The final month of the regular season is upon us. The CFP committee is beginning to release their top 25 rankings, and ridiculous bowl projections are only going to become more frequent (the next person to say Marshall is going to the New Mexico Bowl is getting slapped).
The bowl selection process can be complicated. But as we get closer to the most wonderful time of the year, there’s a pressing question. There’s a good chance several Power 5 conferences could come up short when filling out their bowl obligations. Many of those conferences have a ton of bowls they are affiliated with, and as the middling P5 teams cannibalize themselves, some of those slots could go unfilled. What does this mean for the G5? Could they scoop up more bowl games this year?
To answer this question, let’s consider how many teams from each conference could go bowling. For our purposes, it doesn’t necessarily matter which teams, just the number. We’ll put teams into four categories. “Eligible” teams have already won six or more games and will definitely bowl. “Likely” teams haven’t gotten six wins yet, but are pretty much a lock to do so. “In the hunt” means a team hasn’t been disqualified yet, but they’ll need to spring an upset or two. Finally, “ineligible” teams have already lost seven or more games and can’t qualify.
SEC: 7 eligible, 1 likely, 5 in the hunt, 1 ineligible (Ole Miss is under a one year bowl ban)
ACC: 4 eligible, 4 likely, 5 in the hunt, 1 ineligible
Big XII: 4 eligible, 2 likely, 2 in the hunt, 2 ineligible
Big Ten: 5 eligible, 2 likely, 7 in the hunt
Pac-12: 5 eligible, 2 likely, 4 in the hunt, 1 ineligible
Notre Dame is also eligible.
Adding these up, we currently have 26 eligible P5 teams, with 11 more likely. 23 others are in the hunt for a postseason bid, but nothing is guaranteed.
So what does this all get us? I’ll spare you the dry calculations and cut to the chase.
Depending on the degree of cannibalism, there’s a decent chance the SEC won’t be able to fill its bottom two bowls, the Birmingham Bowl and the Independence Bowl. If three teams make it to the NY6 or none of the hunting teams go bowling, a third could come open. That bowl would come from a pool of six that the SEC considers equal: the Outback Bowl (vs Big Ten), the Taxslayer Bowl and Music City Bowl (one is vs Big Ten, the other ACC), the Texas Bowl (vs Big XII), or the Liberty Bowl (vs Big XII). If I had to guess, I’d say the Liberty Bowl is the likely candidate, but if Vandy or Tennessee goes bowling, they might send them there, so who knows?
The ACC could have just enough teams to fill their bowls, but depending on cannibalism and how many make an NY6 bowl, we could see one or two open up. If so, it would come from the ACC’s “Tier 2” bowls, which include the Quick Lane Bowl (vs Big Ten, if they fill it), the Military Bowl (vs AAC, likely Navy), or the Independence Bowl (vs SEC, if they fill it). Anyone’s guess which they would leave open, especially if the SEC can’t fill the I-Bowl and if the Big Ten can’t fill the Quick Lane Bowl (spoiler alert, they probably won’t).
If both Texas Tech and Kansas State make a bowl, the Big XII may be able to fill its bids. If not, the Heart of Dallas Bowl (which gets last pick) could open up. If it gets worse, or three teams make the NY6, the Cactus Bowl vs the Pac-12 is another possibility.
The Big Ten? Oh, there’s no way in hell they’re filling all these bowls, especially if cannibalism is big. The Heart of Dallas Bowl, which they traded C-USA for, is basically a forgone conclusion to have an open spot. The Quick Lane Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl (vs ACC) and Foster Farms Bowl (vs Pac-12) could all be available if none of the “in the hunt” teams get eligible.
The Pac-12 is the one P5 conference with a legitimate shot to overfill their obligations. If teams like Arizona State, Utah, or UCLA get eligible, they may be floating around looking for unfilled slots.
So, assuming all these bowls are open, who gets to fill them? This only affects the Group of 5 if there are available G5 teams, so let’s examine them.
American: 4 eligible, 2 likely, 5 in the hunt, 1 ineligible
Mountain West: 3 eligible, 3 likely, 4 in the hunt, 2 ineligible
Conference USA: 1 eligible, 7 likely, 3 in the hunt, 3 ineligible
MAC: 3 eligible, 2 likely, 6 in the hunt, 1 ineligible
Sun Belt: 1 eligible, 4 likely, 5 in the hunt, 2 ineligible
Oh, the independents? Army has already accepted a bid to the Armed Forces Bowl. The rest? Yeah... it’s not pretty over there.
So how will these conferences fill their bowls? The Sun Belt will likely have just enough to fill their five bowls, while the MAC and Mountain West should fill theirs with the possibility of one or two teams each left over. The American looks like it might come up a team or two short assuming it sends its champion to the NY6, but Conference USA will fill its bowls in its sleep.
So, what does this leave us with? In terms of the bowls left open, we have to first look at secondary agreements. A few bowls have agreements with alternate conferences in case their primary conferences fall short. The Independence Bowl has such agreements with the American and Conference USA. With the American probably coming up short, the odds of a C-USA team in Shreveport look pretty good. The quality of that team may depend on whether or not the ACC can send a team there. The Quick Lane Bowl could very well see the Big Ten and ACC both come up short, so their secondary contract with the MAC will likely be invoked. If the Big Ten can’t fill the Foster Farms Bowl, they have an agreement with the Mountain West. Look for a better MWC team to head to a bowl that gets third choice of the Pac-12 teams.
It should also be noted that the Frisco Bowl (formerly the Miami Beach Bowl) features an American team against some at-large opponent. Considering the small size of Toyota Stadium, it’s doubtful that team will come from one of those extra Pac-12 teams, so an extra G5 team will likely head there.
Let’s recap with a list of bowls that will likely have at-large bids available. I’m leaving out the ones I mentioned where secondary agreements could come into play.
Birmingham Bowl vs American
Pinstripe Bowl vs ACC
Quick Lane Bowl/Military Bowl/Independence Bowl vs... well, it’s a mess. Blame the ACC.
Gasparilla Bowl vs C-USA
Heart of Dallas Bowl (both Big Ten and Big XII may be short)
Frisco Bowl vs American (assuming AAC fills it)
Hawaii Bowl vs Mountain West
If the Power 5 cannibalize themselves even more than expected, here’s a few more that could open:
Liberty Bowl (SEC vs Big XII)
Cactus Bowl (Pac-12 vs Big XII)
We’ll likely see some C-USA teams fill several of these, especially 6-6 teams. A couple of MAC teams could also come in to play. So, for example:
C-USA could end up in the Birmingham Bowl, Frisco Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl, and Independence Bowl.
MAC could end up in the Quick Lane Bowl, Gasparilla Bowl, and Heart of Dallas Bowl
Mountain West could end up in the Foster Farms Bowl
But, this is certainly not the only possible way it could end up. Plus, keep in mind that if there are any spots left after all the 6-6 teams are taken, 5-7 teams with high APRs could make bowls.
Whatever the case, if these projections hold up at all, it could be a wild ride come bowl selection time!