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Bowl Championship Series (BCS)

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is a selection system designed to pair the top two teams in college football against each other in the BCS National Championship Game, with the winner crowned the BCS national champion. The system also selects matchups for the other prestigious BCS bowl games. The ten teams selected include the conference champion from each of the six BCS conferences plus four others ("at-large" selections). It has been in place since the 1998 season. Prior to the 2006 season eight teams competed in four BCS Bowls. The BCS replaced the Bowl Alliance (in place from 1995-1997), which followed the Bowl Coalition (in place from 1992-1994). As of the 2006-07 season, the BCS will air primarily on FOX while only the Rose Bowl will continue to be aired on ABC.

In the current BCS format, four bowl games, and the National Championship Game, are considered "BCS bowl games". The other four bowl games are the Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, and the Orange Bowl in Miami. In the first eight seasons of the BCS contract, the championship game was rotated among the four bowls; for example, the Sugar Bowl would have the national championship "weight" once every four years. Starting with the 2007 BCS, the site of the game that served as the last game on January 1 (or if January 1 fell on a Sunday, January 2) in the BCS will now serve as the host facility of the new stand-alone BCS National Championship game played on January 8 of that year, one week following the playing of the traditional bowl game which would follow the Rose Bowl with the exception of the games to be played in 2010. There are also twenty-seven non-BCS bowls.

Initial plans were for the additional BCS bowl game to be held at the site of that year's championship game, such that the additional, non-championship bowl be named after the original bowl (e.g. the Sugar Bowl when the championship is in New Orleans), and have the extra game just be called "The National Championship Game". Later, the BCS considered having cities bid to be the permanent site of the new BCS game, and to place the new game in the title rotation. In the end, the BCS opted for its original plan.

A complicated set of rules is used to determine which teams compete in the BCS bowl games. Certain teams are given automatic berths depending on their BCS ranking and conference, as follows: The top two teams are given automatic berths in the BCS National Championship Game. The champions of the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10, and SEC conferences are guaranteed automatic BCS bowl appearances. The highest ranked champion of a non-BCS conference will receive an automatic berth if it is ranked in the top twelve, or ranked in the top sixteen and higher than another BCS Conference champion. A special case is made for independent Notre Dame, which receives an automatic berth if they finish in the top eight. If there is an available spot the third-ranked team will receive an automatic berth. Again if there is another available spot, and the third-ranked team did not require an at-large berth, then the fourth-ranked team will receive an automatic berth.

After the automatic berths have been granted, the remaining berths, known as "at-large" berths, are filled from a pool of teams who are ranked in the top fourteen and have at least nine wins. The actual teams that are chosen for the at-large births are determined by the individual bowl committees.

A final consideration is that no more than two teams from any conference may play in BCS Bowls in any year, regardless of whether they are automatic or at-large selections.

Despite the possibility of an "at-large" berth being granted to a "mid-major" conference team, this didn't happen until the 2004-05 season, when Utah received a BCS bid to play in the Fiesta Bowl, in which the Utes convincingly defeated Pittsburgh 35-7. The extra BCS game will relax requirements to give mid-major conferences better access to a BCS bowl game, possibly ahead of a higher ranked school from a major conference.

Unless their champion is involved in the BCS National Championship game, the conference tie-ins are as follows:

  • Rose Bowl - Big Ten vs. Pac-10.
  • Fiesta Bowl - Big 12.
  • Orange Bowl - ACC.
  • Sugar Bowl - SEC.

The Big East champion takes one of the at-large spots remaining.

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