MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The process of sorting out West Virginia's ultimate bowl destination begins in earnest tonight.
That fact alone reveals just how jumbled the Big 12 bowl picture is because the game in question tonight has both nothing and everything to do with the Big 12. It's the MAC championship game between Kent State and Northern Illinois.
Quite simply, that game will go a long way toward determining the lineup for the four BCS bowls and whether or not the Big 12 has a chance to place two teams in that field. The trickle down from that affects almost every one of the league's seven non-BCS bowl tie-ins.
Know, though, that the two most likely options for WVU are the Holiday Bowl and the Pinstripe Bowl. Anything else would be a long shot.
"We kind of know where we are [in the mix]. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out,'' said WVU deputy athletic director Mike Parsons. "But there are so many variables that all we can do is wait and see what happens and see how it shakes out.''
Among those variables, of course, is the game Saturday between West Virginia (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) and Kansas (1-10, 0-8) at Mountaineer Field. Obviously, a win would enhance the Mountaineers' resume, especially where the Holiday Bowl is concerned.
But so many outside factors are in play, not the least of which is that MAC title game tonight in Detroit. If Kent State wins, the Golden Flashes could automatically qualify for an at-large BCS bowl berth (see story, Page 3B). If that happens, an extra Big 12 team will be in the pool for the league's non-BCS bowls.
For the record, the order of selection for the Big 12 after the BCS bowl is: Cotton (Arlington, Texas, Jan. 4 vs. SEC No. 3 or 4), Alamo (San Antonio, Dec. 29 vs. Pac-12 No. 2), Buffalo Wild Wings (Tempe, Ariz., Dec. 29 vs. Big Ten No. 4 or 5), Holiday (San Diego, Dec. 27 vs. Pac-12 No. 3), Meineke Car Care (Houston, Dec. 28 vs. Big Ten No. 6), Pinstripe (New York, Dec. 29 vs. Big East No. 4) and Heart of Dallas (Dallas, Jan. 1 vs. Big Ten No. 7)
If there are two Big 12 teams in the BCS, the Cotton and Alamo bowls will take Texas and Oklahoma State, probably in that order. The non-BCS bowls are not required to follow the order of the league standings in making their selections, but those two teams, currently third and fourth behind Kansas State and Oklahoma, are pretty much a given to be the first ones off the board.
That leaves West Virginia in the group with Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor and Iowa State available to the Buffalo Wild Wings, Holiday, Meineke, Pinstripe and Heart of Dallas bowls.
Both the Buffalo Wild Wings and Meineke Car Care bowls are likely to prefer a school closer to their locations because of the ticket-sales factor, especially given that the opponents for both are Big Ten schools.