And then, there were four.
When Saturday came around, there were six bowl eligible teams in the Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas St., Western Kentucky, Troy, ULM and Texas St. Come the end of Monday, the Cajuns and…unbelievably…the Red Wolves knew their post season fate, as ULL was chosen for the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, and Arkansas St. is headed to Mobile for the GoDaddy.com Bowl, a game that many people predicted the Tops would wind up in.
That’s it. That is all that is guarenteed for a Sun Belt school. The other 4 schools are now in a cut-throat battle to try and play the post-season, and get some much wanted national attention. But how hard could it be? Let’s break this baby down:
There are 35 bowls this year, which means room for 70 teams. Unfortunately, there are currently 78 bowl eligible teams, meaning…yes, that’s right…8 teams will get left out. And, if things go the way they should, there might be a couple of Sun Belt teams on the outside looking in.
So, with all that in mind, and with four other SBC teams eligible, the question remains, and will remain for some time, will the Tops go to a bowl game again?!
Why They Will - wins against an SEC team (okay, yes, it’s Kentucky. But, it was on a neutral site. And it’s the 2nd straight victory against them), and against Navy and Army. Oddly enough, each team had the nation’s #1 rushing attack the week WKU played them.
Another thing working for WKU is number 5 in the back field, Antonio Andrews. The running back broke Jeremy Maclin’s record of the most all-purpose yards over a two year span in FBS history (that record came Saturday when WKU beat Arkansas St. head-to-head…yet, Arkansas St. is still going bowling. Wut?), and has led the nation in rushing for most of the season, but now sits at 4th in the country. Still, that’s something.
The most obvious reason, or, at least, what many people are claiming is a reason, is none other than Bobby Petrino. Wouldn’t you think ESPN would want to see the high publicized and troubled head coach in his new mid-major spot light? Well, maybe not. I understand that Petrino might draw something, but if it can’t draw attendance in Bowling Green (more on that later), will it really be able to hold any sort of national audience for an entire football game? But, sure, okay, let’s put Bobby P in here.
The final reason why WKU will make a bowl game is the in-conference competition. WKU is the 3rd best option at worse (and, in this writer’s eye, is 2nd only to ULL), and the only other SBC team with more than 6 wins. Texas St. won’t get one because of their weak wins, Troy and ULM most likely wont get one because they only have 6 wins, and with an 8 win team in the conference, things look bleak. Although, nothing is ever certain. Just ask MTSU.
Why They Wont - Where to begin where to begin? Let’s start with losses. Yes, WKU only had four of them. But, one of them was a complete debacle against Tennessee (yes, I know, UT was going to beat WKU anyway. But the Tops could have at least, I don’t know, shown up). It wasn’t that they lost, it was how they lost.
Speaking of losses, let’s not even talk about the disapointments that were the ULL and Troy games. If the Toppers hold their own at home…on homecoming…Troy is out of the equation, and WKU only has to battle six other schools for a post-season position. Well, that’s not the case. These two losses, again, aren’t bad losses (well, Troy kind of is, but we won’t get into that.) In both games, WKU blew leads in the second half, and while outplaying both teams in nearly every statistical category, played only half a ball game, which cost them two losses. Another game to look to is the South Alabama game, which immediately followed the UT game. A late Doughty interception lead to a Jaguar score, and a second straight Hilltopper loss. For a while, South Al looked to be the surprise of the SBC, but as it would finish, they will fall below the bowl eligible mark.
The final reason why WKU wont make a bowl game is attendance. It’s one of the factors that lead to WKU getting snubed in 2011 and the one of the reasons GoDaddy picked a Red Wolf team with a worse record and who lost to the Tops head-to-head. The Tops averaged 23,215 this year, and that includes 40,000+ for the UK game in Nashville. People don’t come to see home football games, so why will a bowl think that they are going to travel to go see them? Chad Bishop hounds the fans about it, the Herald sometimes does it, and Casey Tinius did it via twitter this past week, so we will follow suit; there is no doubt that WKU is becoming somewhat of a football school. The bluegrass loves its basketball, but something special is on the horizon on the oas well. The fans need to be in L.T. Smith Stadium to witness it then they can reap the benefits of post season football.
The Final Verdict: I think the odds of 3 SBC teams in the bowl season is strong, but it’ll come down to the Tops and the 6-6 Warhawks, who beat ULL this past weekend and are lead by Kolton Browning, an exciting QB, and was once thought to be done for in the season. IF ULM does get a game, that’ll be TWO, count them TWO, teams that WKU beat head to head, and who have a worse record, to get a game over the Hilltoppers. It’s not likely, but I think it’s possible. Todd Stewart and the athletic department are working hard to get WKU in a game, and possible options include Shreveport, St. Petersburg and Detroit again.
I’m going to say WKU finds a way to sneak into a bowl game once again, and this is the last year we have to worry about it, because being in CUSA will automatically boost WKU’s bubble if it happens again.
It’s going to be a long, tough, agonizing…but fun week of waiting, and hopefully will be well worth it.
Stand up and cheers.