COLUMBIA - Depending on how you want to look at it, this weekend is either the most exciting or nerve-wracking one in the 117 years of Missouri football.
If the No. 1 Tigers defeat the No. 9 Sooners, they can secure the program’s first Big 12 Conference title since 1969 and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series National Championship.
The Tigers would likely play West Virginia in the championship, or Ohio State should West Virginia lose its final regular season game against rival Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Things can get a little tricky if Missouri loses. As confusing as the BCS system is, the Tigers bowl game destination would be just as perplexing.
With a loss, Missouri’s chances for an at-large BCS bid take a hit but aren’t lost. The Sooners would get the automatic bid to the Fiesta Bowl as a result of being the Big 12 champion. BCS rules say that to be invited as an at-large team, a team must be in the top 14 of the BCS rankings. With three teams in the top 10 of the BCS rankings, the Big 12 has a good chance to send another team, though its not likely the Tigers would go to the Fiesta Bowl to play the Sooners for a third time.
In the scenario of a Missouri loss, the Tigers will get a good look from both the other two BCS bowls, the Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl.
The Orange Bowl will have the first pick of at–large teams, followed by the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl gives an automatic bid to the SEC champion and their at-large pick rests on Saturday’s outcomes. MU’s success on the field and lack of big game exposure appeals to some bowl committee members such as Sugar Bowl President Paul Hoolahan.
“They’re as good as any other at-large team, and I like whenever you have a team that has not played in a big game in a while,” Hoolahan said. “The enthusiasm from their fans is great as you saw at Arrowhead (against Kansas) and that is something that we would like to capture.”
A lot also depends on if the Tigers look more attractive with two losses than Kansas does with one loss.
The BCS bowls each pay out $17 million on behalf of the participating team that is divided equally among the team’s in each conference.
Among non-BCS bowls, the Cotton Bowl routinely has first pick of the second-place teams in the Big 12 followed by the Holiday Bowl and then the Gator Bowl. Cotton Bowl representatives have Missouri high on the list because of the local interest in Dallas-area Tigers players such as quarterback Chase Daniel.
“We have a lot of Missouri alumni in the Dallas area and nothing but the utmost positive feelings toward the program,” Cotton Bowl President Rick Baker said.
The Cotton Bowl is guaranteed the first pick should the BCS take two team’s from the Big 12 Conference but will pick after the BCS does. If Missouri loses and the BCS takes Kansas ahead of them, the Tigers could be headed to Dallas on New Year’s Day.
If the BCS takes two Big 12 teams, the Holiday Bowl picks after the the Cotton Bowl. If the BCS only takes one Big 12 team, the Gator Bowl can jump in ahead of the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers could go here if the BCS only takes one Big 12 team and the Cotton Bowl takes Kansas. The Tigers played in the 1998 Holiday Bowl and the Tigers intrigue its representatives and would be happy with whichever Big 12 teams they have to choose from.
“MU is a team people would be excited to see because they have alumni everywhere, they have loyal fans and we know they will come out,” Mark Neville, the Holiday Bowl director of communications, said.
A Missouri loss makes the Holiday Bowl a possibility but, as with the Cotton Bowl, how the BCS chooses is a big factor.
Because of a stipulation between the conference and the bowl committee, the Gator Bowl is required to take a Big 12 team twice in a four-year period. The attraction of a one-loss Kansas team or a two-loss Missouri team could prompt the Gator Bowl to take either school, though Gator Bowl President Richard Catlett says it depends on Saturday’s results.