The Autozone Liberty Bowl will send a representative to Kansas State’s football game against West Virginia on Saturday.
It will certainly be a game of interest for the Memphis, Tenn., bowl, which matches a Big 12 team against a Southeastern Conference team on Jan. 2. The Wildcats and Mountaineers are both teams it will likely have the option to select Sunday.
But there may already be a frontrunner for the invitation. The way Liberty Bowl executive director Steve Ehrhart talks about K-State, it’s not hard to envision the Wildcats on Beale Street.
“We have been watching and looking at Kansas State closely for many years, even before we began our partnership with the Big 12,” Ehrhart said in a phone interview. “Our bowl game is the seventh-oldest in the nation. We’ve been playing it since 1959, and we’ve never had Kansas State.
“We’ve had a number of great universities from all across the country, even the West Coast. We pride ourselves on being a very national game. To have never had Kansas State before, well, let’s just say we’ve been in close contact with John Currie since we started our contract with the Big 12. We have been discussing Kansas State all year.”
K-State is one of the few bowl regulars that hasn’t been to Memphis. Every other school from the old Big 12 North has played in the Liberty Bowl. So has Southern California, UCLA, Miami, Penn State and Alabama, to name a few.
Ehrhart is proud to say former Alabama coach Bear Bryant coached in his first and last bowl game at the Liberty Bowl.
“We have had great coaches in our game, and we would love to add Bill Snyder to the list,” Ehrhart said. “We have great respect for him. That is something we would take a look at, too.”
K-State, 5-6 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12, can strengthen its case for a Liberty Bowl invite by defeating West Virginia, 7-4 and 4-4, on Saturday, but will remain in play with a loss. There won’t be enough traditional bowl-eligible teams to fill bowl slots this season, so the Wildcats will be able to accept a bowl invite at 5-7 based on their strong Academic Progress Rate.
Snyder has said he will let players decide the team’s bowl fate if they lose Saturday. Players said Tuesday they would likely vote yes.
The Liberty Bowl ranks fourth in the Big 12 pecking order after the playoff and its six affiliated bowls.
Oklahoma appears headed to the playoff, and Baylor can clinch a spot in the Sugar Bowl by beating Texas on Saturday. If that plays out, Oklahoma State and TCU would be candidates for the Alamo and Russell Athletic bowls. Texas Tech would seem to have a leg up on the Texas Bowl, especially if Texas A&M is the opponent, but West Virginia could also be a candidate in Houston.
The Liberty Bowl would select next, followed by the Cactus Bowl. Those appear to be K-State’s two possible postseason destinations, with Texas Tech and West Virginia serving as competition.
If the Wildcats land in the Liberty Bowl they could play Arkansas, Ehrhart’s preferred selection, but the bowl has no control over the selection. The SEC makes that call. Georgia and Auburn would also be candidates.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl also has a Big 12 tie-in, but the league won’t have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill it. Brant Ringler, executive director of the Heart of Dallas Bowl, said the game plans to make an at-large selection.
In most years, K-State would be a hard sell over Texas Tech or West Virginia, as both teams will finish ahead of the Wildcats in the final standings. But West Virginia played in the Liberty Bowl last season. And K-State has been to Arizona for bowls in two of the past three seasons. Texas Tech seems like a good fit in Houston.
Besides, the Big 12 allows its bowl partners to choose any team it prefers, regardless of record.
Ehrhart said Saturday’s game will be big for selection purposes, but it won’t be the only factor. He said the Liberty Bowl will consider selecting K-State at 5-7 or 6-6.
“We don’t hesitate to develop a creative matchup,” Ehrhart said. “It’s not just about who ranks where and who beats who. We would take a look at the entirety of the situation. I hesitate to develop any cut-and-dry criteria. Sometimes a team that has got 10 wins can be less attractive than a team that hasn’t done as well. There is a lot that goes into it.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett