The Bowling Green State University football returned to the practice field late Friday afternoon, the team’s first practice since finishing the regular season with a win over Buffalo Nov. 23.
The reason for the restart of practice is obvious: the Falcons are preparing for their first bowl bid since 2009, and their 8-4 record puts them in line for the school’s 10th bowl appearance overall and fifth since 2003.
But BG’s road to a bowl game is anything but assured.
Here is the good news for the Falcons and the Mid-American Conference, which has only three bowl agreements but seven bowl-eligible schools: Three conferences –- the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southeastern Conference and the Big Ten –- will not have enough bowl-eligible teams to fulfill all of their bowl tie-ins this year.
The MAC’s bowl agreements are with the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, to be played Wednesday, Dec. 26 in Detroit; the GoDaddy.com Bowl, which takes place Sunday, Jan. 6 in Mobile, Ala.; and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl to be played on Sat., Dec. 15 in Boise, Idaho.
The league also has “secondary” bowl agreements with five bowls: The New Mexico Bowl, the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, the BBVA Compass Bowl, the Heart of Dallas Bowl and the Poinsettia Bowl. The secondary agreement means the MAC will provide a team to play in those bowls should any of them not receive two teams from their primary agreements.
The New Mexico, Poinsettia and Heart of Dallas bowls are expected to fill their openings, but the other two could have openings.
But things aren’t as simple as that, and that’s the bad news: Currently there are 72 bowl-eligible teams to fill 70 bowl spots. Pitt beat South Florida Saturday to move to 6-6, and Georgia Tech received a waiver from the NCAA to become bowl eligible despite a 6-7 record following its loss to Florida State in Saturday’s ACC Championship game.
That Georgia Tech waiver probably cost a MAC school -– most likely 6-6 Central Michigan -– a spot in a bowl. Pitt’s win helped the Big East fill another spot and may take a bowl such as the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s or BBVA Compass bowls off the table for the MAC.
It’s worth noting that Pitt has gone to the BBVA Compass Bowl each of the past two seasons, so that bowl may look for a new team to fill its spot.
The MAC did receive a bit of good news when the Military Bowl announced it would choose a league school to face San Jose State in its contest, which will be played Thursday, Dec. 27 in Washington D.C. Last season Toledo played in the Military Bowl, and Steve Beck, executive director of the Military Bowl, said the Rockets laid a positive foundation for future trips by MAC schools to that venue.
“Having Toledo here last year was fantastic –- I can’t say enough good things about them,” Beck said. “They were extremely well-received. Hotels, restaurants and businesses in the area all remarked how great the team and its fans were.”
Beck said choosing a team for any bowl involves more than just looking at its won-loss record.
“The quality of the football team is part of it,” he said. “But it’s also the ability of our team to fulfill our mission, which is to have a substantial economic effort on D.C. and the USO and military personnel, which is our purpose.”
To show how on-field performance is only part of the bowl equation, Beck compared the resumes of Bowling Green and Ohio.
“On one side you have Ohio, with got off to a fantastic start and won seven in a row and was ranked nationally, but then had a lot of injuries and lost four of its last five,” he said. “On the other side you have Bowling Green, which won seven of its last eight, and had a win over Ohio.
“You try to weigh all that, but you also weigh if injured players will be coming back. And you weigh how well a team will travel –- and if you’re not sure how a team will travel, you go on past performance.”
Jerry Palm, a BCS bowl analyst for CBSSports.com, echoed the analysis Beck laid out.
“Ohio had a great start, but they kind of fell apart and had some injuries,” Palm said. “I don’t know what the health of the team will be, and that will be a factor [in their bowl appeal].
“How a team finishes the season is important because you want to have a team that’s playing well in your bowl. But it also is a factor because it could be a indicator of how a team travels.
“If a team isn’t playing well, some fans may abandon ship. And if a team finishes hot, that may fire up the fan base.”
Palm’s latest bowl predictions, which were posted Saturday, had Bowling Green as one of two bowl-eligible teams NOT making a bowl, along with Central Michigan. Click here to read his predictions.
Here are a few bowl-eligible teams that are Bowling Green's competition for bowl bids on Sunday ...
- Western Kentucky (Sun Belt): The Hilltoppers finished 7-5, 4-4 in the Sun Belt. WKU lost three in a row before winning its final game by one point, 25-24, over a 4-8 North Texas State team. Western Kentucky's signature win is a 32-31 victory in overtime over Kentucky.
- Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt): The Blue Raiders finished 8-4 and were 6-2 in the Sun Belt. MTSU had won three in a row before losing its last game at home by a 45-0 score to conference champ Arkansas State. Middle Tennessee's signature win is a 49-28 win over Georgia Tech.
- Ohio (MAC): Unfortunately, the bowls often pit one conference school against another, and Ohio would be a competitor for a bowl game. As you probably know, Ohio finished 8-4 overall and 4-4 in the MAC, losing its last three in a row and four of its last five (including a loss at home to BG). The Bobcats do have a signature win, though, in their season-opening 24-14 victory over Penn State.
By the way, a rumor that just won't die is that the Little Caesars Bowl will invite both Toledo and Bowling Green to Detroit and present another edition of the Battle of I-75 at Ford Field.
UPDATE DEC. 2, 12:15 P.M.: Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com has updated his projections again ... and he has Bowling Green back IN a bowl. Palm has BG in the Beef 'O' Brady Bowl against UCF (a former MAC rival, for those of you with long memories). Click here to read his latest projections.
Please note: The USA Today/Coaches poll will hold some sway in the BCS projections, and so this is almost certain to change again (perhaps more than once) before the end of the day. Stay tuned!
UPDATE DEC. 2, 1:16 P.M.: It looks as if Northern Illinois will NOT break the BCS, but it's still up in the air. Better news is that it doesn't seem to matter, as several recent projections still have BG in the bowl picture.
If you missed the news yesterday, Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren is leaving that school to take the job at North Carolina State. Also, ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy tweeted on Sunday that Kent State coach Darrell Hazell is interviewing with the University of California.
More to come, I am sure ...
UPDATE DEC. 2, 6:07 P.M.: Getting ready to head to Bowling Green because I expect a press conference to announce a bowl bid. Nothing confirmed ...
If you want to see the latest in bowl projections/confirmations, here is Jerry Palm's work for CBSSports.com.
UPDATE DEC. 2, 6:38 P.M.: Got word a short time ago that Ball State is going to the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, which was long rumored as a destination for the Falcons. Working the phones ... but must admit that bit of news means I would have lost money had I bet on where BG was going. Do you suppose my wild rumor is going to come true? That news would be a piece in that puzzle.
UPDATE DEC. 2, 7:49 P.M.: Toledo players are tweeting that they are playing in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Everything I see/hear is that Kent State is going to the GoDaddy.com Bowl. That leaves two bowls unaccounted for ... the Military Bowl in Washington D.C. or the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit. When I know more, you will know more.
UPDATE DEC. 2, 8:37 P.M.: I'm hearing that Middle Tennessee also will NOT be in a bowl ... may be payback from Sun Belt brethren after MTSU announced it was leaving for Conference USA. Could it be that Central Michigan will go bowling? WOW ...