Kansas State’s upcoming football game against TCU might as well be a playoff for the Texas Bowl.
Winner spends the postseason in Houston.
The bowl picture isn’t that cut and dry, of course, but there is much less mystery than normal surrounding the Wildcats’ bowl destination as they prepare for the final game of the regular season.
“Kansas State at TCU is absolutely a very important game to us and our selection,” said Texas Bowl executive director David Fletcher. “I will be in attendance, and it will be interesting to see how both teams play.”
The winner will likely receive an invitation the following day.
The loser will probably go to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl or to Phoenix for the Cactus Bowl.
The Texas Bowl, which matches a Big 12 team against a Southeastern Conference opponent on Dec. 28 at NRG Stadium, selects fourth in the Big 12’s bowl order. K-State (7-4, 5-3 Big 12) can increase its invitation odds by clinching sole possession of fourth in the conference standings with a victory at TCU (6-5, 4-4).
But the Horned Frogs can tie for fourth if they win, and would hold the head-to-head edge.
Fletcher said the Texas Bowl is also considering Baylor (6-5, 3-5), but the Bears have lost five in a row and close the season as heavy underdogs at No. 14 West Virginia.
“We are still looking at which team from that group will best fit us,” Fletcher said. “We want to see that last data point, but we think we are in a great position.”
The SEC will choose its representative for the Texas Bowl, instead of bowl executives, but most projections have targeted Texas A&M.
Here is how the rest of the Big 12 bowl picture looks: As Big 12 champion, the winner of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will likely play in the Sugar Bowl. The loser will probably end up in the Alamo Bowl, leaving the Russell Athletic Bowl to pick West Virginia.
Only a Big 12 team being selected for college football’s four-team playoff could drastically change those postseason destinations, and that seems extremely unlikely. It appears no amount of chaos could push the Sooners or the Cowboys from the edge of the top 10 into the top four by Sunday.
“The latest playoff rankings made our options clearer,” said Matt Repchak, senior director of marketing and media for Florida Citrus Sports, which operates the Russell Athletic Bowl. “At one point we were thinking there was a chance Oklahoma or Oklahoma State could get to the playoff, which shifts every team up. But that no longer seems very likely.
“Right now we are looking at West Virginia and the Bedlam runner-up as our best teams available. Kansas State and TCU are on our list, as well, but it may take pandemonium for them to get serious consideration.”
But K-State could receive bonus interest from the Russell Athletic Bowl, which pits a Big 12 team against an Atlantic Coast Conference foe on Dec. 28 in Orlando, if it ends up selecting fourth instead of third.
Why? The Wildcats have never played in a Florida bowl game.
“Something our committee will talk about is teams that haven’t been here before,” Repchak said. “That will be a factor for K-State, but it’s hard to quantify how much of a factor it will be.”
For now, all signs point to the Texas Bowl for K-State if it wins Saturday.
Where it ends up with a loss is less clear.
The Liberty Bowl selects fifth among the Big 12’s bowls, but K-State played there last season, losing to Arkansas. Bowls try to avoid inviting teams in back-to-back seasons, and it’s hard to imagine K-State fans or bowl officials getting fired up for a repeat trip to Memphis.
A year ago, the Liberty Bowl bypassed West Virginia for that exact reason, taking the eighth-place Wildcats because they had never played in the bowl while the Mountaineers were there in 2014.
The Liberty Bowl could once again select a lower team in the standings and go with Baylor, though it’s hard to imagine the Bears bringing many fans with them if they finish the season on a six-game losing streak.
Liberty Bowl executives didn’t respond to messages seeking comment on their selection process.
K-State’s next bowl option would be the Cactus Bowl, which will likely match a Big 12 team against a Mountain West opponent on Dec. 27 at Chase Field. The bowl usually chooses a team from the Pac-12 to play a team from the Big 12, but the Pac-12 doesn’t have enough bowl-eligible teams to fulfill its usual spot. Boise State would be a possible opponent.
The Wildcats last traveled to Arizona for a bowl in 2013, beating Michigan in what was then named the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
K-State players say they are open to any bowl, but a drivable trip to the Texas Bowl might resonate best with fans.
The Wildcats haven’t played in Houston since it appeared in the inaugural Texas Bowl in 2006, losing to Rutgers 37-10. Odds are good they will make a return trip if they beat the Horned Frogs.
“We have always been amazed by the incredible fan base and the incredible support that Kansas State has,” Fletcher, the Texas Bowl executive director said. “They traveled very well for that matchup 11 years ago. We are very excited to see how this weekend plays out and to have them as a potential participant.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett