COLUMBIA – Mark Neville doesn’t have a clue how it will end. Each Monday, the Big 12 Conference presents the Holiday Bowl selection committee with an arduous task. They sift through observations, scenarios and story lines that arise from the previous weekend of play. They kick around one of many questions: Which Big 12 Conference team would best suit their game, and where does Missouri fit into the discussion?
“Where we sit today,” said Neville, the Holiday Bowl’s director of communications, "the picture has probably been as fuzzy as it has ever been.”
Missouri clinched the Big 12 North on Saturday, but the Tigers’ bowl possibilities remain blurred if they lose in the Big 12 championship game against Texas Tech, Texas or Oklahoma on Dec. 6 in Kansas City. Representatives from the Big 12 Conference’s non-BCS bowl possibilities consider Missouri an attractive option but remain adamant that much remains to be decided in the season’s final three weeks.
If Missouri wins the Big 12 title game, its scenarios become simplified. The Tigers will clinch their first BCS berth and play in the prestigious Fiesta Bowl, to be held Jan. 5 in Glendale, Ariz. Missouri last won an outright conference championship in 1960, when it claimed the Big Eight title. The Tigers finished 11-0 and beat Navy in the Orange Bowl.
If Missouri loses, experts say the Tigers will travel to one of three possible venues. CBS Sportsline and Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated have Missouri in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29 in San Antonio (CBS Sportsline says Missouri will play Northwestern but Mandel has Minnesota). ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach and Bruce Feldman have Missouri in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30 in San Diego (Schlabach says Missouri will play Oregon but Feldman has Arizona). College Football News has Missouri against LSU in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2 in Dallas.
The Cotton Bowl receives first selection of the Big 12 Conference’s non-BCS teams. Since Missouri participated in the event last season, it's an outside possibility at best. Of late, bowl officials have not invited the same Big 12 Conference team in consecutive years; Texas appeared in the 1999 and 2000 games, and it marks the last time a Big 12 Conference squad made back-to-back trips. In addition, some expect the Big 12 Conference to receive two BCS berths and the third-place Big 12 South team to draw a Cotton Bowl invite.
“We’ve kept Missouri on our short list,” said Rick Baker, Cotton Bowl president.
“We certainly continue to monitor them and will keep them on our short list all the way through the Big 12 championship game.
“Historically, we have not normally taken a team back two years in a row… Fans usually aren’t as excited to come back two years in a row.
“We’ve just found over the years that it’s more positive on both sides.”
Holiday Bowl officials have the second selection and have expressed interest in Missouri. The Tigers have appeared in the game twice (in 1983 and ’97). Officials also are eyeing Oklahoma State, which beat Missouri in October.
“If Missouri lost that (Big 12) championship, there would definitely be a decision that would need to be made,” Neville said. “There are a few teams that are on our radar, including Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The winner of that game, assuming neither goes to the BCS, would be very attractive as well.
“With Oklahoma State, if we got to the point where we were deciding about those two (Missouri and Oklahoma State), it (the head-to-head victory) is definitely a point for Oklahoma State.”
Experts don’t expect Missouri to fall farther than the Alamo Bowl, which has the third selection under this scenario. The Gator Bowl could pick a Big 12 Conference team after the Holiday Bowl. However, experts are in consensus that it will instead choose Notre Dame to match up against the third ACC selection. Since the event began in 1993, Missouri has never appeared in the Alamo Bowl.
“We think right now our most realistic pool is Missouri, Oklahoma State and Nebraska,” said Rick Hill, the Alamo Bowl’s vice president of marketing and communications.
“One question we’re going to ask … is, ‘OK, how focused are the (Missouri) fans on the BCS and how much disappointment would there be coming to San Antonio? What would the feeling be coming back two times in back-to-back years, even though last year was for the Big 12 championship game?
“A lot of it will depend how their remaining games go. Will they take care of business against Kansas? … And how tight did they play in the Big 12 championship with the advantage of knowing ahead of time that they were going to be in it?”
With uncertainty regarding Missouri’s postseason possibilities, knowledge remains in demand. Soon, it will be decided.
“Every week, it seems we get a little more clear of a picture,” Neville said. “But it’s still up in the air.”