Bowl seeks eligible team

Published 2 December 2017

The war room whiteboard at the Arizona Bowl office in Tucson is a scattered and indecipherable mess, much like the picture of college football's bowl season so far.

The Arizona Bowl and its executive director, Alan Young, hold the fifth pick in the selection of bowl-eligible Sun Belt Conference football teams, but as the reports posted on the whiteboard show, there may not be a fifth team to choose.

Saturday’s game

Troy at Arkansas State

WHEN 6:30 p.m. Central

WHERE Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro

RECORDS Arkansas State 7-3, 6-1 Sun Belt Conference; Troy 9-2, 6-1

TV ESPN2

Only four Sun Belt members have won the required six games going into the final week of the regular season, and if a fifth team doesn't become eligible, the Arizona Bowl will have to scramble to find a replacement from another conference.

The Arizona Bowl is also tied to the Mountain West Conference, which has enough eligible teams to send a member.

"I have reached out to all four of the conferences that appear they're going to have excess teams," Young said. "We think we're going to have a Sun Belt team. But if we don't, we need to know what that looks like."

And right now, it looks like the Arizona Bowl also will be party to another issue: There are more bowl-eligible teams than the 39 bowl games can accommodate.

As of this week, 80 teams across the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision are bowl eligible, and three more teams can earn eligibility with victories this weekend. That means two to five teams will get left out of postseason play they qualified for, and the Arizona Bowl's Young may be one of those who decides which teams make the cut.

This comes a year after there were too few bowl-eligible teams, which forced the St. Petersburg Bowl and the Heart of Dallas Bowl to select Mississippi State and North Texas teams that both had losing records.

The previous season, a record three teams with losing records played in bowl games, which led the NCAA to enforce a three-year moratorium that would not allow any new bowl games until after the 2019 regular season.

This season's surplus swings the data in the opposite direction.

"There's a lot of conversation and dialogue going on right now about the next cycle," said Billy Ferrante, executive director of the New Orleans Bowl. "There's nothing that's come from the NCAA definitively about what that's going to look like. I don't think you let one year, one way or the other, sway your decision. There's been a deficiency (of teams) the last couple of years. You should take a historical look at it."

The New Orleans Bowl is unaffected by the surplus. It holds the first pick in the selection of Sun Belt teams, which is an attractive trait when it negotiates for another team with Conference USA.

Ferrante would not expand on the New Orleans Bowl's options other than saying "we have potential for at least a champion on one side of the conference."

Arkansas State University (7-3, 6-1 Sun Belt) will host Troy (9-2, 6-1) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday for at least a share of the Sun Belt title, and Florida Atlantic (9-3, 8-0 Conference USA) will host North Texas (9-3, 7-1) at 11:30 a.m. in the Conference USA championship game.

ASU last played in the New Orleans Bowl in 2015, when the Red Wolves lost 47-28 to Louisiana Tech. It was the first time in five years that a Sun Belt team played in the New Orleans Bowl other than Louisiana-Lafayette, which lost 28-21 to Southern Mississippi in the bowl last season.

Louisiana-Lafayette (5-6, 4-3) must win at Appalachian State (7-4, 6-1) in order to become bowl eligible, and the Ragin' Cajuns' 34-24 home loss to Georgia Southern (2-9, 2-5) last week was what cast the Arizona Bowl's war room whiteboard into disarray.

It was the second consecutive week that Georgia Southern played the spoiler. The week before, the then-winless Eagles kept South Alabama (4-7, 3-4) from becoming bowl eligible with a 52-0 victory.

New Mexico State (5-6, 3-4) can also earn bowl eligibility if the Aggies beat the South Alabama Jaguars on Saturday.

"We were expecting Lafayette would have gotten eligible when they played Georgia Southern at home," Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said. "What we've seen from this year is there are no certainties in terms of winners, and we've seen a lot of upsets."

Troy's upset of LSU was the Sun Belt's only victory over a Power 5 team, and the Sun Belt's 1-16 record against Power 5 opponents is similar to its 1-16 record last season.

This year's 3-10 record against Group of 5 opponents was lower than last year's 7-10 record.

"This season our nonconference performance didn't compare to what it was a year ago," Benson said. "Pure conference play this year is down, and now, as we approach the postseason, we're anticipating that we can have a positive postseason."

Sports on 12/01/2017