Barring upset, Irish out of Big East bowls
The Big East's bowl picture, complicated by Notre Dame's potential involvement, has gotten a lot clearer, at least as it relates to USF and its chances of being left out of the conference's contracted bowls.
The easy explanation: Notre Dame cannot be involved in a Big East bowl unless the Fighting Irish can pull off a huge upset Saturday at No. 5 Southern Cal. A loss would leave Notre Dame at 6-6, and neither the Gator nor Sun bowls could select a 6-6 Irish team with any 7-5 team available. There is a "two-win rule" that allows a bowl to pick a team if it is within two wins of the winningest available team -- say if Notre Dame were 7-5 and West Virginia were 9-3 -- but that rule doesn't cover 6-6 teams. The NCAA does not allow a 6-6 team to be chosen ahead of a team in the same conference (and Notre Dame is counted in the Big East as it relates to bowl contracts) that is 7-5 or better.
(You may have seen the Sun Bowl's Bernie Olivas quoted as saying he probably would be excited about a 6-6 Notre Dame team. He can be excited as he wants, but the NCAA won't allow him to invite a 6-6 team if there's a Big East team with seven wins available.)
And if Notre Dame is out of the picture, USF looks more and more like a lock for the St. Petersburg Bowl. Even if USF loses out, the worst they could be is tied at 6-6 with Rutgers and Louisville. While USF has lost to both teams, the St. Petersburg Bowl can still choose the Bulls, who would bring the most fans to the first-year bowl. If the Big East had an extra bowl-eligible team, they'd be matched with a bowl whose conferences couldn't fill their slots -- it's highly unlikely such a team would be left out of the bowls entirely.
If, for instance, USF were to lose to Connecticut this weekend and Notre Dame lost at USC on Saturday, there seems to be no reason why the St. Petersburg Bowl couldn't publicly extend an invitation to USF as early as Sunday, Nov. 30, giving them a third week of ticket sales before its Dec. 20 kickoff. My guess is that USF's opponent would likely be Memphis or Southern Miss, either of which would be 6-6.
If USF wins tonight, there's a chance that the Bulls could still be in play for the Gator Bowl, if the folks in Jacksonville, for instance, wanted something specific, like a USF-FSU matchup. If the Bulls won at West Virginia, you could see USF as one of three Big East teams at 8-4, though the Gator would be deciding USF to be better than its Big 12 options, which would be something like Oklahoma State, Missouri or Nebraska. Again, to me, only seems plausible if they want to create something like a first USF-FSU meeting.
We'll blog live from USF-UConn tonight, so check back for lots more this evening ...