WVU Faces Many Different Storylines as Bowl Decision Looms - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

WVU Faces Many Different Storylines as Bowl Decision Looms

Updated:
Tavon Austin (1st of all BCS-AQ players in all-purpose yards) is a big reason why a bowl may pass up on another Big 12 team with a better record in order to claim the Mountaineers. Tavon Austin (1st of all BCS-AQ players in all-purpose yards) is a big reason why a bowl may pass up on another Big 12 team with a better record in order to claim the Mountaineers.
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CHARLESTON -

Well, the Mountaineers finally broke their five-game losing streak on the gridiron Friday against Iowa State to become bowl eligible, and as a result, they're headed for a Christmas vacation spent in either San Diego, New York or somewhere down south in Texas or Arizona.

I know what you're thinking; I probably shouldn't be looking ahead because the only predictable thing about the final week of the college football season is that every year it continues to be unpredictable.

Kansas rolls into town Saturday at 2:30 p.m., and this game is the equivalent to the Jayhawks bowl game as they're still looking for their first win over an FBS opponent in 2012.

With that said, KU (1-10) is a flat out horrific football team, and we in the media are allowed to look ahead at the possibilities that could result from a WVU victory this weekend.

Let me preface the following by clearly stating that all of the following matchups are based on the Mountaineers finishing the regular season with a 7-5 record.  If the Jayhawks can somehow pull the upset in Morgantown, then all bets are off as to where WVU winds up in late December.

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First off, let's start from the top and recap where the Big 12 currently stands in the 2012-2013 bowl picture:

Big 12 No. 1 earns a bid to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, AZ)

Big 12 No. 2 earns a bid to the AT&T Cotton Bowl (Dallas, TX)

Let's stop there real quickly.  KSU is headed to the Fiesta Bowl as the conference champion with a victory over Texas OR an Oklahoma loss to TCU.  With a loss and an OU win over TCU, KSU would likely fall to the Cotton Bowl while OU would head to the Fiesta Bowl as the conference representative.  Either way, both teams have a realistic shot of making a BCS bowl, and at least one will for certain to represent the Big 12.  I will explain further down while both an OU and KSU victory this weekend could still result in only one of them making a BCS bowl.  However, both of these bowls are clearly not an option for the Mountaineers.  Moving on…

Big 12 No. 3 earns a bid to the Valero Alamo Bowl (San Antonio, TX)

Remember, "Big 12 No. 3" and the like means the bowl has the third (or whatever) selection from the Big 12 as to who they want to represent the conference in the bowl.  It does not mean the third place team in the Big 12 standings has to automatically end up here.  However, this particular spot seems to also not be a likely destination for the Mountaineers. 

If OU loses to TCU, they will be bumped from the BCS at 9-3 and would therefore go to the Cotton Bowl, or KSU could wind up in the Cotton if they don't win the conference.  Texas would then become the Alamo Bowl rep, because there's no way they'd pass up an opportunity to get the Longhorns fan base in San Antonio.  If both OU and KSU make the BCS, then Texas likely goes to the Cotton and Oklahoma State moves into the Alamo Bowl position assuming they can defeat Baylor and finish 8-4.  If they were to lose, then next in line may be TCU.  Either way, it's very likely to be chosen from one of those teams, regardless of how many conference mates wind up in BCS games.

Big 12 No. 4 earns a bid to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Tempe, AZ)

I believe this bowl selection is possible for the Mountaineers, but also not likely.  At this spot, you're going to have a group of Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech who all defeated the Mountaineers and all finished with equal or better conference and overall records.  In addition, all three of these schools are considerably closer to Tempe than WVU, and they would all travel much better.  For those reasons, I can't see this one happening for WVU, although it remains a slight possibility if two Big 12 teams wind up in the BCS.  But here is where things really get interesting…

Big 12 No. 5 earns a bid to the Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl (San Diego, CA)

Big 12 No. 6 earns a bid to the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (Houston, TX)

Big 12 No. 7 earns a bid to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Bronx, NY)

Before we even get into why the Mountaineers could wind up at any of these locations, we need to back up a bit and take a glance at…the MAC…and the Big East.  Why, you ask?

Earlier I referenced that OU could defeat TCU on Saturday, finish 10-2 and in the top 10 and still be left out of a BCS game.  If that happens, you can thank the fighting Golden Flashes of Kent State who are currently sitting at 17th in the latest BCS Standings.  Their only game left is against No. 21 Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship on Friday night.  Here is where the Big East mess comes into play…

The Big East currently has no team ranked in the BCS top 25.  The BCS rules state that if a team from a non-BCS AQ conference (Sun Belt, WAC, MAC, CUSA and Mountain West) finishes in the top 16 in the final BCS standings AND finishes ahead of a conference champion from a BCS AQ conference (Pac-12, Big 12, ACC, B1G, SEC Big East), then they automatically receive an at-large BCS bowl spot.  The chances of this happening are certainly possible, because regardless of who wins the MAC Championship, that team is almost assured to finish higher than any Big East team.  I don't think an NIU win would vault them up into the top 16 of the standings; however, if Kent State wins this weekend, they're likely headed to the BCS as an at-large team as it wouldn't take much to move from No. 17 to No. 16 after defeating a top 25 team and finishing 12-1 in the regular season.

If/when that occurs; it could knock a team like Oklahoma out of an at-large BCS spot, assuming KSU wins the conference.  Even if OU can defeat TCU and finish 10-2, they need an NIU win over Kent State (There are 3 at-large spots and UF and Oregon have the other two locked down while the third would go to either Kent State or one of the following: OU, Clemson, Nebraska and FSU).  If the Golden Flashes do land in the top 16, then the trickle down effect would be felt in the Big 12 as the Cotton Bowl would likely select OU, the Alamo wouldn't pass up an opportunity at Texas, and a combination of Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech, WVU and possibly Baylor would then likely be the next teams chosen for two spots: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and Holiday Bowl.  If that were to occur, you'd have to think TCU and Oklahoma State have the leg up on the other two teams for those spots. 

So…

Could a WVU-Pitt Backyard Brawl be in the works in late December in Yankee Stadium?

That certainly looks to be a possibility at this point if the Panthers can become bowl eligible, but Syracuse is probably the most realistic team to wind up in the Pinstripe Bowl because they're local and Pitt simply doesn't travel well.

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Here are some of the bowl matchups that appear to be the most realistic for WVU:

Holiday Bowl (San Diego) vs. Arizona, UCLA, Oregon State or Southern Cal

Remember what I said earlier; bowls do not have to pick their teams based on the conference standings.  Talk about drawing in viewers, could you imagine the amount of people that would turn on their TV sets to watch WVU's Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey take on Southern Cal's Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee?  First team to 100 wins.

Or how about Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff of former WVU coaches taking on Dana Holgorsen and his trio of talented offensive weapons?  That may indeed be the most intriguing non-BCS game of the bowl season if it were to happen, although it's more likely the Holiday Bowl goes with a closer Pac-12 team to help fill the stadium.

And then there is WVU vs. UCLA or Oregon State.  The Bruins would travel well down the California coast and fill up Qualcomm Stadium, while Oregon State is another team right outside the top 15 that has quietly impressed during Mike Riley's tenure in Corvallis.  Anytime you get WVU's offensive playmakers on TV against a top 15 opponent, people will tune in to watch. 

ESPN's Bruce Feldman and SI.com's Stewart Mandel project WVU to the Holiday Bowl against UCLA while CollegeFootballNews.com believes the Mountaineers will travel to San Diego and face Oregon State.

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (Houston) vs. Purdue or Minnesota

The problem with the B1G is that Penn State and Ohio State aren't eligible to compete in any bowl game.  So not only will the conference not fill all of their bowl slots, but you're going to see teams that would otherwise be in the very bottom bowls now get bumped up a couple spots to a somewhat decent bowl.  Both of these teams are 6-6, while Minnesota finished dead last in the Legends division.  Although it's more likely the bowl chooses an in-state Texas Tech or Baylor as its Big 12 rep to fill the seats, the Mountaineers remain a definite option here.  

Matter of fact, ESPN's David Ubben projects WVU to wind up here in his latest projections.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Bronx) vs. Pitt, Syracuse or Cincinnati

With the way the whole MAC/Big East BCS situation could play out, this very well may be the most realistic destination for WVU if Oklahoma or KSU gets bumped down to the Cotton Bowl.  But let's be honest, who wouldn't at least be intrigued by the 2012 version of the Backyard Brawl in Yankee Stadium? 

In order for that to happen, Pitt has to defeat South Florida in their last game and the selection committee has to choose the Panthers over a local team like Syracuse.  While a WVU-Pitt matchup would draw the eyes of TV viewers, everybody knows Pitt's fan base does not travel well.  The Orange would definitely sell more tickets, but is that enough to justify not putting together a matchup of hated rivals that would garner at least some national attention?  Remember this; Syracuse has already played in the NYC area this year when they took on USC in a non-conference game at The Meadowlands.  The Trojans were No. 2 at the time and the announced attendance for that contest was under 40,000. Would the Orange be welcomed to the city twice in one season after already proving they aren't a great draw?  Yes, because they're still that much better at traveling than the Panthers, which really says a lot about Pitt's putrid fan base. 

Cincinnati will probably be picked up by the Belk Bowl with the conference's third selection, but in the event that somehow doesn't happen, they would be there for the taking as the Pinstripe Bowl's next choice from the Big East. 

CBSSports.com and ESPN's Mark Schlabach project WVU to face Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. 

The final bowl with a Big 12 tie-in is the Heart of Dallas Bowl which pits the Big 12 against the B1G; however, all the latest projections that I've found believe Iowa State will wind up here regardless of how this weekend plays out.  If only one Big 12 team makes the BCS, there will be an extra Big 12 team (likely ISU) bowl eligible without any Big 12 tie-ins left.  Since other conferences like the B1G and SEC won't fill all of their allotments, the Cyclones would be a prime candidate to wind up in one of their lower tier bowls.

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Prediction: At the end of the day, I think the Big 12 avoids the whole MAC/Big East mess because I believe NIU will take down Kent State on Friday night.  This will open up a third at-large spot (NIU won't jump high enough into the top 16 of the BCS Standings) which will be filled by OU assuming they defeat TCU on Saturday.  If you're a Mountaineer fan and want to avoid the Pinstripe Bowl, then you need to root for both of these outcomes to happen, and I believe they will.  Assuming WVU can get by lowly Kansas, then you're looking at a likely Holiday Bowl invite against USC, UCLA, Oregon State or Arizona, with the first three Pac-12 teams being more likely opponents for the Mountaineers. 

Christmas in San Diego for Mountaineer Nation.  That beats Charlotte, Birmingham or most of the other Big East bowl tie-ins, right?  

Unless you want to drive to the game...

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