By automatically qualifying with conference championships this weekend, Baylor, Central Florida and Michigan State will bring to 51 the number of teams that will have participated in a Bowl Championship Series game.
This list includes usual suspects such as Ohio State, Oklahoma, Southern California and Alabama.
Some are non-traditional powers but good enough to rise up and play in one of the high-profile games. Iowa is an example, Maryland another.
Then there are programs such as Kansas, Wake Forest and Connecticut that consider a Final Four appearance to be nirvana. But they’ve all been to the BCS.
With its 59-42 loss to Auburn on Saturday in the SEC championship, Missouri will conclude this chapter of college football history without a chance to play in the BCS, a series of games reserved for the exclusive. Invitations only go to champs of major conferences or the highly ranked.
When the votes and computer polls are tabulated and results are announced Sunday night, we’ll likely be looking at an Auburn-Florida State national championship game. Michigan State’s victory over second-ranked Ohio State in the Big Ten title game opened the door for Auburn.
Alabama will be the SEC’s second BCS representative and likely head to the Sugar Bowl.
It’s the last year we’ll be discussing college football in BCS terms. The system is going away after this year, to be replaced by a four-team tournament known as the College Football Playoff. There will be a total of six major bowl games starting next season, with two serving as the national semifinals.
Maybe Missouri’s fortunes will change in the new system, because if any program is worthy of the sport’s grandest stage based on its accomplishments, it’s Mizzou.
The MU football program has played in nine bowls in the BCS era, which started in 1998. The Tigers have been part of the BCS standings at some point in 10 of 16 seasons.
Missouri is one of 17 schools to spend at least one week at No. 1 in the BCS rankings, and the 16 others have all played in the BCS.
But there is another game to be played. Most of the postgame buzz had Missouri headed to the Cotton Bowl against perhaps Oklahoma State. If not there, the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., would be the Tigers’ destination.
The Tigers said they’ll regroup for the postseason. Coach Gary Pinkel’s message to the team in the dejected locker room was to stay together and be ready for a final game.
“We can’t let this game affect that,” Missouri quarterback James Franklin said. “We have another game, another opportunity.”
There’s symmetry if the Cotton Bowl becomes the destination.
In 2007, the Tigers won the Big 12 North, spent a week at No. 1 in the BCS rankings and needed to beat underdog Oklahoma in the conference championship game for a shot at the national title. Mizzou lost, and insult was added to injury when the next day Kansas — the rival Missouri had beaten at Arrowhead to play for the Big 12 title — grabbed an Orange Bowl bid.
Mizzou went on and walloped Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl and reached a school-record 12 victories, and that opportunity is again available.
Pieces of the BCS picture started falling into place Friday when Bowling Green upset Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference title game and effectively knocked the Huskies from the BCS ranks as an automatic qualifier.
That opened a spot for an at-large candidate, and on Saturday morning, the obvious choice was Baylor. Had the Bears and Oklahoma State held serve in home games, they would have tied for first, with the Cowboys owning the tie breaker. That would have put Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, and Baylor in the Sugar.
But Oklahoma won the Bedlam, forcing commissioner Bob Bowlsby to fly from Stillwater to Waco with the championship trophy, and giving Baylor its first Big 12 championship.
The Bears will head to the Fiesta Bowl and probably face Central Florida. Does the Big 12 still get an at-large team?
Maybe. A team has to stand in the top 14 of the final BCS rankings, and the Big 12 should have Oklahoma State and Oklahoma there. The Sooners would be the choice based on Saturday’s victory, and the destination would be the Sugar Bowl.
The opponent would be an SEC school. It could have been Missouri.
It won’t happen this year, but a new era in college football’s postseason dawns next year. For Missouri, change can’t come soon enough.