After Texas lost a 48-45 shootout to Texas Tech on Thanksgiving night, the Longhorns thought they would be home for the holidays.
Not so fast …
The ever-mushrooming bowl season is the gift that keeps on giving. The postseason has expanded to 41 games (40 bowls and a national title game), and there will not be enough eligible teams to fill those 80 slots.
At the most, 78 teams will become bowl eligible by winning six games. More likely, that number will be 75 or 76.
Bowls left without qualified teams will be able to pick from the leftovers, namely teams with 5-7 records. The NCAA will reveal details next week, but the bowls are likely to have the freedom to make their own choices. That means number of television sets, fan bases, ticket sales and geography would be the deciding factors.
Of course, the caveat is that the Longhorns (4-7) will have to upset Baylor (9-2) in Waco next Saturday to reach 5-7. But the Bears, like the Horns, are banged up and playing with a third-string quarterback who made a bunch of turnovers in the 28-21 loss at TCU late Friday.
If Texas somehow does knock off Baylor, you’ve got to like the Horns’ chances. What minor bowl, forced to take a loser in any case, would pass on a chance to grab a big name like Texas?
The NCAA football oversight committee will weigh in with criteria. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is the committee chairman. The Big 12 is one of the leagues that will come up short of filling its bowl allotment.
Kansas State (5-6) will be a good option if it loses to West Virginia next Saturday. Then again, the Wildcats lost to the Longhorns, so if Texas gets to 5-7, it would probably get preference over K-State — especially if the bowls are making the calls.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl, played the day after Christmas, matches a Big 12 team against a Conference USA team. It will have neither. The Heart of Dallas is far down the pecking order, and each conference will be unable to supply an eligible 6-6 team.
So if you’re the Heart of Dallas, a Texas vs. Nebraska game, for instance, would be a lot more appealing than most minor-bowl matchups. The Cornhuskers finished their season 5-7. Or Texas vs. Missouri in Gary Pinkel’s farewell to coaching. The Tigers also went 5-7.
Again, the Horns will have to beat the Bears first because, presumably, 4-8 teams will be tossed from the pool. Presumably. The bowl system is so incredibly watered down, you never know.
Only 75 teams are bowl eligible right now. Just three more can make the cut, but only K-State has much of a shot next weekend and it’s not a great one. The other two 5-6 teams will be huge underdogs: South Alabama faces 9-2 Appalachian State, and Georgia State plays 8-3 Georgia Southern.
So four or five losers will have to be culled from a list of 5-7 teams including Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky, Minnesota, Illinois, East Carolina, Rice, UTEP and San Jose State and potential 5-7s like Texas and Kansas State.
The NCAA once tossed around an idea that bowls lacking a qualified team might be forced to pick off a list ranked according to APR (Academic Progress Rate). That is probably a long shot now but, if it were the case, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas State and San Jose State would lead the pack of 5-7 teams. Texas is far down the pack in APR.
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