MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The process of sorting out West Virginia's ultimate bowl destination begins in earnest tonight.That fact alone reveals just how jumbled the Big 12 bowl picture is because the game in question tonight has both nothing and everything to do with the Big 12. It's the MAC championship game between Kent State and Northern Illinois.Quite simply, that game will go a long way toward determining the lineup for the four BCS bowls and whether or not the Big 12 has a chance to place two teams in that field. The trickle down from that affects almost every one of the league's seven non-BCS bowl tie-ins.Know, though, that the two most likely options for WVU are the Holiday Bowl and the Pinstripe Bowl. Anything else would be a long shot.
"We kind of know where we are [in the mix]. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out,'' said WVU deputy athletic director Mike Parsons. "But there are so many variables that all we can do is wait and see what happens and see how it shakes out.''Among those variables, of course, is the game Saturday between West Virginia (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) and Kansas (1-10, 0-8) at Mountaineer Field. Obviously, a win would enhance the Mountaineers' resume, especially where the Holiday Bowl is concerned.But so many outside factors are in play, not the least of which is that MAC title game tonight in Detroit. If Kent State wins, the Golden Flashes could automatically qualify for an at-large BCS bowl berth (see story, Page 3B). If that happens, an extra Big 12 team will be in the pool for the league's non-BCS bowls.For the record, the order of selection for the Big 12 after the BCS bowl is: Cotton (Arlington, Texas, Jan. 4 vs. SEC No. 3 or 4), Alamo (San Antonio, Dec. 29 vs. Pac-12 No. 2), Buffalo Wild Wings (Tempe, Ariz., Dec. 29 vs. Big Ten No. 4 or 5), Holiday (San Diego, Dec. 27 vs. Pac-12 No. 3), Meineke Car Care (Houston, Dec. 28 vs. Big Ten No. 6), Pinstripe (New York, Dec. 29 vs. Big East No. 4) and Heart of Dallas (Dallas, Jan. 1 vs. Big Ten No. 7)If there are two Big 12 teams in the BCS, the Cotton and Alamo bowls will take Texas and Oklahoma State, probably in that order. The non-BCS bowls are not required to follow the order of the league standings in making their selections, but those two teams, currently third and fourth behind Kansas State and Oklahoma, are pretty much a given to be the first ones off the board.That leaves West Virginia in the group with Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor and Iowa State available to the Buffalo Wild Wings, Holiday, Meineke, Pinstripe and Heart of Dallas bowls.Both the Buffalo Wild Wings and Meineke Car Care bowls are likely to prefer a school closer to their locations because of the ticket-sales factor, especially given that the opponents for both are Big Ten schools.The Holiday Bowl seems to be the most intriguing possibility for West Virginia. Its representatives have followed WVU late in the season and seem interested in the Mountaineers because of their explosive offense and the television appeal of players like Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. The bowl isn't terribly concerned with ticket sales because most are sold locally or to the Pac-12 representative's fans. It would also provide a new face in the bowl.But the Holiday also likes Texas Tech, so it might have to make a decision there if the Red Raiders aren't taken by the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.The Pinstripe Bowl, of course, is an equally viable option, if for no other reason than location and the potential for a matchup between former Big East rivals. If Pitt wins at South Florida Saturday night and gets to 6-6 and eligible for a bowl, a Backyard Brawl in the Bronx is even an option. Regardless of the matchup, it would be promoted as a clash of former or soon-to-be former Big East schools (Syracuse is another option) in the Big East's back yard.The only other possible destination for WVU appears to be the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston, simply because it has the choice between the Holiday and the Pinstripe. But with a Big Ten team as the opponent, that bowl would likely prefer a Texas team.
All of that becomes jumbled even further, though, if Oklahoma or Kansas State drops out of the BCS and into the non-BCS bowl pool. Then one of those teams joins the mix of Texas and Oklahoma State available to the Cotton and Alamo bowls and one of them drops down. Depending upon what the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl does, the Holiday Bowl might have, say, Oklahoma State or Kansas State available, both of which could be more appealing than WVU because of better records and/or higher ranking.At this point in recent years, West Virginia officials might be burning up phone lines trying to lobby one bowl or another for an invitation. But that's not the case this year because the Big 12 essentially prohibits its teams from doing that, asking them to report any conversations they have with bowl officials. The idea is apparently to prevent league teams from undermining each other for bowl positioning.None of it is likely to be sorted out until after the Kansas State-Texas game late Saturday night. And if Oklahoma and Kansas State are both in the BCS mix, it could be well into Sunday before decisions are final.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.