Longhorn bowl possibilities

<B>The 9-1 Horns have just one regular season game to play, but UT's bowl picture is still far from coming into focus.

Orange Bowl, Tuesday, Jan. 4 (BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2) -- What it will take for Texas to play in Miami: Finish 10-1 with a big win over Texas A&M on the day after Thanksgiving and a lot of help from others. The scenario for a 10-1 UT team to play for the national title is for at least three of the four teams ranked ahead of the Horns in the BCS to lose over the season's final three weekends, which could push UT into the BCS top two. Remaining schedules: No. 1 USC vs. Notre Dame on Nov. 27, @UCLA on Dec. 4; No. 2 Oklahoma @Baylor on Nov. 20, vs. North champ in Big 12 Championship Game on Dec. 4; No. 3 Auburn @Alabama on Nov. 20, vs. East champ in SEC Championship Game on Dec. 4; and No. 4 Cal vs. Stanford on Nov. 20, @Southern Miss on Dec. 4. Although the Trojans, Sooners, Tigers and Bears will be favorites in all of their remaining games, upsets are not out of the question. See Michigan State 49, previously unbeaten national title contender Wisconsin 14 this past Saturday. What Orangebloods should root for: USC to lose at least once and drop behind the Horns in the human polls AND Auburn to lose at least once and drop behind the Horns in the human polls AND Cal to lose to either Stanford or Southern Miss AND for Utah to remain behind the Horns in at least one of the human polls.

Fiesta Bowl, Saturday, Jan. 1 (Big 12 champ vs. at-large) -- What it will take for Texas to play in Tempe: Finish 10-1 with a win over Texas A&M on the day after Thanksgiving and with Oklahoma winning out and playing in the national title game. The Horns probably also need some help from others now that Wisconsin dropped from the ranks of the undefeated Saturday, again giving undefeated Utah a spot in the BCS top six, and thus a guaranteed BCS bowl berth. As it stands now, the Bears are the most likely pick of the Rose Bowl if the Rose loses its PAC-10 tie-in USC to the national title game. Under that scenario, Cal and Utah would take the two "at-large" spots in the BCS, leaving Texas out in the cold (literally, the cold of an early New Year's morning in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl). Texas, though, could earn an automatic berth of its own if it rises to the No. 3 spot in the BCS rankings (or to No. 4, with a BCS top three of conference champ automatic qualifiers USC, Oklahoma and Auburn). That would send Texas to Tempe, with Utah in a BCS bowl if it finished in the top six, and Cal SOL. Another possibility, though, is for Michigan to bump Utah back out of the BCS top six, a slight possibility if the Wolverines beat Ohio State this weekend and Texas moves back ahead of Utah in the AP poll. With a win, Michigan will earn the Big 10's automatic berth as champ of the Big 10 in the Rose Bowl vs. Cal while Texas would probably get the Fiesta over a BCS No. 7 or lower Utah. A Cal loss in one of its final two games would almost guarantee a Texas BCS berth. What Orangebloods should root for: USC, Oklahoma and Auburn to win out and remain 1-2-3 in the BCS, and either Utah to lose to BYU or drop to No. 7 in the BCS, or Cal to lose to either Stanford or Southern Miss.

Sugar Bowl, Monday, Jan. 3 (SEC champ vs. at-large) -- What it will take for Texas to play in New Orleans: Finish 10-1 with a win over Texas A&M on the day after Thanksgiving but with Oklahoma winning out but dropping out of the national title game. Texas would still be at the mercy of the BCS standings of Utah -- the Horns would need either a Utah loss this weekend vs. BYU or for the undefeated Utes to finish outside the BCS top six (most-likely way for that to happen is Michigan to move up into the No. 6 spot, bumping Utah to No. 7). This scenario would put No. 2 Auburn in the Orange Bowl vs. an undefeated and No. 1 USC squad, meaning the Fiesta would get No. 3 Oklahoma as the Big 12 champ. The Rose Bowl, with the first pick in the BCS pecking order, would pick 10-1 and No. 4 Cal (an automatic pick because of its No. 4 ranking behind three conference champ automatic qualifiers) to take on Big 10 champ Michigan, preserving the Rose's traditional PAC-10-Big 10 matchup, and the Sugar, with the second pick (because it lost its SEC tie-in Auburn to the title game), would take Texas, a team it has coveted several times over the last few years, each time to be denied the Horns due to circumstance. What Orangebloods should root for: USC, Oklahoma, Auburn and Cal to win out, but the Tigers to overtake the Sooners for the No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings, and either Utah to lose to BYU or drop to No. 7 in the BCS.

Rose Bowl, Saturday, Jan. 1 (PAC-10 champ vs. Big 10 champ) -- What it will take for Texas to play in Pasadena: Finish 10-1 with a win over Texas A&M on the day after Thanksgiving but with Oklahoma winning out but dropping out of the national title game and into the Fiesta. For this to happen, Texas would need to pass Cal in the BCS (a slight possibility) or have the Bears lose one of their final two games and thus drop out of the BCS picture altogether. If the top of the BCS remains the same, Texas could earn an automatic bid if it moves to No. 4 in the standings, with Cal dropping to No. 5. Then, the Bears would be staring at the exact situation that now dogs Texas: Utah, an automatic qualifier at No. 6, would deny No. 5 Cal a spot (No. 4 Texas and No. 6 Utah would snag the two "at-large" berths). If Cal is unavailable to the Rose, a traditional PAC-10-Big 10 matchup would be unavailable. The next best thing -- and perhaps even better -- would be a first-ever dream contest between Texas and Michigan. The Rose, with the first pick, simply could not pass up that game, which would be THE marquee matchup of the bowl season outside of the championship game. Fly in the ointment: If OU remains in the national title game, the Rose would still get the first pick, followed by the Fiesta (which would have lost the Sooners to the Orange Bowl), and there may be pressure on the Rose to allow the Fiesta to take Texas to keep the Fiesta's traditional Big 12 tie-in. But the Fiesta may also be OK with taking Utah in that situation. Drama. Current probability: What Orangebloods should root for: USC, Oklahoma and Auburn to win out, and either Cal to lose to Stanford or Southern Miss, or the Horns to jump over the Bears to No. 4 in the BCS.

Cotton Bowl, Saturday, Jan. 1 (Big 12 No. 2 vs. SEC No. 3) -- What it will take for Texas to play in Dallas: Finish 10-1 with a win over Texas A&M on the day after Thanksgiving but remain in BCS no-man's land at No. 5, sandwiched in-between No. 4 Cal and No. 6 Utah. If the Bears and the Utes win out and hold their position in the BCS, both are guaranteed berths, and the Horns are out of the BCS for the second consecutive year despite a top 6 ranking in the final BCS standings, and relegated to the Cotton's awful early start time on New Year's morning.

Holiday Bowl, Thursday, Dec. 30 (Pac-10 No. 2 vs. Big 12 No. 3) -- What it will take for Texas to play in San Diego: Finish 9-2 with a loss to A&M. The Cotton is almost certain to take the 8-3 Aggies, who would buy tickets and travel in droves, over an extremely disappointed 9-2 Texas squad and its angry, apathetic fan base (given a late season loss and another year of falling short of expectations). That would give the Holiday Bowl a tough choice: take Texas with its marquee name, players and TV sets for the second consecutive year and fourth time in the last five, with all the same drawbacks as described above, or pass on the Horns for a team with a worse record (Oklahoma State, Texas Tech) but far more excited about spending Christmas in SoCal. If the Cowboys beat the Red Raiders, I'd expect the 8-3 up-and-comers from Stillwater to get the call over the tired ol' Horns, but if it's the Red Raiders over OSU this Saturday, the Holiday would be hard-pressed to take a 7-4 Tech team with almost no national appeal, no marquee players and two more losses than Texas despite UT's frequent recent visits.

Alamo Bowl, Wednesday, Dec. 29 (Big 12 No. 4 vs. Big 10 No. 4) -- What it will take for Texas to play in San Antonio: Finish 9-2 with a loss to A&M. After the Cotton takes A&M, and the Holiday takes Oklahoma State/Texas Tech, the Alamo Bowl officials are dancing on the Riverwalk, landing Texas for the first time in the Bowl's history. This may be the best-case scenario for the Horns, both in terms of destination (no breakfast in the chilly Cotton Bowl or sparsely Burnt Orange-attended contest in San Diego) and opponent (a beatable but respected Big 10 also-ran rather than a potentially stout SEC team or no-win game vs. a disrespected PAC-10 also-ran).

Of course the analysis above doesn't cover every possible outcome -- there are still too many to run through -- but the above list covers all of the most likely scenarios. We'll update UT's paths to each bowl and the probabilities through early December when the BCS berths are finalized.

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