Rutgers & the Big East Bowl Possibilities

This has been a season of astonishing unpredictability all across college football and the Big East has not been spared - making speculating on Rutgers' bowl future a tricky proposition. Rutgers could go anywhere from the Bowl, the newest bowl, to the Sun Bowl - the second oldest, or even no bowl at all.

A good place to start to sort out this whole mess is with the essential rules for picking apart this year's Big East bowl situation. The first rule to know is that only the Big East's BCS bid is assigned by final conference standings - all the other bowls are free to pick whomever they want, as long as that team is bowl eligible. That is good news for Rutgers because of the huge New York City television market and our large contingent of fans who have proven that they will go anywhere to see the team play.

The second rule to be concerned about deals with our worst case scenario. When the NCAA decided to go to a 12 game season it changed the rules on bowl eligibility ever so slightly. In previous 12 game seasons a 6-6 record was good enough not only to snag a bowl bid for a conference affiliated game, but also an at large bid, leftover from conferences that fail to fill all of their slots. The new rule states that an at large bowl must pick any remaining 7-5 teams before they can invite a 6-6 team to a bowl, and that conference affiliated bowls must do the same.

So what are the bowls that are up for grabs. The first is a trip to a BCS Bowl. Unfortunately Rutgers has been eliminated from contention for Big East BCS representative. The Big East, according to its website, also has deals with 6 bowls in addition to the BCS. The first pick goes to the Gator Bowl, which can either select a Big East team, Notre Dame or a Big 12 team. With Notre Dame out of the picture, and having picked a Big East team last year, there is almost no chance that the Gator will pick a Big East team.

Starting last year the Gator Bowl paired with the Sun Bowl in a unique partnership. In years where the Gator Bowl picks a Big 12 team the Sun then gets the second pick of Big East teams after the BCS. A trip to El Paso for a New Years Day showdown with Cal or USC is the best realistic possibility Rutgers. To get a trip to Texas Rutgers would need to win out and hope that West Virginia makes a BCS bowl, either as Big East champion, or as an at large pick. This week a representative of the Sun Bowl said in an interview with the Home News Tribune that "The one thing going for Rutgers is they travel well, they have a great TV market, and they'd make CBS happy," adding "I like Rutgers. I like Rutgers a lot."

The next pick goes to the Meineke Bowl, which pits a Big East team against a mid-tier ACC team. Like the Sun Bowl, the committee who runs the Meineke Bowl is intrigued by the possibility of attracting the New York City market and a large Rutgers travelling contingent. Should Rutgers win out this is the lowest likely placement for the Knights.

At the bottom end of the Big East bowl barrel are the International and PapaJohn' bowls, both in their second year. The bowls alternate the order in which they pick - this year the International Bowl selects ahead of the Bowl. Should Rutgers go 7-5 it is unlikely that they will get passed up by the International Bowl, so if you haven't done so already, get your passport in order.

At the bad end of the spectrum is the possibility that Rutgers has to take an at large bid. Even at 7-5 RU could get left out, if Louisville manages to reel off consecutive wins against South Florida and the Knights. In that case the bowls could pick Louisville, leaving Rutgers searching for an at large bowl berth.

The at large bowls, however, aren't entirely unattractive. At the very least the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth will be open to all the 7-5 teams out there without conference bowl invitations. Should UCLA not become bowl eligible, then the Las Vegas Bowl would also be open. And in a stroke of irony, both sides of the Texas Bowl could be open for at large bids should Kansas State or Oklahoma State lose both of their final games, or if Memphis or Southern Miss do the same.
For the Big East as a whole there are just a few important games left. Should UConn or Cincy beat WVU then that team would likely be the Big East BCS representative and West Virginia would go to the Sun Bowl with the third team falling to the Meineke or International. At this point South Florida looks to be headed for a second straight appearance, as the Meineke seems more interested in the Huskies and Rutgers. Cincinnati could suffer a letdown similar to what Rutgers experienced after losing to the Mountaineers last year. Should they lose to WVU on Saturday, then it's quite possible that they would get passed over by the Sun and Meineke for Rutgers and Connecticut, falling all the way to the International Bowl. For Louisville to have a shot at a bowl they would need to win out. Pittsburgh needs to beat Rutgers, South Florida and West Virginia to have a realistic shot - a feat it is quite unlikely to accomplish.

To sum it up I will go ahead and do something I don't like to do, and that's make a prediction for how the season ends. I think West Virginia loses to either Cincinnati or Connecticut, Rutgers wins out, South Florida loses to Louisville, but wins its other games, and Pitt loses out.

If that prediction comes true then the Big East bowl picture would likely look like this:

  1. Cincinnati or Connecticut - BCS Bowl
  2. West Virginia - Sun Bowl
  3. Rutgers - Meineke Bowl
  4. Connecticut or Cincinnati - International Bowl
  5. South Florida - PapaJohn' Bowl
  6. Louisville - no bowl
  7. Pittsburgh - no bowl
  8. Syracuse - no bowl

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