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November 22, 2010

Getting to be nervous times for bowl officials

We have two weeks left in the regular season, and you know there are some bowl officials with sweaty palms and dry mouths.

There are 70 bowl spots available -- including 10 in the BCS -- and there currently are 64 bowl-eligible teams. If they aren't enough bowl-eligible teams, the bowls and some schools will have to petition the NCAA to allow a 5-7 team -- or two -- to play in a postseason game.

Winning in a different way
Here's a league-by-league look at bowl eligibility, with the number of teams that are bowl eligible, the number of other teams that have a shot at becoming eligible and the number of bowl tie-ins (that include BCS tie-ins for the Big Six leagues).
ACC 908
Big East 5 3 6
Big Ten 8 0 8
Big 128 2 8
Conference USA 6 16
Mid-American 5 13
Mountain West5 0 5
Pac-103 4 6
SEC 8 2 9
Sun Belt0 5 2
Western Athletic4 2 4
Independents 30 1
Trust us: No one wants that to happen.

Here's a closer look by league.

ACC: There are nine bowl-eligible teams and the other three have no shot at becoming eligible. The league has eight tie-ins, including a BCS slot, and there's also a secondary tie-in with the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco in case either the Pac-10 or WAC isn't able to fill its slot. Verdict: All nine bowl-eligible teams will get a bid.

Big East: The league has six tie-ins, including a BCS slot. There are five bowl-eligible teams, and the other three still mathematically are alive to get to the needed six wins. One of those three will drop out of the running Friday, when Louisville (5-6) plays at Rutgers (4-6). It's Louisville's final regular-season game, and the Cardinals obviously have to win to become eligible. Rutgers must beat Louisville and follow that up with a win at West Virginia on Dec. 4. Cincinnati (4-6) is the other team in the hunt; the Bearcats have to win out over Connecticut and Pittsburgh to get to the needed six wins. Verdict: Six bowl-eligible teams, and each will get a bid.

Big Ten: There are eight bowl-eligible teams, and the other three will be home for the holidays. There are eight bowl slots, which means that if two Big Ten teams are in the BCS, the league's last bowl spot -- in Detroit's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl -- is going to be empty. Verdict: All eight bowl-eligible teams will get bids, with two in the BCS. The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl slot will go unfilled.

Big 12: There are eight bowl-eligible teams, and two others must win their final games (Texas, against Texas A&M, and Colorado, against Nebraska) to become eligible. There are eight tie-ins, including one in the BCS. Verdict: There will be eight bowl-eligible teams, and they all will get bids.

Conference USA: There are six bowl-eligible teams; one more (Houston, which plays Texas Tech this week) can become eligible with a victory this week. There are six tie-ins. Verdict: There will be six bowl-eligible teams, and each will get a bid.

Mid-American: The league has five teams that already are bowl eligible, and Western Michigan can get the needed sixth win if it beats two-win Bowling Green on Friday. The league has just three tie-ins. But the good news is that because other leagues are not going to fill their slots, some MAC teams will be getting phone calls to fill those spots. One thing to remember about "fill-in" teams: A team that finishes 7-5 has priority over a 6-6 team when it comes to filling those types of vacant bowl slots. Each of the MAC teams that already are eligible have at least seven wins. Verdict: The league will have six bowl-eligible teams, and five will get bids.

Mountain West: The league has five bowl-eligible teams, and no others can qualify. The conference has five ties-ins, which means if TCU goes to the BCS, one of those spots -- the New Mexico Bowl -- will go unfilled. Verdict: The five bowl-eligible teams will get bids, and the MWC's New Mexico Bowl spot will be empty.

Pacific-10: This is the league causing much of the consternation. Remember that USC, though it has seven wins, is on probation and prohibited from playing in the postseason. Just three league teams currently are bowl eligible, while four others remain mathematically alive. The league has six tie-ins, including the BCS slot. Thus, if Oregon wins out and no other league teams become bowl eligible, four spots are going to be unfilled. Teams still hoping to get to the needed six wins: California (5-6), Oregon State (5-5), Washington (4-6) and UCLA (4-6). Cal and Washington play this week, with the loser knowing it will be home for the holidays. Cal becomes eligible with a win, while Washington must beat Cal and Washington State. UCLA has to win out against Arizona State and USC. Oregon State, fresh off a victory over USC, must win once against Stanford and Oregon to become eligible. Verdict: Four bowl-eligible teams, with each getting a bid, including Oregon to the BCS. That means the Pac-10's tie-ins with the Maaco Las Vegas and Kraft Fight Hunger bowls will go unfilled.

SEC: The league has eight bowl-eligible teams, and has two others (Georgia and Tennessee) that have a chance to get the needed six wins. The league has nine tie-ins, including its BCS spot. Georgia plays Georgia Tech and Tennessee meets Kentucky this week. In recent seasons, the SEC has received two BCS bids. If that trend continues and the Bulldogs and Vols lose this weekend, the league is going to have two unfilled spots. If two teams get BCS bids and the Bulldogs and Vols both win, every spot will be filled. There's also the possibility that the league gets just one BCS spot. Verdict: There will be nine bowl-eligible teams and two will go the BCS, which means the SEC's spot in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., will go unfilled.

Sun Belt: The league currently has no bowl-eligible teams, though five still have a shot at getting to six wins. The league has two tie-ins; it also has a secondary tie-in with the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, with a Sun Belt team sliding in to fill an unfilled slot. Florida International and Troy both are 5-5, and each needs one more win to gain eligibility. FIU finishes the regular season with home games against Arkansas State (4-7) and Middle Tennessee (4-6). Troy has Western Kentucky (2-9) at home and Florida Atlantic (4-6) on the road. Louisiana-Monroe (5-6) must beat archrival Louisiana-Lafayette this weekend to become bowl eligible. FAU and Middle Tennessee must win out to get to the needed six wins, but they play each other this week. MTSU finishes with FIU and FAU finishes with Troy. Verdict: There will be three bowl-eligible teams, and all three will get bids.

WAC: There are four bowl-eligible teams, with two others that are mathematically alive. There are four bowl tie-ins. Boise State seems headed to the BCS, which means that if no other teams reach eligibility, there is going to be one unfilled slot. Louisiana Tech (4-6) and Idaho (5-6) have shots at becoming eligible. Tech has to win out against San Jose State and Nevada to get to the needed six wins. Because it plays 13 games, Idaho also has to win out, against Fresno State and San Jose State. Verdict: There will be four bowl-eligible teams, with Boise going to the BCS. That will leave one bowl slot unfilled, most likely the New Mexico Bowl.

Independents: All three are bowl eligible, and Navy already has accepted a bid to play in the Poinsettia Bowl. Army has a tie-in with the Armed Forces Bowl, whereby the Black Knights get a bid to that game if either C-USA or the Mountain West doesn't have enough bowl-eligible teams. Notre Dame also is at play. When Notre Dame is bowl eligible, the Champs Sports Bowl can select the Irish instead of a Big East team. That seems unlikely this season unless the Irish beat USC this week and finish 7-5. Verdict: All three will get bowl bids.

Lattimore comes up big
This definitely has been a season to remember at South Carolina.

The Gamecocks won the SEC East title for the first time -- it was their first title of any kind since 1969, when they won the ACC -- and will play in the SEC championship game against Auburn on Dec. 4

Saturday, in a 69-24 demolition of Troy (the Gamecocks led 56-7 at halftime), true freshman RB Marcus Lattimore ran for 102 yards and three TDs on just seven carries. That gives him 1,066 yards and 19 TDs this season.

Lattimore became just the eighth freshman in SEC history to reach the 1,000-yard plateau, and his TD total is the single-season record at South Carolina. In addition, he is one touchdown away from tying Reggie Cobb for the SEC record for touchdowns by a freshman, set in 1987. In addition, Lattimore has a solid shot at breaking two overall SEC records -- TDs in a season (24, by Alabama RB Shaun Alexander in 1999) and rushing TDs in a season (23, by Florida QB Tim Tebow in 2007).

This also is the first time that South Carolina has had a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver in the same season. Sophomore WR Alshon Jeffery has 1,210 receiving yards. The best news for coach Steve Spurrier is that both return next season.

Grid bits
Michigan sophomore QB Denard Robinson became the first player in NCAA history with 1,500 rushing yards and 1,500 passing yards in Saturday's loss to Wisconsin. He also set an NCAA single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback, with 1,538; the record had been 1,494 by Air Force's Beau Morgan in 1996. Thing is, Robinson may not even hold the record when the season is over. He has two games left (the regular-season finale against Ohio State, then a bowl game) and should get that figure to around 1,800 or so yards. Auburn's Cameron Newton has three games left (against Alabama in the regular-season finale, against South Carolina in the SEC championship game and a bowl), and he currently has 1,297 yards. Can Newton catch Robinson? At the least, two players are going to surpass Morgan's old mark.

Staying with the Michigan-Wisconsin game, you can add Michigan's Rich Rodriguez to the list of coaches who won't be sending Badgers coach Bret Bielema a Christmas card. Earlier this season, then-Minnesota coach Tim Brewster admonished Bielema for what Brewster thought was an unnecessary two-point conversion in the fourth quarter of a Wisconsin rout. Saturday, Bielema took a few shots at Rodriguez and his program. Wisconsin ran for 357 yards in beating the Wolverines, and Bielema said, "What we do isn't pretty. A lot of places, there's a certain emphasis on being pretty and being individualized on players." Later, asked about Robinson's performance (he gained 360 yards of total offense), Bielema said, "For them, that's great. We would never recruit to that." Wisconsin never would recruit a stud player who can put up big stats? Yeah, OK, coach, I guess Ron Dayne didn't have two 1,800-yard seasons. Hey, maybe Bielema's been outside shoveling snow one too many times when it's 3 degrees with a wind chill of minus-14. It's one thing to take a shot at an opponent; it's another to say something stupid.

Conference USA has some pitiful defenses, but none is as bad as East Carolina's. The Pirates played at least solid defense the past few seasons under Skip Holtz, but unfortunately for them, new coach Ruffin McNeill brought with him the same defensive schemes he used at Texas Tech. You know, the school that seemingly needed to score 40-plus points every time out to avoid losing. ECU is last in the nation in total defense and scoring defense after an absolute meltdown Saturday against a woebegone Rice team. The Owls -- who now have three wins -- rolled 62-38. It was the fourth game in a row and the eighth time this season ECU had allowed at least 42 points; the Pirates had allowed 42 points just five times in the past five seasons. ECU allowed a season-high 639 yards to Rice; it was the 10th time this season the Pirates surrendered at least 400 yards and the fourth time overall and the third game in a row they had given up at least 545. ECU has averaged 40.5 points in its past four games, but it has lost three of them because it has given up 57.3 points per game in those four contests.

Senior Days can be emotional for the players, families and coaches involved. Saturday's festivities at Colorado could have been awkward, too, because QB Cody Hawkins' dad also happens to be the coach the school fired earlier this month. But Dan Hawkins was on the field with his son, and some Buffs players went out of their way to pay their respects to Dan. LB B.J. Beatty was the first senior introduced. Beatty is from Hawaii, and his mom made leis for her son to hand out to the other 15 seniors. After Beatty was introduced, he ran over to Dan Hawkins and draped his own lei around his old coach's neck. Several other seniors also sought out Dan Hawkins, who was let go before last week's Iowa State game. As for Cody, he again played well, throwing for 202 yards and three TDs as the Buffs upset Kansas State. It was his second game in a row with three TD passes and no picks; he had done that just once before in his career. Cody is likely to finish his career as the school's career leader in passing yards and completions.

This is the first season of the expanded FCS playoffs, and the 20-team field was announced Sunday. Appalachian State (9-2) is the No. 1 seed, with William & Mary (8-3) No. 2, Delaware (9-2) No. 3, Montana State (9-2) No. 4 and Eastern Washington (9-2) No. 5. The Colonial Athletic Association had the most selections, with four. Because the size of the field was increased by four teams, the national title game will be played after Christmas, on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.

The Mercer board of trustees voted Friday to resume competition in football in 2013. The Bears hope to compete in non-scholarship FCS football, in the Pioneer League. Mercer, located in Macon, Ga., played football from 1892 through 1941.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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