The easiest path to bowl eligibility for Missouri is a victory Friday against Arkansas in the Battle Line Rivalry. But that might not be the only path.
The Tigers, 5-6 (1-6 in the SEC), are a win away from essentially guaranteeing themselves a bowl berth for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons.
With an FBS-record 41 bowl games on the docket, including two national semifinals and the College Football Playoff championship game, a record 80 teams are expected to play in bowl games this season.
Entering the weekend, only 71 teams have won at least six games, creating the possibility that one or more 5-7 teams could be needed to fill the remaining games.
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“I have not even thought about that,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said during his weekly news conference. “Obviously, I want to win a football game. That’s where my focus is.”
Flipping through the radio dial last week, Pinkel said he became aware of the possibility that some 5-7 teams could be plucked for bowls. Would the Tigers consider accepting a bowl in that situation?
“That would be Mack’s (MU athletic director Mack Rhoades) decision,” said Pinkel, who announced Nov. 13 that he had follicular lymphoma and would resign after the season.
It would make sense that Missouri would covet an extra month of practice and an additional game for its young roster, especially on offense, but the decision is complicated with the direction of the program in limbo.
Rhoades’ primary concern at the moment is identifying Pinkel’s successor. He has said there’s no timeline of making that hire. But the Tigers don’t want to wait until after bowl season to do so, and Pinkel would coach the Tigers in a bowl game, if they qualify.
Not everybody would want to play in a bowl as a 5-7 team.
“As a team, we’d want to go to a bowl game, but, me personally, that’s just not who I am,” senior safety and captain Ian Simon said. “The rules say six wins to get in. I understand they’ve got to fill slots and all that, but I’d feel like we didn’t earn it. We didn’t earn our six, so I wouldn’t want to go.”
At the same time, Simon and the rest of the team also would cherish a chance to play under Pinkel for a few more weeks.
“I’d want to play for coach Pinkel as long as possible,” Simon said. “If I could have a whole other season to play for coach Pinkel, I’d do it. That’s definitely a motivational factor. … I want to go and the team wants to go, so we just need to go get this win this weekend,”
Keeping Pinkel’s career going one more game provides extra motivation to beat the Razorbacks at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Fayetteville, Ark.
The NCAA Football Oversight Committee hasn’t decided how the selection process would play out if multiple 5-7 teams are needed for bowl games and a decision isn’t expected until next week.
That gives time for the situation to sort itself out.
“They won’t ask me,” Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said. “They’ll tell me. That would be a good question for Mack Rhoades and coach Pinkel.”
With nine spots currently unfilled, there are 17 teams that can still reach six wins.
If five-win teams are still needed, the 2013-14 Academic Progress Rate, the most current year for which data is available, could be used to determine bowl participants.
Aside from Missouri (976 APR), there are 12 other 5-6 teams in FBS at present — Nebraska (985), Indiana (977), Virginia Tech (977), Washington (977), San Jose State (975), Minnesota (975), Illinois (973), Old Dominion (951), East Carolina (950), Buffalo (948), Kentucky (945) and Tulsa (941).
South Alabama (943) is 5-5 with two games remaining, while Kansas State (976), Texas (958), Louisiana-Lafayette (953) and Georgia State (940) are 4-6 with two games remaining.