Game day: More bowl questions than answers
Greetings from Hartford, where it's overcast and cool, with rain and even snow in play all day and temperatures dropping into the high to mid-30s by kickoff. USF football just sent out a message on Twitter.com saying the forecast called for 2 to 4 inches of snow tonight, so the feel will be much like last year's regular-season finale at West Virginia, where the Bulls played well but lost a low-scoring game.
Hard to imagine a low-scoring game tonight -- as we mentioned in our advance story, neither team has played especially good defense in Big East play, with the Huskies ranking last in several key categories. The league has two key games at noon today -- its championship game with Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, and Rutgers playing host to West Virginia. So by 4 p.m. or so, we should have a better picture of how the league's bowl pairings will shake out. There are still plenty of bowl questions to be answered ...
-- How far will the Cincy-Pitt loser fall? The Gator Bowl seems betrothed to West Virginia regardless of whether the Mountaineers win or lose, and if Rutgers can beat them at home, there's a decent chance that Charlotte would take the Scarlet Knights, especially if Pittsburgh loses for the second week in a row. Should Pitt freefall clear from the top 10 to the Big East's bottom three bowls in eight days, I think they land in Birmingham, where they should be able to beat a low-level SEC opponent. If Cincinnati loses, it's hard to imagine a one-loss team in the top five today falling any farther than Charlotte.
-- If Rutgers isn't in Charlotte, I think they're a match for St. Petersburg. Toronto would probably rather have them, but this isn't a true draft-style pecking order, and I think the Big East will find a way to get Rutgers to Tropicana Field. That would leave USF and Connecticut for Birmingham and Toronto, and the easiest read would be that the winner goes to Alabama and the loser to Canada. If USF loses, it will be five losses in seven games, including losses to the three teams they're competing with for the lower bowls -- Rutgers, UConn and the Cincy-Pitt loser. They'd be the least appealing of the Big East's six bowl teams from a football standpoint.
If Rutgers is in Charlotte and Pitt in Birmingham, then Connecticut likely goes to St. Petersburg -- putting them in Toronto would have two bowls with repeat pairings. That leads us to another potential complication.
-- Bowl trades? That's been the unlikely but fun wrinkle in the last week. Toronto and the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl in Detroit are sister bowls, so if UConn were matched for a return trip to Toronto, they could be dealt to Detroit for a fresh matchup there against another MAC opponent. This is more likely if Ohio is the Toronto opponent, as the Huskies and Bobcats already played this season.
The other twist would be if St. Petersburg somehow exchanged its Big East team with another bowl, using ESPN's pull with games broadcast on an ESPN network. I know the EagleBank Bowl in Washington, D.C., had a call in to the Big East office to check on the possibility of some kind of deal. EagleBank is in a bad place, having to wait until next week's Army-Navy game to see if Army is eligible to accept its spot in that game. That's a Dec. 29 game, so it's still a better timetable than the earliest bowls have this week.
There will be between two and four bowl-eligible teams that don't play in bowls this year (Notre Dame has taken itself out of the mix), so bowls are trying to work out something to make sure as many games have ideal matchups -- the 6-6 non-BCS schools don't have a lot of leverage right now. If the Big Ten gets an at-large BCS bid as they should, they can't fill their Detroit slot, which could mean two MAC teams there, or a weak at-large team like Middle Tennessee State. All I'm saying is not to be surprised if some bowls have teams outside their contracted partnerships.
Lots more to come today, and we'll live blog tonight during the game, so keep checking back.