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ANALYSIS: Sizing up the Missouri football team's bowl prospects

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 | 7:59 p.m. CST; updated 10:15 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Although a Missourian columnist suggested otherwise a couple of weeks ago (Sorry about that), it appears Gary Pinkel and the Missouri football team are headed for a seventh straight bowl game.

At 5-5, Missouri needs to win one more game to become bowl eligible. The Tigers’ two remaining games are against the two teams in the basement of the Big 12: Texas Tech and Kansas.

The Red Raiders, since a shocking upset of Oklahoma, have lost their past three games by a combined score of 159-33.

The Jayhawks have a chance to become the first team in the history of the Big 12 to lose nine league games, as they have yet to claim a Big 12 victory in seven tries this season, the first year of the nine-game league schedule.

While anything can happen, it’s safe to at least start speculating on some possible bowl destinations for Missouri. In case you need a refresher, here’s the Big 12 bowl selection order:

  1. Allstate BCS National Championship Game
    Jan. 9, New Orleans
  2. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
    Jan. 2, Glendale, Ariz.
  3. AT&T Cotton Bowl
    Jan. 6, Arlington, Texas
  4. Valero Alamo Bowl
    Dec. 29, San Antonio
  5. Insight Bowl
    Dec. 30, Tempe, Ariz.
  6. Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl
    Dec. 28, San Diego
  7. Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
    Dec. 31, Houston
  8. New Era Pinstripe Bowl
    Dec. 30, Bronx, N.Y.

Some notes regarding this:

  • The Big 12 is not guaranteed a spot in the National Championship, but if Oklahoma State wins its final two games, the Cowboys are headed to New Orleans.
  • If Oklahoma State were to make the National Championship, the Big 12 would not be guaranteed a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, though it’s likely that a two-loss Oklahoma would still be a strong candidate to be selected.

The Factors

Bowl selection is based on a number of things, not just conference record.

The goal of the bowl games is to get good matchups, but more important, each bowl wants to sell tickets and create a strong economic impact in its host community.

Therefore, selection is just as much about strong fan bases as it is about a team’s record. Perhaps more.

Missouri has a well-documented perception of not traveling well for bowl games, which has knocked it down the totem pole in past years when it comes to bowl selections, regardless of strong records.

Some say that’s why the 11-2 Tigers were left behind for the 2008 Orange Bowl in favor of 11-1 Kansas, even though Missouri beat the Jayhawks in the final game of the regular season. Missouri settled for the Cotton Bowl, and fans responded by buying all 18,000 tickets from MU’s allotment.

However, the next season Missouri sold 6,500 of its 11,000-ticket allotment for the Alamo Bowl.

The perception that Missouri was getting the short end of the stick continued two seasons later when the team was relegated to a Texas Bowl matchup against Navy in 2009. The Tigers did their reputation no favors by again selling 6,500 of their 11,000 tickets.

Figures aren’t available for last year’s Insight Bowl appearance, but the game between Missouri and Iowa broke the Insight Bowl’s record with a crowd of 53,453.

Who else is available to play in the game also matters. If a bowl can get an intriguing matchup between two teams with some history, it might opt to use that as a draw to get fans to come to the game. Last year’s Missouri-Iowa game was an example of two states which border each other that hadn’t played each other in 100 years.

Finally, for the conspiracy theorists out there, there’s the fact that Missouri is headed to the SEC, and that through some sort of back-door politics, the Big 12 can influence a bowl or two to overlook Missouri because it’s leaving the league. There has been a lot of speculation to this effect but not a lot of substance. Even if this were to happen, it’s highly unlikely anyone would ever find out publicly.

So with all that said, let’s take a look at the possibilities.

The No-Ways

National Championship Game, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Alamo Bowl

Just forget these right now, there is no way Missouri gets this high in the selection order.

The Extremely Long Shot

Insight Bowl

Let’s start with this: It’s highly unlikely that Missouri would be asked back to Phoenix. The Tigers were there for last year’s Insight Bowl and back again in September for a road game against Arizona State. Logic would say that anyone who wanted to go see Missouri play a football game in Phoenix has already done it.

However, ESPN’s latest bowl projections had a team the Tigers were pretty familiar with slotted in as the Insight Bowl’s Big Ten team: Nebraska.

The potential for renewing what has been a fiery rivalry could be enough to convince the Insight Bowl Committee to reach for the Tigers. It’s improbable, but still a remote possibility.

The Likely Destinations

Holiday Bowl, Texas Bowl

Missouri figures to be behind the following teams in the selection order: Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas and Texas A&M.

Although the Tigers might end up with a better record and have victories against the Longhorns and Aggies, those schools’ massive fan bases would likely push them ahead of Missouri in the pecking order.

That would leave Missouri and Baylor looking at the Holiday Bowl and the Texas Bowl.

The Holiday Bowl draws the third choice from the Pac-12 for its other team, and depending on what happens with Oregon and Stanford’s BCS hopes, that could leave Washington, Utah, Arizona State and UCLA as potential choices. While Missouri’s early-season game with Arizona State was exciting, if the Holiday Bowl decides to go with the Sun Devils, that would likely preclude the Tigers from being chosen.

If Missouri fell to the Texas Bowl for the second time in three years, it would face the No. 6 choice from the Big Ten. Potential options here would include Purdue, Ohio State, Iowa, Northwestern or Illinois.

The Worst Case Scenario

Pinstripe Bowl

Two scenarios could push Missouri down to the bottom of the pile.

If Oklahoma were to get passed over for the Fiesta Bowl, that pushes everyone down one spot (i.e. Oklahoma goes to the Cotton Bowl, Kansas State to the Alamo, etc.), leaving the Tigers, if they were to be the last pick, headed northeast for bowl season.

Alternatively, if Texas Tech were to get bowl-eligible, there’s a possibility the Texas Bowl would choose the Red Raiders over Missouri.

While playing a football game at Yankee Stadium is undeniably cool, New York in December isn’t exactly a destination to get excited about.

More important, the Pinstripe is a bowl with virtually no prestige, and getting picked last never helps anyone’s self-esteem.

The Pinstripe Bowl gets the fourth pick from the Big East, so potential opponents there might include Louisville, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, South Florida and Syracuse.

These projections are nothing but conjecture and should be treated as such. For more bowl questions and answers or to take issue with this piece, email Harry at harry.plumer@gmail.com or find him on Twitter, @HarryPlumer


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Comments

Russell Barclay November 16, 2011 | 8:12 p.m.

No bowl is a bad bowl by my lights. I would love to be in "The City" for New Year's.

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