Not enough bowls: Army, BYU un­sure of post­sea­son des­ti­na­tion

Star-Telegram - - Sports - BY RALPH D. RUSSO

Army is ranked for the first time in 22 years and the Cadets would win 11 games for the first time in school his­tory if they beat Navy next week and fol­low that up with a win in a bowl game.

The catch? Army, ranked No. 23 with a 9-2 record, is not guar­an­teed a bowl bid.

For all the com­plaints about too many bowls, this is the se­cond straight sea­son there will be more el­i­gi­ble teams (at least 81) than avail­able bids (78). That has put Army and BYU (6-6), a fel­low in­de­pen­dent that also has a large fol­low­ing, in the strange po­si­tion of track­ing re­sults from all over the coun­try in re­cent weeks. Both head into bowl se­lec­tion Sun­day with post­sea­son plans more un­cer­tain than most.

The chances are good Army will get a bid while Mi­ami (Ohio) and Wyoming might not be so lucky.

That it is not a sure thing for the Black Knights, who haven’t lost since an over­time nail biter at Ok­la­homa in Septem­ber, shows how odd the bowl sys­tem can be.

“I hope it doesn’t hap­pen,” line­backer Cole Chris­tiansen said about Army be­ing shutout. “We’re in the Top 25 so I re­ally hope we get to a bowl game. It is kind of tough, but it’s not the end of the world if it turns out that way.”

Ath­letic di­rec­tor Boo Cor­ra­gan has been work­ing on Army’s bowl prob­lem for months since the pro­gram en­tered the sea­son with­out a con­tracted bowl part­ner – and this is no time to be a free agent on the bowl mar­ket.

The days when bowl or­ga­niz­ers could pick and choose teams to in­vite are long gone. Now con­fer­ences lock up bowl spots for their teams years in ad­vance. All 39 bowl games are ba­si­cally spo­ken for. Most cur­rent con­tracts were ne­go­ti­ated in 2012 and 2013 to co­in­cide with the launch of the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off in 2014 and run through 2019.

That was a tough time to sell Army foot­ball. The Black Knights had one bowl-el­i­gi­ble sea­son (at least six vic­to­ries) from 1997-2013. As re­cently as 2015, Army went 2-10. But coach Jeff Monken has or­ches­trated an im­pres­sive turn­around. Army won seven reg­u­lar-sea­son games in 2015 and made its first bowl ap­pear­ance since 1996, win­ning the Heart of Dal­las Bowl against North Texas.

Last sea­son, the cadets did even bet­ter, beat­ing San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl to fin­ish 10-3.

“The good thing for us is the next cy­cle will be 2020-25 and we can go into that cy­cle as an in­de­pen­dent show­ing that we have been bowl el­i­gi­ble, show­ing that we’re a vi­able team to fill that slot,” Cor­ra­gan said.

Army’s sit­u­a­tion had Cor­ra­gan track­ing nine games last week, in­clud­ing Flor­ida At­lantic vs. Char­lotte, in­volv­ing teams try­ing to be­come el­i­gi­ble.

“It’s a weird dy­namic in our pro­fes­sion to want some­one not to win,” Cor­ra­gan said.

BYU ath­letic di­rec­tor Tom Hol­moe can re­late to the un­likely score­board watch­ing.

“It was nerve wrack­ing,” he said.

It also speaks to the role lower-tier bowls now play in col­lege foot­ball.

“Bowls have a tremen­dous im­pact on the reg­u­lar sea­son,” said Wright Wa­ters, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Foot­ball Bowl As­so­ci­a­tion. “We go into the last week of the sea­son and there were peo­ple that were try­ing to get bowl el­i­gi­ble, and so you have games that are sud­denly mean­ing­ful that 10 years ago 15 years ago meant noth­ing be­cause … they weren’t go­ing any­where.”

BYU’s tele­vi­sion deal with ESPN since go­ing in­de­pen­dent in foot­ball in 2011 has given the Cougars ac­cess to bowls from San Fran­cisco to Mi­ami Beach. ESPN Events owns and op­er­ates 14 bowls. BYU had been pen­ciled in for the Poin­set­tia Bowl in San Diego, but that game went un­der be­fore last sea­son.

“And that’s why even though we have an agree­ment with ESPN that they’ll put us in a game we’re not go­ing to know what game that is un­til the domi­noes fall,” Hol­moe said.

Ev­ery con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game this week­end af­fects the bowl lineup and can cre­ate open­ings or fill spots, de­pend­ing on which teams land in the four-team play­off or New Year’s Six games.

For ex­am­ple, if Ok­la­homa wins the Big 12 and reaches the play­off that would put Texas in the Sugar Bowl and leave the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, with an open spot.

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