What a difference one week can make.
Last week, I said that Week 12 would be huge for the MAC's bowl picture, but it would be inaccurate to say that what actually happened is what I had in mind.
Perhaps the biggest news of the weekend is what happened on Saturday in Lawrence, Kansas. The Kansas Jayhawks entered their game with West Virginia on a three-season losing streak in Big 12 play. It had been so long since they won a conference game that their last win came against Colorado -- a team that hasn't been in the league in three years. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers needed only wins over Kansas and lowly Iowa State (at home) to clinch a likely berth in the Pinstripe Bowl.
As so often happens in November, what the college football world expects is not what the college football world gets. Kansas built a 31-7 win and cruised to a 31-19 victory. The loss was West Virginia's seventh, which eliminated them from bowl consideration.
Elsewhere in the Big 12, TCU went to Kansas State in must-win mode. Although their bowl hopes were a long-shot regardless because of a date with Baylor still on their slate, they had to beat KSU to remain alive. Unfortunately for the Horned Frogs, the date with Baylor means nothing now. The Wildcats kicked a field goal with just seconds left to win 33-31 and keep TCU at home in the post-season for the first time in nearly a decade.
All this means that the Big 12 is now set at six bowl-eligible teams, and the conference has seven contractually-obligated bowl spots. So, one of those (almost certainly the Pinstripe Bowl) will now be open. This is unexpected but very good news for the MAC.
Elsewhere, USC continued their resurgence under interim head coach Ed Orgeron by beating Stanford 20-17. This is big because of how it affects the BCS at-large picture and, thus, bowls further down the line. Stanford's loss means that Oregon is back to having control of their own destiny in the Pac 12. So, instead of being an at-large BCS team in the Orange Bowl, they're much more likely to get the automatic bid to the Rose Bowl.
This will likely shift who the Orange Bowl decides to select as an at-large team, likely to face Clemson. Instead of taking Stanford, they're more likely to select a Big Ten team. At this point, it's more likely to be Michigan State than Wisconsin. This shift is important because it means that the Big Ten may now fail to fill TWO of it's obligated bowl spots. Indiana and Northwestern are both 4-6, but because they have yet to play Ohio State and Michigan State respectively, neither seems likely to be bowl-eligible. So, the Big Ten will have only seven eligible teams for nine spots. That should open up the Big Ten's spots in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and Little Caesars Bowl.
In the Mountain West, San Jose State lost to Nevada. This will probably keep that league at just six eligible teams. If Fresno State goes to the BCS, as they would if the season ended today, that would leave the Mountain West one team shy of filling their bowl spots. This should open up a spot in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against one of the MAC teams.
Finally, the SEC has nine eligible teams right now. However, they will likely have to fill 11 bowl spots because they are almost certain to get a BCS at-large bid. Thus, two of the three teams currently at 4-6 (Mississippi State, Florida, Tennessee) will have to win their final two games. Right now, I do not believe that any of them will, but it wouldn't be the biggest surprise in the world if one pulled an upset. Regardless, one (or two) of the SEC's bowl spots should open up.
One of the SEC spots that could open up is the BBVA Compass Bowl. The MAC has a secondary agreement with that game, as well as with the Poinsettia Bowl. If those spots open up, the MAC gets them.
What does this mean for the MAC? PLENTY.
Last week, I was pretty convinced that the MAC would send only four teams to bowl games. Now, it appears quite likely that the MAC will get five -- and maybe even six -- bowl teams. (Do you hear me, Ohio University?)
The biggest "ifs" in that scenario at this point are: 1) Will the Pinstripe Bowl be inclined to take Buffalo rather than a higher-profile team like Notre Dame? and 2) Will two of those three 4-6 SEC teams fail to become eligible?
If the answer to those questions are yes, then only Central Michigan will be left out of the bonanza. And who could've expected that just seven days ago? (Somebody needs to send Charlie Weis a present -- get Jeremy Guy on that right now!)
Here are the basic numbers as we enter Week 13, with just three weeks left in the regular season...
Bowl eligible teams: 65
Teams that cannot become eligible: 35
Need one win in three remaining games: 1
Need one win in two remaining games: 9
Need one win in one remaining game: 1
Need two wins in three remaining games: 1
Need two wins in two remaining games: 11
Need three wins in three remaining games: 2
Based on the above, 25 fates are yet to be determined. Of those, I believe that 11 will become eligible -- including Central Michigan and Florida Atlantic, both of whom must win their final two games. That will mean 76 bowl-eligible teams, six of whom will ultimately not get a bowl game.
Week 13 MAC Bowl Projections:
Little Caesars Bowl: N. Illinois (vs. Boston College*)
GoDaddy.com Bowl: Ball State (vs. Western Kentucky)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Bowling Green (vs. Oregon St.**)
Poinsettia Bowl: Toledo (vs. Boise State)
BBVA Compass Bowl: Ohio (vs. Middle Tennessee St.)
Pinstripe Bowl: Buffalo (vs. Rutgers)
* -- replacement for Big Ten team
** -- replacement for Mountain West team
Eligible teams with no bowl:
We'll update again next week, as things should be even more clear. Obviously, the key MAC game this week is Northern Illinois versus Toledo. If NIU wins, that should really set this pecking order in stone. If Toledo wins, then I would be inclined to move the West teams around, by putting Toledo in Detroit, Northern Illinois in Mobile and Ball State in San Diego. As for the East teams, I don't see much movement happening there at all, regardless of what happens in the BGSU/Buffalo game or the MAC Championship. With the Pinstripe Bowl potentially being open, Buffalo is a perfect fit there, and an East team is destined for Boise. Ohio will get a spot only if that sixth game opens up.