Tuesday, November 20, 2007

BCS or bust.

A week ago, I spoke with the Sun Bowl's selection committee chairman John Folmer, and left the conversation feeling strongly that if UConn beat Syracuse, the Huskies would be chowing down Tex-Mex cuisine on New Year's Eve in El Paso, Texas (that is, provided they didn't win the BCS berth by knocking off West Virginia).

Folmer said last week that his bowl followed a strict criteria based on rankings rather than head-to-head. So if UConn finished ahead of the Bearcats in the Big East standings, which they would clinch with a win over the Orange, his committee would weigh that strongly against the fact that Cincinnati defeated the Huskies. As of last week, the committee was split between UConn and Cincinnati. But Folmer encouraged me to call him again after the committee's weekly meeting on Monday to see if anything had been cleared up.

So on Tuesday morning, I called Folmer again to see how the meeting went. Seems the committee is still very much undecided on what they want to do, but left me with the impression that UConn isn't such a sure thing for El Paso any more. In fact, the committee criteria just might favor Cincinnati, provided the Bearcats take care of Syracuse in the season finale. Folmer also mentioned South Florida has worked its way into the conversations after stomping Louisville on Saturday. And Rutgers hasn't been completely eliminated from the discussion just yet, though it seems unlikely they'll win the 10-person committee's majority of votes.

"The general consensus is there could be three teams that finish 9-3," Folmer said. "It's going to be a tough decision to make. Some guys are saying 'Why Connecticut?' Some are saying 'Why not Connecticut?' At the end of the day, it's going to come down to who comes out with the highest-ranked team. Then the question is, which ranking do we use? Do we use our own ranking? Do we use the BCS? Do we use the AP top 25 or the coaches poll?"

Folmer reiterated that the committee won't need to take into account the usual factors that go into other bowl game's decisions. Namely, attendance. The Sun Bowl doesn't really care which schools have a history of traveling well because they're going to sell the place out no matter what.

"It's probably going to come down to who is the highest-ranked team," Folmer said. "That could hurt Connecticut. Then again, it might not hurt them. We took an informal poll three times, and all three times the outcome was different because someone was influenced by someone else's argument."

To me, it now sounds like a UConn loss and Cincinnati win will mean Cincinnati gets the nod (where they may face off with Oregon, now looking like a sure bet for the Pac-10 opponent in El Paso). UConn is currently the higher ranked team in every way, but Cincinnati is close enough that it will overtake the Huskies in all the ranking systems (except, of course, for the Big East standings).

Here's the 'X' factor for UConn. Folmer doesn't get a vote this year. But as the chairman, he's the deciding voice if there's a 5-5 deadlock in the committee's official vote. And Folmer makes no bones about where he is leaning. He definitely likes UConn. "Me personally, I like UConn a lot," Folmer said.

And while Folmer says it won't matter which team travels the best, he also noted the Sun Bowl's ticket office has received more calls from UConn fans with questions about tickets and looking for travel information than any other school under consideration. "That says a lot about the fan interest in the program," Folmer says. "Our staff hasn't taken a lot of calls, but between 12 and 15 from UConn as opposed to one or two from Rutgers, none from Cincinnati and none from South Florida. That tells you something."

If the Sun does indeed pass on UConn, expect Charlotte to waste little time extending an invitation. Will Webb, the executive director of the Meineke Car Care Bowl, told me today it's still too soon for him to definitively commit to saying UConn would be the top choice in Charlotte. But he was in attendance at the Runway in 2005 for the UConn-Louisville game, prepared to invite the Huskies if they pulled off the upset to become eligible.

"I hope UConn wins and goes to a BCS bowl," Webb said. " That said, we are very interested in them. It's early, but they are very high on our radar and we are excited about the possibility of having them."

As for the ACC end of the Meineke, Webb says his bowl is looking into the possibilities of choosing from Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Florida State or the Maryland/North Carolina State winner.

I suppose my job doesn't become much easier if the Huskies simply beat West Virginia on Saturday (though it will be more exciting). Still have to figure out if its the Orange Bowl or Sugar Bowl.

Some other notes from the Tuesday media luncheon (cheesesteaks, tuna melts and fettuccine alfredo with broccoli....let's just say I'm very hungry right now).

  • Freshman defensive back Jonathan Jean-Louis is Pat White's stunt double for the scout team in practice. "Zach Frazer gets a week off," Randy Edsall said. No word on whether Jean-Louis has been fumbling after every good hit, yet.

  • All kidding aside, White is probably the best player in the Big East and should be under serious consideration for the Heisman Trophy. No one impacts a game more. He runs as well as anyone, including his highly-regarded tailback Steve Slaton, and is underrated as a passer. Kid's got a laser. There's no way to contain White. UConn just has to keep him off the field as long as possible, limit the big plays when its on defense and force him into a couple of turnovers.

  • No need for motivational speeches this week. "We're the ones not expected to be here," Edsall said. "They're the ones who are supposed to win it. But the kids see all that. I don't have to say that stuff. Our approach is the same as it has been all season."

  • Expect Edsall to tell a story or two about his time as an assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996. That's the season the Jags, in just their second season in the NFL, went all the way to the AFC championship game. Jacksonville knocked off the Broncos in Denver to get within a game of the Super Bowl before losing to New England. The stories can work both ways. The tale of an upstart team upsetting a heavy favorite on the road to reach the title game; the tale of veteran players like Jeff Lageman who got so close to the ultimate goal and a once in a lifetime chance but fell short. UConn could be in this position again next season. Or it could be 20 years before its staring a BCS bowl in the face. The lesson: you never know.

  • West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said UConn may have been a surprise early on this season based simply on where it was ranked in the preseason Big East poll. Not any more. "They had so much bad luck last year with injuries," Rodriguez said. "They got their quarterback situation settled. They could have surprised a lot of folks early, but they haven't been a surprise and still had success the last four or five weeks."


Blogger Sean O said...

Man am I tired of that Sun Bowl rep. He keeps changing his mind about everything depending on which reporter he is talking too.

Personally, if UConn loses Saturday (here's hoping they don't), I hope they make it Charlotte. A lot more fans would be able to travel, it's a better time on the Saturday before New Years and UConn would get to beat an ACC team, always fun.

November 20, 2007 5:01 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sign me up for El Paso. better venue, get to go into New Mexico for White Sands, Las Cruces, and it's on network TV against a great opponent.

Who would you rather play, Oregon or North Carolina State?

November 20, 2007 8:25 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Think you just caught South Florida's eye. Your comment on the phone call situation made the message boards, and they're planning a stampede of calls tomorrow to show their interest:


Personally, with a win Saturday USF will finish with the second highest BCS ranking in the Big East, and still have wins over Auburn and West Virginia. Sure, they went on a 3 game losing streak, but lost all three by a combined total of 15 pts, some terrible calls that took away a touchdown in all three games, and yet were still in it on the final play of each of the games. They've got their swagger back now and would match up better than UConn or Cinn against a pac-10 team.

Bring the Bulls!

November 20, 2007 10:31 PM 
Blogger wvlawgeek said...

I am a West Virgina fan, I have gone through this same ride with WVU when Notre Dame was in the mix. Basically, win and you go BCS Bowling lose and who knows. The Sun Bowl Tie-in is a sticky wicket for sure because they don't have the same considerations as other bowls. It is an established bowl in a area where football reigns supreme. As such it is likely that as the president says they are not as concerned with travel. I think it bodes well for your cause that your fan base has demonstrated such interest in the game though. For what it is worth I advise selling out your allotment of tickets regardless of what bowl you get because what you do this year will effect what you get next. My team always has a great following and that has gotten us many bowls over teams with similar and even better conference records. I am not telling you this because I am bragging about our fan base but rather I am saying this because I know that it does weigh heavy upon the committees for most bowls. Anyway, good luck this weekend. I will be cheering madly against your team but afterward much luck to you in your bowl game.


November 21, 2007 4:09 PM 

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