vegas
MWC 2 - Poinsettia (San Diego)
MWC 3 - Armed Forces (Ft. Worth)
MWC 4 - New Mexico (Albuquerque)
MWC 5 - Hawaii
MWC 6 - Idaho Potato (Boise)
Outlook: With Fresno State in position to land in the BCS, the Mountain West will pick up another bowl slot. That's a good thing, as the conference will likely have more bowl eligible teams than available bowl games.
Bowl Free Agents: None
Pac-12 1 - Rose (Pasadena)
Pac-12 2 - Alamo (San Antonio)
Pac-12 3 - Holiday (San Diego)
Pac-12 4 - Sun (El Paso)
Pac-12 5 - Las Vegas
Pac-12 6 - Fight Hunger (San Francisco)
Pac-12 7 - New Mexico (Albuquerque)
Bowl Eligible Teams (8): Stanford Cardinal (8-1, 6-1), Oregon Ducks (8-1, 6-1), Arizona St. Sun Devils (7-2, 5-1), UCLA Bruins (7-2, 4-2), USC Trojans (7-3, 4-2), Oregon St. Beavers (6-3, 4-2), Arizona Wildcats (6-3, 3-3), Washington Huskies (6-3, 3-3)
Bowl Ineligible (1): California Golden Bears (1-9, 0-7)
Outlook: The Pac-12 currently has eight bowl eligible spots for seven bowls with the chances of landing a second team in the BCS slim this week. Three teams are still alive, including Colorado, which received a bowl game waiver from the NCAA for having six total wins with two of those vs. FCS (due to the Boulder floods canceling CU's game vs. Fresno State). Utah may make nine bowl eligible teams with wins over @ Washington State and Colorado, but I don't see the conference putting more than nine in the postseason.
Bowl Free Agent: None
SEC 1 - Sugar (New Orleans)
SEC 2 - Capital One (Orlando)
SEC 3 - Cotton (Arlington)
SEC 4 - Outback (Tampa)
SEC 5 - Peach (Atlanta)
SEC 6 - Gator (Jacksonville)
SEC 7 - Music City (Nashville)
SEC 8 - Liberty (Memphis)
SEC 9 - BBVA Compass (Birmingham)
SEC 10 - Independence (Shreveport)
Bowl Eligible Teams (8): Alabama Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0), Missouri Tigers (9-1, 5-1), Auburn Tigers (9-1, 5-1), Texas A&M Aggies (8-2, 4-2), South Carolina Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2), LSU Tigers (7-3, 3-3), Georgia Bulldogs (6-3, 4-2), Mississippi Rebels (6-3, 3-3)
Outlook: The SEC is all but assured a second spot in this year's BCS bowls this week, meaning that the conference will have a total of 11 bowl slots. Even if two of the four teams still alive for a bowl berth make it, the conference will still have one spot available. With a win over Florida, Vandy is all but assured bowl eligibility this season with a schedule (Kentucky, @ Tennessee, Wake Forest) that eases considerably down the stretch. Florida is going to need to spring at least one upset in games @ South Carolina or vs. Florida State to clinch a bowl berth. Tennessee needs wins in each of the Vols' final two games -- Vanderbilt, @ Kentucky -- to get there. Same can more or less be said for Mississippi State which, after this weekend's game vs. #1 Alabama, draws @ Arkansas and Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. I've got Vanderbilt in, the rest out. That gives the SEC a total of nine bowl eligible teams for a presumed 11 bowl slots.
Bowl Free Agents: BBVA Compass (Birmingham), Independence (Shreveport)
Sun Belt 1 - New Orleans
Sun Belt 2 - GoDaddy.com (Mobile)
Bowl Ineligible (1): Georgia State Panthers (0-9, 0-4) - FBS transitional
Outlook: Like Conference USA and the MAC, the Sun Belt will only get more than two teams in a bowl if there are available bowl slots and no power conference at-large teams. That's potentially bad news for the odd bowl eligible program out (Texas State? Western Kentucky?)
Bowl Free Agent: None
Army - Poinsettia (San Diego)
Navy - Armed Forces (Ft. Worth)
BYU - Fight Hunger (San Francisco)
Still Alive (1): Navy Midshipmen (5-4)
Outlook: Navy will get to six, taking the spot in the Ft. Worth-based Armed Forces Bowl. But Army is now bowl ineligible, opening up a slot in the Poinsettia Bowl. BYU's long shot chances of landing a BCS at-large ended last weekend, locking the Cougars into the Fight Hunger Bowl.
Bowl Free Agent: Poinsettia (San Diego)
Based on the above projections, a total of six bowl games will need replacement teams for the slots not filled by various conferences:
-- Beef 'O' Brady's (St. Petersburg) - American 6 vs. C-USA 4
-- Heart of Dallas - Big Ten 7 vs. Big 12 8
-- Little Caesars (Detroit) - Big Ten 8 vs. MAC 1
-- Independence (Shreveport) - SEC 10 vs. ACC 7
-- BBVA Compass (Birmingham) - SEC 9 vs. American 5
-- Poinsettia (San Diego) - MWC 2 vs. Army
One of those six bowl slots will go to Notre Dame (Independence? Little Caesars?), leaving five bowl slots for teams from the ACC, Pac-12 or the little five conferences. If history is any guide, teams from the BCS AQ conferences will get selected before non-AQs, meaning Pac-12 or ACC bowl at-large teams should be more than taken care of in a few weeks.
If Boston College is bowl eligible but falls out of the ACC's bowl pecking order, there's likely to be more than a couple bowls looking for replacement teams. There are probably worse places to get holed up than Dallas on New Year's Day or San Diego over Christmas.