Where Will The Bulldogs Be Bowling?

So, which is it? Will this be a Peach-y keen New Years Eve afternoon, or waking up New Years Day in high Cotton? Could they still squeeze into an Orange experience December 31; or perhaps even feast at a Fiesta in the desert?

Any and all of those holiday destinations remain viable, by greatly-varying degrees, for a Mississippi State program which in two more days receives bowl season assignment. Sometime Sunday afternoon the Bulldogs, and their fans, will learn where the 2014 team will conclude an already-record-setting season. As well as against whom and what time.

The Bulldogs will not be part of the initial College Football Playoff committee’s announcement, at 11:45ct, of the four semifinalists for the national championship. That ultimate goal was dashed last Saturday by a season-ending loss, making Mississippi State 10-2 and also foiling hopes of playing for the Southeastern Conference title.

However State players and fans do have a rooting interest in not just the SEC’s championship game but the other league title contests playing out Saturday. All the possible outcomes will very much play a part in where the Bulldogs go bowling…even if only to solidify current thinking on the subject. This is all because 2014-15 is the first football season to employ the CFP selection process which does more than select four playoff semifinalists.

The 12-member committee’s final 25-team rankings will determine participants, and matchups, in the four access bowls; Peach, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta. Per the CFP’s website, the committee is to: create competitive matchups; attempt to avoid both regular-season rematches and repeat appearances in bowls; and take geography into account.

But wait, there are additional complications because old contracts between conferences and bowls are also allowed for. Such as the SEC and Big 12 champions to the Sugar Bowl, the Big Ten and Pac-12 winners to the Rose, and ACC champ to the Orange. That latter bowl has the additional wild-card of picking the highest-ranked remaining team not in the semifinals from the SEC, Big Ten, or Notre Dame.

This impacts Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs were 10th in this week’s CFP rankings release. Those rankings don’t truly matter, only the final release counts. Still if State stays in the top-ten Sunday, assignment to one of the four access bowls ought to be assured. Not that the Bulldogs can do anything to improve or hurt their case because they aren’t playing Saturday unlike eight others in the top-ten.

What matters in MSU’s case is the other sidelined squad. Michigan State is #8 this week, having moved ahead in the latest rankings. Should they stay in front, that would give them an edge on the Orange Bowl picking order as well. Another Big Ten team, #5 Ohio State, plays #13 Wisconsin for the league crown. And while it would be just about certain a winning Wisconsin would jump into the top-ten, there is no such certainty Ohio State would fall entirely out. Probable yes, but certain? Not even the committee can know now.

What should happen in that event though is State sliding up a slot based on MSU’s own drop from #4 to #10 last week. And there could be further room to improve too as four of the top-nine play each other. #2 Oregon faces #7 Arizona, and #6 Baylor is pitted with #9 Kansas State. All have at least one loss already, and with a Saturday setback all but maybe Oregon would surely fall below State in the new rankings.

But what if there are Saturday upsets? Two conference title games could blow all forecasts to the winds. If #11 Georgia Tech were to stun #4 and lone unbeaten Florida State; or #16 Missouri shock #1 Alabama; or more incredibly both happen, sheer chaos ensues and nobody can begin to guess how the committee would pick their four finalists or rank the rest.

For Mississippi State it all means, well, who knows who to pull for or against? And just to spice things up, one of these dozen CFP bowl slots will go to a team from a ‘group of five’ conference winner. #22 Boise State is expected to beat Fresno State and finish highest among that fraternity. This is not just a technical detail because it truly could cost a SEC team a New Years game berth.

And, cost the SEC a nice chunk of cash.

There is much confusion about payouts under this new format, which directly impacts fan perception of how prestigious a game should be. Forget what we spent two decades learning. The CFP site explains the payoff plan without giving the same hard figures as before for each game that the BCS system provided. Oh, and now there is even an academic performance pool involved!

Should State make the elite dozen, and they should, here’s what counts. Conferences get $6 million for each team in the semifinals to begin; and $4 million for each team in any of three access bowls, the Peach, Cotton, and Fiesta. The Orange is not in this number for 2014-15, interestingly. Teams participating in the semifinals, finals, or Peach, Cotton, and Fiesta access bowls get $2 million directly for their expenses. Again, Orange not included for this year.

Which would make it seem it is in the SEC’s best interests that Mississippi State not go to Miami but stay in one of the three other New Years classics. And while fans used to hearing of those bowl paying $18 million might mutter about ‘just $2 million?’ it needs noting all the revenue past expenses went right to the conference office already for disbursement next summer.

There are other fiscal twists involved, such as total cast available to both P5 and G5 leagues. What matters right now is correcting any miss-perceptions about prestige. The new college landscape has a clear top-tier of six bowls of comparable importance and profit. It might take a few seasons and a full rotation before fans and for that matter some media accept it as so. And there is always the winter weather factor, which is why in some minds or rather emotions a ‘Florida bowl’ in the new second-tier can still fascinate fans more than a top-tier trip to Atlanta or Dallas.

Which, if speculation-consensus proves correct—a big if obviously—is where Mississippi State shall spend New Years, making a program-record fifth consecutive bowl appearance. There these Dogs will play for the fourth victory in five bowls with Coach Dan Mullen, who at 3-1 already has the most post-season wins of any MSU coach ever.

Mississippi State took pre-orders for all the potential bowls earlier last month and the Ticket Office reports the entire allotments were accounted for. In case of the Peach/Cotton/Fiesta it is 12,500 tickets. Of course seats are always available once the bowl matchups are set, and State fans have proven adept working secondary sources the past four winters. But under this new format ducats could prove tougher to obtain when the opponent is announced.

What if, purely to speculate, Mississippi State found itself paired with Ohio State in Atlanta? Market prices would soar instantly. Or say the Bulldogs are pitted against a Big 12 runner-up like Baylor, or TCU, or Kansas State in Dallas? Or out in Glendale for that matter, because if Oregon romps tomorrow Arizona could fall out of the top 12 entirely. Then Boise State would be the western-most team available and somebody from the Big 12 or SEC be sent to the desert. Yes, the CFP lists geography as a matchup criteria, but nobody doubts TV attractiveness counts at some unspoken level too.

And what bowl wouldn’t welcome to town a Dak Prescott with his junior-season success story and kick-off to 2015 for him and State? At the same time Bulldog fans should consider some other factors that may loom larger. Given their own druthers, State players with all their connections there would likely love a trip to Atlanta better than any other address.

Then there is what should be the single largest consideration for Bulldogs. Which is, getting the most winnable matchup possible to end one season and inspire the next.

Remember, a bowl victory would make Mississippi State the first of the state’s SEC programs to win eleven games. And whatever one thinks of prestige and perception in December, all that really counts come January is a happy Bulldog ball club beginning preparations for 2015.

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