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MAC, Big East could impact Big 12 bowl bids

MORGANTOWN - In a round-about way, the Big East could rear its ugly head and have a significant impact on West Virginia's bowl destination.

The Mid-American Conference has just as much say in the matter, of course, but that's because of the Big East's failings again. The MAC is in a position to grab a BCS bowl berth because its champion will rank higher than that of the Big East, and if that happens it will guarantee that only one Big 12 team receives a BCS invitation.

That will affect what happens in the bowl invitation process throughout the rest of the Big 12.

Here's how the process works in relation to the Big 12 and how the MAC title game plays into it:

Kansas State (10-1, 7-1 Big 12), ranked No. 6 in the current BCS standings, is in the driver's seat for the Big 12 title and the league's automatic berth in the Fiesta Bowl. If the Wildcats beat Texas at home Saturday night, they win the league championship and go to the Fiesta Bowl as the host team there.

Oklahoma (9-2, 7-1) plays at Baylor at noon Saturday. If the No. 11 Sooners win, they would be in line for an at-large BCS berth, probably in the Sugar Bowl. They could also win the Big 12 title if they win and Kansas State loses. K-State owns the tiebreaker if both win or both lose, based on its win over OU.

If both teams win, though, and are in line for BCS berths, that's where the MAC title game comes into play. Kent State (11-1) is currently No. 17 in the BCS rankings and Northern Illinois (11-1) is No. 21. By rule, if a team from a non-BCS conference finishes in the top 16 of the BCS standings and ahead of an automatic qualifier from one of the BCS AQ leagues, it automatically gets an at-large berth.

Northern Illinois isn't likely to jump five spots into the top 16, but Kent State is a real threat to do so, especially considering that three of the five teams immediately ahead of it (No. 16 UCLA, No. 13 Florida State and No. 12 Nebraska) are all in conference title games this weekend. UCLA is more than a touchdown underdog to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game.

Kent State is a touchdown underdog against NIU, but if the Golden Flashes win and move up, they would get an automatic at-large berth because they will be ranked well ahead of the highest Big East team. Neither Rutgers nor Louisville, who played Thursday night, is even in the Top 25.

If Kent State joins the BCS mix, that fills the three at-large berths. No. 4 Florida and No. 5 Oregon both should be automatic at-large qualifiers by virtue of near-certain top-four finishes in the BCS, which is another way to automatically secure an at-large berth. Oregon would seem fairly certain to move up to replace the loser of the SEC title game between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia loser.

If Kent State loses or otherwise fails to crack the top 16, Oklahoma would be in line for the remaining at-large berth because no other team ranked above it or in the handful of spots below it that hasn't qualified automatically is eligible. There are four SEC schools ranked above the Sooners without BCS spots, but BCS rules limit any conference to two representatives in the four BCS bowls and the national title game. The Alabama-Georgia winner will play in the championship game and Florida will be the second SEC team.

Also, if the Big 12 doesn't get a second team in the BCS, the league would then have eight eligible teams for seven non-BCS bowl spots. The odd team out is still likely to find a spot, perhaps in the Independence Bowl, but with Oklahoma or Kansas State available it would naturally change the outlook of those choosing teams for the Big 12 non-BCS bowls.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.


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