Dec. 30, 2011; Bronx, NY, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights head coach Greg Schiano raises the trophy after winning the game against the Iowa State Cyclones at the 2011 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Rutgers won 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Bowl Eligibility Scenarios Paint Cloudy Picture


The expansion of the bowl season to 35 games presented 70 teams with the opportunity to play in the postseason. Pundits have rung their hands over the prospect of bowl games with sub-.500 teams. Last season, it came to fruition when UCLA was defaulted into the Pac-12 championship and at 6-7, had to petition its way into the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

This year, the possibility of multiple sub-.500 teams bowling is real. There are 60 teams bowl eligible heading into Week 13, including three from a WAC that has just one guaranteed bid. Sixteen teams have paths to the postseason, but what happens if fewer than 10 fulfill their obligations? It’s a headache none of the bowl organizers want to have to address, but very well could.

ACC

  • Eligible: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, NC State
  • Work to do: Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
  • Bowl eligible, not participating: Miami

Miami’s decision to self-impose another bowl ban earlier this week turned the ACC from a conference with six bowl eligible teams to a league with just four. Not only is Miami eliminated from the equation, but Georgia Tech went from a team with the necessary six wins, to a team with work to do.

Georgia Tech is the unenviable position of having to beat either rival Georgia or Florida State to get its seventh win. Should the Yellow Jackets go oh-for, they will have to wait to see how the chips fall elsewhere; Tech can bowl only if there are no 6-6 teams in line before it, including those with two wins over FCS opponents.

Virginia Tech has the most realistic path to a bowl bid: simply beat rival Virginia, which the Hokies have done every year since 2004. Wake Forest needs only one win to get a second consecutive postseason, but the Demon Deacons face seven-win SEC foe Vanderbilt. The Commodores blasted Wake on the Deacons’ home turf last season, 41-7.

BIG EAST

  • Eligible: Cincinnati, Louisville, Rutgers, Syracuse
  • Work to do: Connecticut, Pitt

Syracuse’s late season emergence staved off the possibility of the Big East sending just three teams to the postseason. The Orange wrapped up a bowl bid with its win last week at Missouri. Two other Big East members can get bowl eligible, though the roads are difficult. Connecticut closes with Cincinnati and Louisville. Pittsburgh hosts league-leading Rutgers this week, and the Scarlet Knights are playing for their first BCS bowl bid. An upset puts the Panthers in great shape en route to the season finale vs. last place USF.

Temple’s schedule was reduced to 11 games in a last-minute move back to the Big East, and with six losses the Owls are eliminated.

BIG TEN

  • Eligible: Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin
  • Work to do: Michigan State, Purdue
  • Bowl eligible, not participating: Ohio State, Penn State

The 2012 campaign has been disappointing for the Big Ten. Nebraska has rallied since losing to Ohio State, and both Michigan and Northwestern have played decently late in the season. But the conference’s benchmark is merely decent — well, save Ohio State. The Buckeyes would be in line for a BCS championship game bid were it not for the NCAA-imposed bowl ban

Penn State is also serving the first of four bowl bans. The Nittany Lions have exceeded expectations, and can extend the conference’s misery by sending Leaders division championship game representative Wisconsin into Indianapolis at a wholly uninspired 7-5.

Both Michigan State and Purdue have disappointed mightily. Each earned preseason buzz as dark horse Big Ten title contenders, but need final week wins just to bowl. Fortunately for each, they have very winnable games. Michigan State faces Minnesota, and Purdue takes on Indiana for the Old Oaken Bucket.

BIG 12

  • Eligible: Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech
  • Work to do: Baylor, West Virginia

The Big 12 is in great position with seven teams already bowl eligible. West Virginia’s disappointed mightily down the stretch, but faces lowly Kansas in what should be a bowl game-sealing contest should the Mountaineers fall short at Iowa State this week. Baylor sees two very good teams in its final couple weeks, but already pulled off one big conference upset. Another gets the Bears back to the postseason.

CONFERENCE USA

  • Eligible: Tulsa, East Carolina, UCF
  • Work to do: Marshall, Rice, SMU

Rice has taken advantage of the underachievement of divisional rivals SMU and Houston, sneaking into bowl contention for the first time since 2008 when it faces struggling UTEP this week. The Miners are trying to spoil the Owls’ season and send coach Mike Price out on a high note in his final game. SMU was a preseason favorite in C-USA West, but needs to upset divisional champion Tulsa just to make a bowl game.

INDEPENDENTS

  • Eligible: BYU, Navy, Notre Dame

Three of four independents all secured bowl eligibility weeks ago. The Cougars are headed to the Poinsettia Bowl, the Midshipmen are contracted to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, and the Fighting Irish has national championship dreams.

MAC

  • Eligible: Ball State, Bowling Green, Kent State, Northern Illinois, Ohio, Toledo
  • Work to do: Central Michigan

It’s been a standout season for the MAC with two top 25 teams heading to Detroit for the conference championship. Six teams are likely headed to bowl games, and a seventh, Central Michigan, can attain eligibility with a win over lowly FBS newcomer UMass.

MOUNTAIN WEST

  • Eligible: Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, San Diego State

Every Mountain West team that can bowl has already handled its business. New Mexico was in position to reach the postseason at one point, but fell apart down the stretch. All that is left to sort in the MWC is the championship picture. Fresno State, Boise State and San Diego State all have one loss, sustained against each other, and are tied atop the league.

PAC-12

  • Eligible: Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington

Utah’s loss to Arizona last week ended any opportunity for the Pac-12 to have nine bowl eligible teams. All eight are locked in; the final week of the regular season is just sorting who will bowl where.

SEC

  • Eligible: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
  • Work to do: Missouri, Ole Miss

The surprise isn’t so much that the SEC has eight bowl eligible with the possibility of 10, but it’s who locked up bids that might be shocking. Tennessee and Auburn are out of the picture; Vanderbilt is back in, and Ole Miss can sneak in with a win over rival Mississippi State. The Rebels host MSU in the Egg Bowl with the chance to erase the heartache suffered in losses to Vanderbilt and LSU.

Missouri’s road to win No. 6 is more difficult. Gary Pinkel knows the maroon-and-silver well, and knows College Station — this year marks the Tigers’ third consecutive trip to College Station. However, this is a much different A&M team, one playing for 10 wins and a very outside shot at a BCS bowl bid.

SUN BELT

  • Eligible: Arkansas State, La.-Lafayette, La.-Monroe, MTSU, Western Kentucky
  • Work to do: Troy

The Sun Belt has never sent more than three teams to bowl games. Last season, it had four eligible teams, but Western Kentucky suffered the consequences of UCLA being granted a bid. The Hilltoppers shouldn’t have to sweat out bowl selection this time around, even with a recent losing skid.

Other conferences’ struggles should benefit the Sun Belt tremendously, as a win for Troy at Middle Tennessee makes six eligible teams and the conference doubling its all-time record for postseason representatives. As a staunch supporter of lower tier bowl bids going to the non-automatic qualifier conference teams, I see this as a good thing.

WAC

  • Eligible: Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Utah State

Its regression to a seven-team conference in its final season of football reduced the WAC’s number of guaranteed bowl bids to just one. However, Louisiana Tech and San Jose State likely have no reason to sweat on selection day with nine wins a piece. The two face each other in their finales.

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