Friends, we're going bowling.
The Cougs saved us all from hypertension and Thanksgiving stress-eating by taking care of bowl eligibility against a tough Utah squad that is a lot better than its 4-7 record. Instead of spending a week nervous about how terrible the possibility of watching UW keep our guys from reaching a bowl would be, we get to think about what middle-tier bowl would want Wazzu and its strong road support after an Apple Cup win.
Let's first take a look at the unofficial conference standings:
|Conference Rank||Team||Overall||Conf Record||Next game|
|7||Arizona||7-4||4-4||@ Arizona St|
|8||Oregon St.||6-5||4-4||@ Oregon|
|9||Washington St||6-5||4-4||@ Washington|
Positions six through nine are extremely fluid, with four teams all sitting at four wins in conference games. We should first mention that final standings in the conference are not the end-all-be-all when it comes to bowl selection. A bowl can pass over a team(s) with a better record for a 6-6 team if they feel it will be a more financially lucrative selection. More than how Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, and Arizona may finish in the final conference standings, because they are going to be so close together, it is now about who is the most desirable for the bowl committees.
Bowl committees are not required to take the team with the best record; rather they are given a selection spot among the other bowls with conference tie-ins (in the table below) where they can choose from all bowl eligible teams remaining in the conference. There are limits to how many teams they can pass over, but they can certainly take a 6-6 team over a 7-5 team. This is an important piece of information for what is hopefully an obvious reason.
|PAC-12 Automatic bids|
|Selection order||Bowl||Location||Probable Opponents|
|1||Rose||Pasedena, CA||Big Ten #1||tOSU|
|2||Alamo||San Antonio, TX||Big 12 #3||Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor|
|3||Holiday||San Diego, CA||Big 12 #5||KSU, TT|
|4||Sun||El Paso, TX||ACC #4||GT, VT, BC|
|5||Las Vegas||Las Vegas, NV||MWC #1||Fresno St, Utah St, BSU, SDSU|
|6||Fight Hunger||San Francisco, CA||BYU|
|7||New Mexico||Albuquerque, NM||MWC # 4/5||Utah St, BSU, SDSU, UNLV, CSU, SJSU|
These bowls want to make money, so they will select the team that gives them the best opportunity to do so. It's likely WSU has a pretty big advantage over everyone else right now in what I guess you could call the "tourism factor" that each host city would be very interested in, and it's typical for at least one city representative to be on the bowl committee. If you weren't aware, we Cougs travel extremely well and have a history of high economic contribution to local establishments.
WSU also can sell an exciting offense, extended average game time (commercials), and a nationally relevant head coach that can attract non-WSU fans to the game and eyeballs to the TV all on his own. These are all in addition to WSU being one of the conference's best travel schools and -- the less quantifiable but still important note -- that Cougs (players and fans) would hold a higher appreciation of their bowl invitation than some other possible candidates.
Athletic Director Bill Moos is making that sales pitch as we speak, and has been even before the team got eligible. If the team finishes with six wins, he will personally not allow them to be left out of the bowls. He has both the power and ability to make sure it happens, and if I'd trust Moos to do anything, I'd trust him to sell a bowl committee on WSU. He is excellent in this regard. While some will jump at the opportunity to point to 2006, a six-win WSU team that was left out, it's important to realize 1 - this year's team didn't finish the season in a tailspin (it's actually quite the opposite), and 2 - former AD Jim Sterk is nowhere near Bill Moos' league in terms of negotiating, and to be fair, not a lot of people in the country are.
Let's look at the range of possibilities.
Best case scenario: Las Vegas Bowl
Unfortunate sponsor. Arizona didn't do us any favors by beating Oregon, and Washington beating Oregon State was actually kind of a good thing. As it now stands, the Cougs are jumbled in a mix of Arizona, Washington, and Oregon State. An Apple Cup victory would bring WSU and UW records even at 7-5. WSU would then need Oregon to win the Civil War and ASU to beat down Arizona in the Territorial Cup, settling OSU at 6-6 and the other three at 7-5. If UCLA pounds USC, the Cougs look a lot better compared to their 7-5 brethren and possibly even better than the Trojans, who would be grouped in the next tier above WSU-UW-UA-OSU.
This could bring the Las Vegas Bowl into play if the committee can be convinced to pass on the USC brand. Some things working in Wazzu's favor: the Trojans laid an egg in El Paso last year and has a fan base that's pretty apathetic toward non-BCS bowls. WSU, on the other hand, filled half of Sam Boyd Stadium a year ago for a non-conference game against UNLV, and Mike Leach's return to a bowl game has the potential to be a very strong television draw.
With Las Vegas as the best case, the next best case would be seven-win WSU looking at a trip to San Francisco to Fight Hunger with BYU if Arizona loses and the selections play out by the standings. They would be a virtual lock for New Mexico if both Vegas and Fight Hunger decided to pass on them, or if Arizona beats ASU.
Worst case scenario
None. We are going to a bowl game, and calling anything "worst case" would be disingenuous after the last decade. Even six-win WSU will find a home somewhere, and this season will not end after the Apple Cup, win or lose. I suppose it is possible for WSU to be left on the outside looking in, but it's so improbable with what's in play it becomes highly unlikely. Be paranoid if you like, or cautious, or guarded, or however else you choose to phrase it, but this team will play a thirteenth game.
But what happens if the Cougs lose the Apple Cup?
A loss on Black Friday, in a game in which WSU is already a heavy underdog, would guarantee the Cougs finish the season in ninth place. Even if Oregon State loses the Civil War, they could still be deemed more desirable than WSU. But, as we talked about, standings are not all that matters.
If you're still not sold on this concept of standings not really mattering that much, consider these results from 2011: Utah (7-5) finished in 6th and went to the bowl selecting 8th; Cal (7-5) finished 7th and was selected 4th; ASU (6-6) finished 8th and was selected 6th; and UCLA (6-6) finished 5th (won the South) and went to the bowl selecting 7th. This year's middle tier of four teams could be just as unpredictable, with the difference being there are only two guaranteed spots for a Pac-12 team.
While a loss probably doesn't kill their hopes of nabbing one of the bowls with Pac-12 ties, a real bad-looking loss almost certainly will. Style points matter.
That said, here's where we think the Cougs most likely land.
GILDAN NEW MEXICO BOWL
We have heard from multiple sources that the New Mexico Bowl is very interested in WSU. The Cougs would be in a prime spot for the New Mexico bid with either six or seven wins. OSU is crashing and burning as the season's coming to an end, traditionally doesn't travel well, and is not expected to win in the Civil War. Arizona played in the New Mexico Bowl last season, and the bowl committee is unlikely to see value in a return trip for the Wildcats.
Beyond the factors mentioned earlier in the story, WSU would come into town with a head coach that would lure Texas Tech fans still in love with Mike Leach into making the five-hour drive from Lubbock. We think this is where they'll end up, regardless of the outcome of Saturday's game.
Jeff Siembieda, executive director of the New Mexico Bowl, recently mentioned WSU to Bud Withers of the Seattle Times, "Washington State does have appeal to us. I love a program on the upswing, and we've had a lot of success with programs that haven't been to a bowl game in a while. It seems like there's a real good feeling about that program, and a lot of energy."
The big thing? The New Mexico Bowl needs to know that fans are excited to be going there.
"The more hype, the higher people tend to go (in bowls), so you guys need to hype us up like crazy," Leach said to reporters after the game on Saturday.
And coach is right: A lot of this is about perception. The Twitter handle for the New Mexico Bowl is @GildanNMbowl, and we fans might actually be able to help make WSU's case even stronger by following them, tweeting at them, telling them you'd travel, drain their bars, go on the Breaking Bad tour, fill every ABQ hotel, eat at all their restaurants, and love every minute of being in their bowl game.
Wazzu has a pretty formidable social media presence. Use it. #GoCougs.
At-large bowl possibilities
If for some reason the New Mexico Bowl passes over WSU, here's a look at other bowl possibilities outside the Pac-12 tie-ins.
EDIT: UTSA is still transitioning to FBS and will not be bowl eligible, and Fresno State has a very good shot at being an at-large BCS selection depending on what happens in the Harris/Coache's poll rankings with NIU's strength of schedule and wins by USC/UCLA, Texas A&M, UCF, Oklahoma, and Louisville. If Fresno State is selected for the at-large over NIU, and/or Wyoming loses to Utah State, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl will also be open.
New Orleans is also still on the table if FIU can beat FAU, which we mentioned last week, and is highly improbable.
This list has changed a little from what we speculated last week. UNLV beat Air Force, gaining eligibility and guaranteeing the Mountain West will have enough eligible teams to meet it's obligations.
UTSA was also able to get eligible. Because of this, I removed the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (MWC) and New Orleans Bowl (C-USA) from this list, but I guess they could still be in play if something weird happens. WSU still has some rooting interests in keeping conference teams from being viable at-large selections; we list these at the end of the post.
|Bowl||Location||Probable Opponents||How they get open|
|Little Caesar's Pizza||Detroit, MI||MAC #2||Ball St (Bowling Green, Buffalo)||OPEN NOW: B1G does not have an eligible representative|
|Pinstripe||New York, NY||AAC #4||Houston, Rutgers, SMU||OPEN NOW: Big 12 does not have an eligible representative|
|BBVA Compass||Birmingham, AL||SEC #9||Ole Miss, Vandy, Georgia||SMU loses out (@UH, UCF) AND Rutgers loses out (@Uconn, USF)|
|Beef 'O' Brady's||St. Petersberg, FL||CUSA #5||Tulane, N. Texas, Mid. Tenn.||SMU loses out OR Rutgers loses out|
|Advocare V100||Shreveport, LA||ACC #7||GT, VT, Miami, UNC, BC, Maryland||Miss St loses one (Ole Miss)|
|Heart Of Dallas||Dallas, TX||C-USA #4||Tulane, N. Texas, Mid. Tenn., Rice||Wisconsin needs to be an at-large BCS bowl selection|
If the New Mexico Bowl makes the terrible decision to pass on WSU, six wins still gives the Cougs the possibility of an at-large bid, mostly thanks to down years in the Big Ten and Big 12. The "probable opponents" section is by no means comprehensive, and with another week left (some have two weeks), the landscape is still changing.
Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl
Gametime: Thursday December 26th, 3:00 PM PST
Location: Ford Field, Detroit, MI
It's looking like the Pizza Bowl, which selects eighth from the B1G, won't have an eligible representative from the conference to choose from. Michigan will probably finish seventh in the conference, which would put them in the Heart of Dallas bowl unless Wisconsin can grab an at-large BCS bid (Orange Bowl). We aren't sure if this bowl has a backup tie-in with the Sun Belt or not. (There are conflicting reports.) If so, WSU wouldn't be eligible.
Heart of Dallas Bowl
This is probably the best at-large option for WSU, and the Heart of Dallas Bowl apparently doesn't have a contingency agreement with the Sun Belt this season. The crowd would be very pro-Cougs, or at the very least pro-Leach, and playing in front of some Texas recruits could go a long way in selling a program to kids that haven't seen much of WSU, if they've seen any of WSU. The Cougs should make for a very attractive participant for this bowl committee, and slotting WSU here makes way more sense than somewhere like Detroit. WSU needs Wisconsin to nab the Orange bowl selection for this to open up, with the B1G having just seven bowl eligible teams.
Also a bit of a longshot, but still possible. This bowl would probably like to fill with a bigger name (ND), or get an East Coast representative, so the sales job is going to be a lot harder for Moos. It looks like Cincinnati has a pretty solid hold of the No. 3 spot for the AAC so the bowl would get to choose between Rutgers (if eligible, at 5 wins), SMU (if eligible, at 5 wins), and Houston.
BBVA Compass Bowl
The Cougs still need some losses for the AAC to fail to qualify an eligible team. Being the odd conference that it is, there's still two games remaining on the schedule and Rutgers losing to UConn would be madness. It could still be possible for say the Pinstripe bowl to take Rutgers, Notre Dame end up somewhere else, and then the Compass Bowl could select a decent WSU team -- that pushed a potential SEC champion in the season opener -- to return to Alabama and take on a mid-level SEC team. I watched Ole Miss play Vanderbilt before the Auburn game and came away with the impression WSU could play with both of those teams.
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl
Like the BBVA Compass Bowl, WSU needs SMU or Rutgers to tank for this spot to open up. If you need some extra incentive to root against SMU, Craig James went there!
AdvoCare V100 Bowl
Wazzu needs Mississippi State to fall to Ole Miss, so root for the Rebels this weekend. The good news about this game being in Shreveport? The game kicks off early in the morning. You could be in New Orleans for New Year's Eve by 6 PM if you weren't over-served at an aggressive AM tailgate (or someone sacrificed to be the sober driver).
So who do we need to root against?
Kyle Sherwood put together a nice list of games we need to be interested in:
|Outcome WSU would like||Gametime|
Ole Miss over (5-6) Miss State
|Thurs, Nov 28th, 4:30 PM ESPN|
|Boston College over (5-6) Syracuse||Sat, Nov 30th, 12:30 PM ESPN3|
|Houston over (5-5) SMU||Fri, Nov 29th, 9:00 AM ESPN2|
Fresno St over (5-6) San Jose St
|Fri, Nov 29th, 12:30 PM CBSsports|
Utah St over (5-6) Wyoming
|Sat, Nov 30th, 11:00 AM ROOT|
Fla International over (5-6) Fla Atlantic
|Fri, Nov 29th, 12:00 PM FS1|
La Lafayette over (5-6) La Monroe
|Sat, Nov 30th, 4:00 PM ESPN3|
External Bowl Projections
You guys see anything we missed? Let us know in the comments! I recommend following the bowl Twitter accounts for up to date coverage of who they're looking at. And be sure to let any of them (ESPECIALLY THE GILDAN NEW MEXICO BOWL) know how much we'd like to be there. Use #GoCougs and try to get the message out as much as possible, we can only help ourselves by being active on social media in this scenario.