Bowling for Implications

Losing a game is always tough; losing one in Nebraska, doubly so. Credit to the Cornhuskers for making the big plays they needed to pull off the upset.

At 5-4 (3-2 conference), Oklahoma is now tied with Texas Tech for third place in the Big 12 South, and the post-season implications are becoming clearer.

  • Oklahoma will not go to a BCS bowl this year. Regardless of what happens to every other team from here on out, the best the Sooners can finish is now 8-4, and teams must have nine wins to be invited to a BCS bowl as an at-large team. That rules out the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, and Orange Bowls.

  • Here is the order in which bowl games choose from the Big 12 teams at the end of the season. This is a choosing order: the #2 team in the conference does not get the #2 bowl slot, etc. Aside from the BCS’s obligation to put the Big 12 champion somewhere, the bowls are free to pick any Big 12 team they want, in this order:

    1. BCS (conference champion plus up to one more team)
    2. Cotton Bowl (January 2, 2010; Arlington, TX)
    3. Holiday Bowl (December 30, 2009; San Diego, CA)
    4. Alamo Bowl (January 2, 2010; San Antonio, TX)
    5. Sun Bowl (December 31, 2009; El Paso, TX)
    6. Insight Bowl (December 31, 2009; Phoenix, AZ)
    7. Independence Bowl (December 28, 2009; Shreveport, LA)
    8. Texas Bowl (December 30, 2009; Houston, TX)

    At 8-4, the Cotton Bowl would probably pass on the Sooners. The Holiday Bowl might take them given other reasons (explained shortly), and the Alamo Bowl certainly would if the other bowls passed.

  • This takes into consideration that once again, the Big 12 North teams have feasted upon themselves. Kansas State is winning the division right now with a 4-2 conference record, 6-4 overall. If KSU wins out, their best hope is to match the Sooners at 8-4, and for better or worse, the bowls seem to believe that Oklahoma brings more fans (and money) to a bowl game than KSU does, despite the intensely loyal Wildcat fan base.

    If Nebraska wins out, they’d win the division by finishing 9-3, but to get there they’ll have to beat Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas State in Lincoln, and Colorado in Boulder. Colorado is 3-6 right now, but they have a history of giving the Cornhuskers season-ending disappointments.

    Missouri could theoretically finish 8-4 by winning out, but the Tigers are currently 1-4 in Big 12 play and can’t win their division. It’s the same story with 5-4 Kansas, because all four losses are conference losses—and the Jayhawks next host the Cornhuskers and then play Texas in Austin. It seems a safe call that the Big 12 North battle is now between Nebraska and Kansas State.

    Therefore, in the best-case scenario for the Big 12 North, the division champion is Nebraska at 9-3 before the Big 12 Championship game, most likely against Texas. If it is Nebraska and they win, obviously they’re going to the Fiesta Bowl and another BCS bowl will take Texas as an at-large team. If Texas wins that matchup, Nebraska’s probably headed for the Cotton or Holiday Bowl.

  • A Big 12 North-champ Nebraska is not a shoo-in at the Cotton Bowl because the Oklahoma State Cowboys (!) are 7-2 right now, 4-1 in conference play. If OU wins out, OSU will finish 9-3 and be ranked significantly higher than Nebraska, and therefore more attractive to the Cotton Bowl (though I’m not sure how attractive to the Holiday Bowl; more on that later yet). If OSU wins out, they’ll finish 10-2 without playing for the Big 12 Championship and I can’t imagine them going any lower than the Holiday Bowl.

    Since Texas beat OSU, OSU’s only route to the Big 12 Championship is if OSU wins out and Texas loses two of its last three games: at Baylor, hosting Kansas, and then at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving Night. The Aggies can beat the Longhorns in any given year, no matter what the record of either team is. That would probably knock Texas out of the BCS National Championship, but Texas clinches the Big 12 South by defeating both Baylor and Kansas, and will play for the conference championship and a BCS bowl in that case regardless of the outcome on Thanksgiving Night.

Given these facts, an 8-4 Sooner team seems good for the Holiday Bowl and all but certain for the Alamo Bowl if the Holiday Bowl passes. A 7-5 Sooner team (remember, the Sooners have to visit Lubbock in two weeks, and Texas Tech has scored touchdowns against OU there without actually getting the ball into the end zone) is probably too weak for the Holiday Bowl and maybe the Alamo Bowl, where the opponent will be the fourth pick from the Big Ten. The Sun Bowl would probably like the Sooners, but so would the Insight Bowl. The latter is run by the Fiesta Bowl committe, and the Fiesta Bowl people appear to be very fond of the Sooners and The Pride after the past few visits—and Oklahoma did not go to Phoenix last year.

The wild card? This is the final season on this round of bowl contracts, including the BCS bowls, and the bowls have been renegotiating all year with the conferences for the next four years. That means that starting with the 2010 football season, the Big 12’s bowl selection order changes to this:

  1. BCS (conference champion plus up to one more team)
  2. Cotton Bowl
  3. Alamo Bowl
  4. Insight Bowl
  5. Holiday Bowl
  6. Texas Bowl
  7. Yankee Bowl (new bowl game in new Yankee Stadium in NYC)
  8. Alternating:
    • Dallas Football Classic (new bowl in Cotton Bowl stadium, since Cotton Bowl Classic moves to Cowboy Stadium starting this season) in 2010 and 2012
    • EagleBank Bowl in 2013

The Dallas Football Classic is a “contingency” bowl (a tie-in in case the conference has more bowl-eligible teams than regular bowl games) in 2011 and 2013, and the EagleBank Bowl is a contingency bowl in 2011. There doesn’t seem to be a fixed #8 pick in 2011. As always, the bowls lower in the list are free to pick from other conferences if the Big 12 doesn’t field that many bowl-eligible teams (six wins).

This is what I was hinting at earlier: starting next season, the Holiday Bowl picks fifth from Big 12 bowl-eligible teams, not third. What’s more, right now, the Holiday Bowl gets first pick of the Pac-10 conference after the BCS—the same position the Cotton Bowl holds for the Big 12—but starting next season, the Alamo Bowl gets second choice, and I read that as saying they’ll pick before the Holiday Bowl.

If you look at the Pac-10 standings, you’ll see Oregon (5-1 in conference play), Mike Stoops’s Arizona team (4-1), Stanford (5-2), and USC (4-2).

This means that, this season, the Holiday Bowl could set up a match between OU and USC, or OU and Arizona with different Stoops brothers as head coaches on opposite sidelines. That may be too juicy a pairing to pass up, even if OU is 8-4 or, possibly, even 7-5. Arizona still has to play Cal, Oregon, Arizona State and USC (and only Oregon is a home game for the Arizona Wildcats); USC has yet to play Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona. So both of those teams can’t win out, and each of them could lose more than one game. But the possibility exists, and if both OU and either Arizona or USC is available to the Holiday Bowl, it might just be irresistible—even with OU’s record, especially since the Holiday Bowl probably can’t set up a similar matchup anytime in the next four years.

So, in my humble opinion, keep the Holiday Bowl in mind even if the Sooners don’t finish 8-4. It may be that perfect storm of bowl circumstances that lead to a fascinating game that might otherwise never exist. A bowl committee could find that hard to resist. Meanwhile, the Sooners host the Texas A&M Aggies this week, along with The Noble Men (and Women) of Kyle—The Pulse of the Spirit of Aggieland Nationally Famous Fightin’ Texas Aggie Marching Band, in a game televised on FSN starting at 6:00 PM CST. Every game remains must-win for the Sooners’ best post-season chances, so I hope if you’re not in Norman, you’re in front of a good TV in your crimson & cream. BOOMER SOONER!