BOCA RATON – As FAU approaches Saturday’s final regular-season game against Charlotte with eyes on becoming bowl eligible, there’s a an excellent chance that, for the second-consecutive season, a sixth win won’t guarantee a bowl berth for everyone.
It’s likely again this season that there will be more eligible teams than bowl spots. Should that happen, teams with six wins will find themselves at home for the holidays.
The possibility of being bowl eligible yet left home doesn’t concern FAU coach Lane Kiffin.
“No, I have not heard of that,” Kiffin said. “I’ve heard that if we win, we’re going to a bowl game. I don’t know anything about not going at 6-6.”
Who did Kiffin hear that from?
“I’m not going to really get into who I heard it from but it was discussed a week ago, and even which bowls would be, potentially, we would go to with six or seven wins,” Kiffin said. “We’ll see.”
With 39 bowls this year plus the championship game, there are 78 bowl berths available. Entering this week 71 teams have already achieved six wins. An about a couple dozen teams that could still become bowl eligible.
Conference USA holds seven primary bowl tie-ins and two more secondary ties should the primary conference not produce enough eligible teams to fulfill it’s contractual spots. Six Conference USA teams are already bowl eligible, and because all of them are already certain to finish the season with more victories than FAU, those six are assured of berths.
FAU and Southern Miss will both be playing for bowl eligibility this week, and Southern Miss (which plays 1-10 UTEP) may get a second chance the following week. (More on that in a bit.)
Should both FAU and Southern Miss achieve bowl eligibility, and all of the other conferences have enough eligible teams to fill their bowl slots, Conference USA and their bowl partners will have to make a choice: Do they want Lane Kiffin and his media magic as a television draw, or would they prefer a Southern Miss squad with a significantly larger fan base that travels?
Kiffin’s optimism indicates his belief that the call will go in FAU’s favor. Precedent suggests it could go either way, depending on which teams are available. In 2008 the Motor City Bowl selected a six-win team coached by Howard Schnellenberger over other candidates. Five years later, the year FAU dismissed Carl Pelini and rallied behind interim coach Brian Wright to win its final four games of the season, the Owls were left home with six wins.
“Obviously we want to go to a bowl,” Kiffin said. “It’s more practices for your team, developing young players, excitement for the fans and I think everybody.”
FAU’s best chance of assuring a trip to a bowl following a win on Saturday would appear to be having the ACC come up short of bowl eligible teams. Heading into what is the final week of the regular season for most teams, the ACC boasts nine bowl eligible teams and 11 spots to fill – provided Clemson makes the four-team playoff. Three ACC teams that aren’t already eligible still have the opportunity to achieve their sixth win. Florida St.’s been to a bowl ever season since 1982, but if the Seminoles don’t beat Florida on Saturday, they’ll be staying home.
Wake Forest has to beat Duke (7-4) for the Deacons to go bowling.
And Virginia Tech still needs to win two games. Their regular-season finale was scheduled to be Friday against Virginia. Win that game and the Hokies will be 5-6, playing only 11 games because Va. Tech had one of its early-season contests canceled because of Hurricane Florence. The NCAA allows teams which missed games in such manner to schedule an additional game during the weekend conferences host championship games, provided their opponent hasn’t already played their maximum 12 games. On Sunday Va. Tech announced that, should it keep it’s bowl hopes alive by defeating Virginia on Friday, it will play Marshall the following week.
If the ACC isn’t able to fulfill its bowl tie-ins, that opens a spot in the Independence Bowl, where Conference USA has a secondary tie in. The ACC’s scheduled opponent in that game is the SEC, which already has 10 bowl eligible teams for its 10 tie-ins. But at least one of those eligible teams, and maybe two, will almost certainly take part in the college football playoff, opening another spot. Vanderbilt, which plays Tennessee this week, is the lone remaining SEC school with a chance of gaining eligibility.
Should Southern Miss lose to UTEP this week it, too, would be eligible to quickly schedule another game, if it’s able to locate an opponent. Hurricane Florence also forced the cancellation of the Southern Miss vs. Appalachian St. game earlier this season.
Conference USA also has a secondary tie-in with the Frisco Bowl, where the AAC currently is short one bowl eligible team. Southern Methodist can fill the final slot by defeating Tulsa, and Tulane can do the same by beating Navy. If UCF finds its way into the playoff, the AAC would need both SMU and Tulane to become eligible in order to fill all its slots. The MAC, the AAC’s opponent in the Firsco Bowl, already has more than enough eligible teams to fill its tie-ins – and Miami and Akron could both still reach the six-win mark.
But for any of that to matter, FAU has to defeat Charlotte (4-7, 3-4) on Saturday.
Charlotte threw a bit of a wild card into equation on Sunday when it announced coach Brad Lambert would not be retained next season. Lambert is still expected to be on the sideline for Saturday’s game.
“I don’t know that it changes much of the game plan,” Kiffin said.