Friday, November 27, 2009

Breaking Down UCLA's Bowl Chances

With the UCLA-USC game kicking off at 7:00 PM tomorrow, that leaves a lot for Bruin fans to do during the day. For those interested in UCLA's bowl fate, here's a break-down on who to root for and against, and why.

Scenario 1: Poinsettia Bowl

There is a small chance that UCLA could finish tied for sixth place in conference, potentially receiving an invitation to the Poinsettia Bowl, the last of the Pac-10’s six bowl tie-ins.

If UCLA beats USC, and the Trojans lose their final game to Arizona, USC and UCLA would (unbelievably) be tied. Alternately, if the Bruins beat USC, and Arizona loses its final two games, the Bruins and Wildcats would finish tied. In fact, should UCLA and Arizona State both win this Saturday, UCLA would be guaranteed a sixth-place tie with the loser of the Arizona-USC game the following week.

Even if UCLA winds up tied for sixth, however, that merely gives the Poinsettia Committee the option of selecting UCLA. There is no tie-breaker rule for the lower-level bowls like there is for the Rose Bowl. The Poinsettia can choose whomever they like among any teams tied for sixth in the Pac-10, presumably based on which one they feel would provide the better TV ratings and ticket sales.

Root against Arizona

The Poinsettia would almost surely pick USC over anyone else, since they are a huge draw. But the Bruins would likely get a nod over Arizona. So we want to be tied with the Wildcats. After two big, disappointing loses, Arizona is only three-point favorites on the road this week against Arizona State, and will finish the season at USC.

Scenario 2: Seven wins, At-large bowl bid

The Poinsettia is a long shot. UCLA is most likely facing an at-large bowl bid. There is, of course, no guarantee the Bruins get an invite, so several things need to work in our favor.

First things first, though. NCAA rules require bowls looking for at-large replacements to select seven-win teams ahead of six-win teams. Bragging rights aside, beating USC this week gets UCLA to seven wins, and therefore puts them at the front of the line for any open bowl slots.

In fact, it would all but guarantee UCLA an invite, likely from the Humanitarian.

Scenario 3: Six wins, At-large bowl bid

This is probably the most likely scenario anyway, so let’s focus on it. It’s still possible for UCLA to land a bowl game with six wins. But it would be a steep climb.

The formula is simple: We need as many conferences as possible to not fill their bowl obligations, opening up potential slots for UCLA to play. And we need as few teams with seven wins as possible, keeping them from bumping UCLA out of those spots.

Potential slots

Up to eight bowl slots could become available this season for at-large teams. The ACC will definitely not fill two of its obligations, the EagleBank and GMAC Bowls. Depending on how things turn out, up to six additional bowls – the Humanitarian, New Mexico, St. Petersburg, Pizza, Texas, and the GMAC (in search of a second team) -- might be looking for replacements as well.

Cheer for TCU and Boise State

The best thing working for UCLA right now in terms of an at-large bowl bid is TCU and Boise State. If both the Horned Frogs and the Broncos win their final games, they can get at-large BCS bowl invites.

Not only does that open-up additional bowl spots, but, more importantly, it opens up western bowls, as the WAC and Mountain West would have two fewer teams to fill their bowl tie-ins. Bowls in the west would naturally prefer to have western teams in order to maximize interest and attendance. UCLA is much more likely to get an invite to the Humanitarian or New Mexico Bowl than any bowl game east of the Mississippi. These are prime spots for the Bruins.

Both TCU and Boise State are at home this week. TCU has an almost guaranteed win against New Mexico – they are 44 point favorites! Boise State faces a much tougher test in Nevada, although are 14-point favorites.

Root against Wyoming, Hawaii, Army, Kansas, and UConn

All of these schools have five wins right now. Those that get to six (in Hawaii’s case seven) will receive automatic bowl berths by virtue of their conference tie-ins.

A Wyoming loss is the most important, since a win would put the Cowboys in the New Mexico Bowl, one of the two available bowls out west. Wyoming finishes their season against a Colorado State team still looking for its first conference win. This is a rivalry game, though, and the Rams are at home. The Cowboys are actually three-point dogs.

Hawaii is also important, since a seven-win Hawaii team gets an automatic invite to the Hawaii Bowl. They face a tough contest this week at home against Navy, who are 10-point favorites, and would need another win over a very good Wisconsin squad the following week at home to qualify. If they lose either game, the WAC would fill their spot with another eligible team, which would leave no additional at-large WAC teams to fill those western bowls.

Kansas, UConn, and Army losses are helpful in that at-large eastern schools would likely fill these bowl spots before coming out west. Kansas is three-point underdogs against rival Missouri in their season finale. Connecticut has two games left on their schedule. They face a likely win against Syracuse at home this week, and are 14-point favorites. They have a second (although more difficult) chance for a win next week at home against South Florida. Army takes on Navy in two weeks, and will be underdogs.

Teams to fill them

There are a number of at-large teams with six wins or better right now. Some teams are virtually guaranteed bowl slots by virtue of contingency contracts – Bowling Green will probably go to the GEAC and Middle Tennessee to one of the SEC’s unfilled bowls, assuming the SEC sends two teams to the BCS. There are also a handful of teams at five wins that could become bowl eligible this week.

But we’ll focus on the most likely competition to fill the above bowl slots.

Northern Illinois is already at seven wins, with an outside shot at getting to eight. They are almost certainly going bowling, it’s just a question of where.

Notre Dame is an almost certain lock to get a bowl, too, since they are such a huge television draw. They will be the first six-win team chosen, if they can’t get to seven, you can bank on that. Stanford should handle them on the Farm this week in any case.

Cheer against UAB, SMU, and Marshall

Conference USA has contingency contracts to fill Army’s spot in the GMAC and the Big-12’s spot in the Texas Bowl should those become available. They can fill Army’s spot now, but don’t (currently) have a seventh team to take the Big-12 slot. UAB can get there with a win over Central Florida at home this week. The Blazers are three-point dogs.

In a worst case scenario -- should Army and Kansas win their final games -- all three of these C-USA teams will be at-large. SMU and Marshall have six wins. Keeping both at that mark means less seven-win teams looking for an invite. Southern Methodist is heavily favored (-17) at home this week against a perennially terrible Tulane team. Marshall plays at UTEP in a toss-up.

Cheer against Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette

These two schools have six wins, but the Sun Belt has already filled its lone bowl obligation, and will likely put its second-place team into the SEC’s open spot. If these teams get to seven wins, they would get invites over a six-win UCLA squad.

This is an exciting weekend for the Sun Belt, as their best teams go toe-to-toe. Monroe will be at home against second-place Middle Tennessee, who is only favored by three. Lafayette is nine-point dogs at home against the conference leader, Troy. Bowling Green is eight-point favorites in their MAC finale at home against Toledo.

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