The plan is simple. Kansas State intends to defeat West Virginia on Saturday, finish the regular season 6-6 and accept a bowl invitation the old-fashioned way.
But should the Wildcats falter against the Mountaineers, they’re still in line for a bowl berth even with a losing record. There are 75 bowl-eligible teams (with six or more victories) ready to fill a record 80 bowl spots, and only three teams, including K-State, could reach 6-6 this weekend.
That means at least two 5-7 teams, or as many as five, will make a bowl trip this season. The NCAA announced Monday that Academic Progress Rate would determine which 5-7 teams have first crack at a bowl bid. K-State has an APR of 976, second to only Nebraska among five-win teams, so the Wildcats have in a sense clinched a berth.
“I don’t want to think about that, in all honesty,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. That is not the direction we are trying to move right now.”
Missouri is also 5-7 and has the same APR as K-State according to the latest figures, from 2013-14. But with the Tigers searching for a new coach to replace Gary Pinkel, they will not seek a bowl berth.
“After careful consideration, we have decided it is not in the best interest of our football program to seek permission from the NCAA to participate in a bowl game,” Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades said in a release issued Monday after the NCAA announcement. “Our focus remains on identifying the right leader for our program and moving forward with the transition process.”
But if the Wildcats lose this week and still receive a bowl invitation, Snyder knows how he will handle it.
“It will be the option of our players,” Snyder said. “I will provide them the opportunity to make a decision on whether they would want to attend a bowl or not.”
K-State would likely accept a bowl invitation regardless of record. All bowl teams receive an extra 15 days of practice, which would be more valuable than usual for the Wildcats’ young roster, and players would get the reward of a postseason trip and bowl gifts.
Those factors likely outweigh the cost of bowl tickets and travel, as well as the risk of another loss.
“That has always been our approach,” Snyder said. “There is a great deal of value in bowl games, as it relates to the development of younger players and giving them the opportunity to have those additional 15 days of practice, which is another full spring practice. There is a great reward for that.”
Still, letting players choose is a unique twist on the decision-making process. There would be much more enthusiasm for a bowl at 6-6 than 5-7.
If K-State wins its final game of the regular season, the Cactus Bowl would be a possible destination. There are six bowl-eligible teams in the Big 12 and Oklahoma appears headed for the College Football Playoff. The top Big 12 team to miss the playoff will go to the Sugar Bowl, and the next four will likely go to the Alamo, Russell Athletic, Texas and Liberty bowls.
The Cactus Bowl, formerly the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, would have seventh priority, followed by the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
There is no telling where K-State might land at 5-7. There are no rules for bowls when it comes to selecting teams with losing records.
Only three teams with losing records have played in the postseason — Georgia Tech in 2012, UCLA in 2011 and North Texas in 2001. But those were special circumstances. Georgia Tech and UCLA both finished the regular season 6-6 and lost in their conference championship games. North Texas won its conference.
This season, there could be as many as 17 teams with five wins vying for bowl spots. After K-State, the next highest APRs from 5-7 teams belong to Minnesota and San Jose State at 975 and Illinois and Rice at 973.
The Wildcats want to remove all doubt on their bowl fate by beating West Virginia.
“We have a statement to make,” sophomore linebacker Elijah Lee said. “We have something to play for. This is something we have been waiting for all season. It’s something you talk about before the season. We have got to get to a bowl game. It’s go big or go home now that we are in this position. It’s time to go big.”
Burns wins another honor
K-State defensive back Morgan Burns is once again the Big 12 special teams player of the week. He earned the honor for the third straight week on Monday following his big game against Kansas.
Burns is the first Big 12 player to earn a weekly award in three consecutive weeks since 2008, when former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell pulled it off.
He did a little bit of everything against the Jayhawks, forcing a fumble, blocking a punt, scoring a touchdown and grabbing an interception. Burns has scored a special teams touchdown in three consecutive weeks. The other two were on kickoff returns.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett