About this time next week, the University at Buffalo’s football team will learn whether it’s bound for a postseason bowl and, if so, which bowl that is.
The Mid-American Conference has three sure-fire bowl tie-ins this season. Northern Illinois and Bowling Green are guaranteed spots as divisional champions. No. 3 on the list would be 10-2 Ball State, the runner-up to NIU in the West.
However, Northern Illinois could gain a place in a prestigious BCS bowl for a second straight year by beating Bowling Green in Friday’s MAC title game. A Huskies victory would free one of the MAC tie-ins, which then presumably would go to either 8-4 UB or 7-5 Toledo (which has beaten both UB and Bowling Green but Friday was ambushed by 5-7 Akron).
Even if UB isn’t awarded one of the MAC tie-ins it has a good chance of landing in a bowl. For instance, the Big 12 has seven tie-ins but only six teams in the conference have secured the requisite six wins necessary to become bowl-eligible. The Big Ten has eight spots but only seven qualified teams. The American Athletic Conference will fall one or two short of filling its six spots unless 5-6 SMU knocks off 10-1 Central Florida and 5-6 Rutgers beats 2-9 South Florida next Saturday.
Here are the most likely scenarios involving the Bulls:
The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, 5:30 p.m., Dec. 21 in Boise: This is the third of the MAC’s three bowl tie-ins. The opponent is the No. 6 team from the Mountain West Conference (UNLV, Colorado State, San Jose State are among the possibilities). The MAC’s other tie-ins are with the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl and the GoDaddy Bowl. The conference will have at least five bowl tie-ins beginning next season, including new games launching in Nassau, Bahamas, and Boca Raton, Fla.
The Beef O’Brady’s Bowl, 2 p.m., Dec. 23 in St. Petersburg, Fla.: Slated as a match-up between the No. 5 team from Conference USA and the No. 6 from the American Athletic Conference. The American won’t have six teams bowl-eligible unless SMU knocks off Central Florida and this also has a lower-end payout (estimated as a little more than $500,000).
Poinsettia Bowl, 9:30 p.m., Dec. 26 in San Diego: On the drawing board this was Army versus the No. 2 team from the Mountain West. But Army isn’t bowl-eligible and someone has to fill the spot. The lower-end payout (about $500,000) could make it less attractive to bigger schools. For example, the ACC has more bowl-eligible teams (10) than tie-ins (nine) but could find more appealing options.
The Pinstripe Bowl, 12:15 p.m. Dec. 28 in Yankee Stadium: There’s an opening because the Big 12 lacks a seventh bowl-eligible team to face the No. 4 team from the American Athletic (likely 8-4 Houston). The ongoing outreach by UB athletics to the New York City area makes this exceedingly attractive from a marketing standpoint. UB already has an alumni blitz in the works surrounding its Dec. 21 basketball game against Manhattan in the Barclays Center (and probably would welcome dodging the same-day conflict a berth in the Potato Bowl would present).
The payout purse here jumps to a reported $1.8 million, so UB would get elbowed aside under normal circumstances. But are these normal circumstances? The bowl is sponsored by Buffalo-based New Era Cap and company President Pete Augustine is a UB graduate and the chairman of the business advisory board aligned with UB’s New York Bulls initiative.
All told, there are 35 bowl games and, as of early Saturday, 75 bowl-eligible teams. Only Navy and BYU already had been slotted.
The greatest benefit to UB gaining a bowl bid has little to do with the game itself and most everything to do with the extended practice time that inclusion permits. The Bulls need to replace 11 senior starters in 2014 and a bowl game allows them a jump start before spring.
Non-BCS bowl bids typically are extended once the BCS slots are filled following the conclusion of next weekend’s conference championship games.