The dominoes fell the way Kansas State’s football team likely would have drawn it up this weekend. The Wildcats, and the fan base, are hoping for the best bowl placement possible after wrapping up an 8-4 regular season in the first year of new head coach Chris Klieman’s tenure.
For that to come to pass, those with a keen interest in K-State’s bowl destination watched championship weekend hoping for a few specific results.
The most important might have been the first: No. 13 Oregon upending No. 5 Utah in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night. That knocked the Utes out of contention for the final spot in the College Football Playoff. And it turned Saturday’s Big 12 title game between No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 7 Baylor into a de facto play-in game for the playoff. (The Sooners won in overtime, 30-23.)
The only thing that could have prevented the Big 12 champion from clinching a playoff berth? Georgia, the No. 4 team in the latest rankings, upsetting No. 2 and undefeated LSU in the SEC championship ... which didn’t come close to happening. In front of a decidedly partisan, pro-Georgia crowd in Atlanta, the Tigers rolled to a 37-10 victory.
LSU, as well as top-ranked Ohio State, likely had done enough that even defeats in their respective conference title games wouldn’t have prevented them from a playoff appearance. (Ohio State rallied to beat No. 8 Wisconsin 34-21.) Clemson, the No. 3 team in the most recent playoff rankings, probably had the slimmest margin for error given the lackluster competition it faced in the ACC this fall. So the Tigers went out and handled business, throttling Virginia 62-17 in the conference championship game to capture their fifth consecutive league title.
The final playoff rankings, which will be released Sunday, likely will read as follows: 1. LSU; 2. Ohio State; 3. Clemson; 4. Oklahoma. (Ohio State and Clemson might be flip-flopped, but we’re predicting that doesn’t happen. While Clemson might have won in more convincing fashion Saturday, Ohio State boasts the better resume overall.)
What does all this mean for K-State?
A playoff spot for Oklahoma means the Big 12 still will have a slot to fill in the Sugar Bowl. That, beyond a shadow of a doubt, will go to Baylor. Two Big 12 teams in New Year’s Six bowls not only will be a financial windfall for the league once bowl money is distributed; it’s also good news for the teams who finished below the Sooners and Bears in the regular season.
The Wildcats among them.
K-State finished in a four-way tie for third in the conference, with its 5-4 record putting it alongside Oklahoma State, Texas and Iowa State. The Big 12’s bowl partners aren’t beholden to the league standings when it’s their turn in the selection process.
Here are the Big 12’s bowl partners, listed in order of selection:
• Camping World
• First Responder
Many projections last week had K-State as a popular pick for the Alamo, potentially facing Southern California. But it’s uncertain how far Utah will drop given its listless performance against Oregon. Though the bowl selection process is unpredictable, if the Alamo can pit Texas against Southern Cal, it’s hard to imagine the bowl’s selection committee passing on the opportunity.
Which may work in K-State’s favor. At least for those with an interest in history.
The next pick after the Alamo is the Camping World, a game which is played in Orlando, Florida. The Wildcats have never appeared in a bowl in the Sunshine State. Nearly every bowl projection around has Notre Dame landing in the spot opposite the Big 12 foe in that game.
K-State, unquestionably, will sell out its ticket allotment, and possibly will need more, if it heads to Orlando. That’s doubly true if the Fighting Irish indeed are the opponent.
If the Alamo and Camping World look elsewhere, the Texas Bowl is next in line. That game, which is played at NRG Stadium in Houston, is a matchup between the Big 12 and SEC. Multiple projections last week had K-State landing there and taking on former conference rival Texas A&M. (Again, those projections came before the happenings of this weekend.) If those three bowls choose the other third-place finishers instead, K-State will head to the Liberty Bowl.
Though its other bowl tie-in is with the SEC, the conference doesn’t have enough eligible teams to fill it. So if K-State winds up in Memphis, it will face a non-SEC opponent.
All the projections floating about will be a moot point come Sunday afternoon, though, when K-State finally will know when, where and who it will play this bowl season.