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 plus a USC loss in one of its final two games. Utah's season ending win over BYU and Michigan's loss to Ohio State rendered last week's path to the Fiesta inoperable. Texas needed the Utes out of the BCS top six, and that appears extremely unlikely now that Utah has wrapped up its undefeated season with no serious challenger for the No. 6 spot in the BCS rankings. Now there's only one realistic scenario that puts Texas in the Fiesta: USC, which is already guaranteed a BCS spot as winner of the PAC-10, loses one of its final two games and drops out of the national title game but remains in the BCS top six (thus keeping spoiler Boise State out of the top six and from earning an automatic bid). Texas passes Cal in the BCS rankings and thus earns an automatic bid as a BCS conference non-champ in the top 3/4 of the final rankings. That would set up a No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 2 Auburn national championship game in the Orange Bowl (and a USC-Michigan Rose Bowl), giving the Fiesta first pick among the at-larges. The Fiesta would take Texas to face Utah. What Orangebloods should root for: USC to lose to either Notre Dame this weekend or UCLA on Dec. 4 -- but only one of the two, not both -- AND for Texas to overtake Cal in the BCS rankings AND Oklahoma to earn the No. 1 spot in the final BCS rankings.
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 plus a USC loss in one of its final two games. This scenario is only slightly different from the Fiesta Bowl scenario described above. It would also require a USC loss in one of its final two games, with the Trojans still in the top six but out of the title game, but with Auburn elevated to No. 1 and Oklahoma No. 2 in the final BCS standings. (Texas, of course, would still need to overtake Cal in the rankings.) That would set up the Sugar with the first pick of the at-larges (because it lost its host team Auburn as the No. 1 team in the championship game), and the Sugar would take Texas to face either the ACC or Big East champ (depending on who the Fiesta Bowl picked to take on Utah as OU's replacement). What Orangebloods should root for: USC to lose to either Notre Dame this weekend or UCLA on Dec. 4 -- but only one of the two, not both -- AND for Texas to overtake Cal in the BCS rankings AND Auburn to earn the No. 1 spot in the final BCS rankings.
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 big win over Texas A&M on the day after Thanksgiving, a big enough win to push the Horns past Cal in the BCS standings. There's actually two somewhat realistic scenarios that get Texas into The Granddaddy of Them All, but they are both predicated on UT overtaking Cal. The first is simple: the final BCS rankings look just like they do today except that the Horns and the Golden Bears switch places and thus Texas earns an automatic berth and Cal is out of the BCS. That would put the Rose in position to pick UT as its replacement for No. 1 USC, which would be playing in the national title game. A first-ever Texas-Michigan match-up, in the Rose Bowl no less! It could also happen like this: Oklahoma wins the Big 12 Championship Game but falls behind Auburn in the BCS standings and thus ends up in the Fiesta while Texas overtakes Cal in the BCS standings. That scenario would eliminate any pressure on the Rose to allow the Fiesta to take Texas to keep the Fiesta's traditional Big 12 tie-in because the Sooners, denied a title shoot, would automatically earn the Tempe berth. What Orangebloods should root for: A huge win over Aggies and a close win for Cal over Southern Miss on Dec. 4, allowing Texas to overtake Berkeley 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. Now that the Utes are basically a lock, UT's hopes are basically tied to Cal. If things stand as they do today, Texas is Big D bound. The biggest nightmare scenario, though, is for Cal to lose, Texas to move to No. 4 in the BCS, but for Boise State to slip into the top six behind No. 5 Utah. That would earn the Broncos and the Utes the two at-large berths in the BCS, sending the No. 4 Horns just up I-35 from Austin for the holidays. Wait, scratch that as the worst-case scenario. How's this for a worst-case: Texas passes Cal into the No. 4 spot in the BCS, Oklahoma loses the Big 12 Championship Game, giving the Big 12 automatic bid to some bum from the North, but OU only drops to No. 3 in the final BCS rankings, earning an automatic at-large over UT. Nightmare, indeed.
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. Although UT officials have reportedly lobbied the Cotton to take Texas win (if not in the BCS) or lose, the Dallas Bowl is almost certain to take the 8-3 Aggies, leaving the Horns available for the Holiday. See last week's Possibilities column for all the reasons the Holiday wouldn't want Texas, but a Tech win over Oklahoma State this Saturday might force their hand. That would leave both the Cowboys and the Red Raiders, a team with almost no national appeal and no marquee players, with two more losses than 9-2 Texas, a team with marquee appeal in both name and in players (Heisman contender Cedric Benson, probable Butkus winner Derrick Johnson, exciting if erratic QB Vince Young). That scenario points to another late December in SoCal. An OSU win over Tech, coupled with a UT loss to A&M, almost certainly cements a Texas berth in the...
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. If the Cotton takes A&M and the Holiday takes the Oklahoma State/Texas Tech winner, Texas lands its first-ever appearance in this San Antonio game. And it may be a preview of next year's marquee non-conference match-up: Texas-Ohio State.
Of course the analysis above doesn't cover every possible outcome -- losses by USC, Oklahoma or Cal over the next two weeks could potentially shake things up even more substantially than envisioned above -- but the above list covers some of the most likely scenarios. We'll know at least a little more early next week and will update UT's paths to each bowl and the probabilities through early December when the BCS berths are finalized.