Let the beauty pageant begin: San Jose State starts searching for a postseason home

san_jose_stateThe easy part is done, although the Spartans chose a rather difficult and trying way to accomplish it.

With a win over Fresno State in an absolute shootout last Friday, San Jose State is bowl eligible at 6-6, a rather precarious record to be given that they make seven for six spots.

Being eligible for a bowl and actually going bowling are two different things, and that means the hardest week of the year for everyone is upon us. The Spartans won’t know if they have a postseason to look forward to until Dec. 8 as the Mountain West tries to work out how to get all seven teams to bowl games, or figures out with the help of its bowl partners which team stays home.

But as of right now, here’s what we are looking at as far as bowls and teams:

  • There are currently 77 bowl eligible teams, with a potential for two more (AAC – Rutgers, SMU are both 5-6 with one to play.) Remember, there are only 70 slots in bowls, and no at-large bids outside of the BCS.
  • Conferences that will have spaces to fill: American (0, 1 or 2 – Meineke Bowl of Texas;  Notre Dame will likely fill the AAC’s open spot in the Pinstripe; this is all riding on the outcome of Rutgers’ and SMU’s games); Big Ten (1 – Little Ceasars); Big 12 (1 – Pinstripe.)
  • Conferences with a surplus of teams: Mountain West 1; Pac-12 (2); ACC (2); Sunbelt (3); MAC (3)
  • Teams likely on the bubble: Ohio (7-5); Toledo (7-5);  Colorado State (7-6); Florida Atlantic (6-6); Oregon State (6-6); Washington State (6-6); Pittsburgh (6-6); North Carolina (6-6); Central Michigan (6-6); Texas State (6-6); Louisiana-Monroe (6-6); San Jose State (6-6).

Suffice to say, someone’s not bowling this year. Will it be San Jose State? Or will they find a home for the holidays that isn’t in front of a TV?

Here are the key questions involved with the Spartans and their postseason hopes …

For reference, this is what we have to sort out before getting on with the important stuff:

What are the factors involved here?

Aside from the Mountain West champion and runnerup going to the Las Vegas and Poinsettia bowls respectively, there really isn’t. According to Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman, ESPN Regional Television controls the MW’s four other bowls — Armed Forces, Hawaii, New Mexico and Potato — and even though there’s a sort of established picking order, it doesn’t really matter.

The way this works can best be described as a mix of beauty pageant and haggling over home loan rates. The people making bowl picks are looking for teams that will make them the most money above all else. But there are other criteria:

  1. Which team provides the most exciting and memorable game. This is one area where the Spartans top their nearest competition, a dull UNLV team, an up-and-coming Colorado State team that has a big-time running back but isn’t otherwise much of a looker, and an inconsistent San Diego State team. The Spartans have almost always put on an offensive show for the fans, and can score oodles of points. That makes them, well, hot.
  2. Which team will bring in the biggest crowd and who is near by (which increases the likelihood of a bigger crowd). The Spartans don’t win this one, although there are encouraging signs. Their attendance went way up this year, and unlike other schools, SJSU counts actual attendance, not tickets sold and such. The Spartans average attendance figure is only 600 less than what UNLV reports this year, which means the Rebels are not exactly a good draw either. Colorado State’s average attendance is only around 18,000, but that has more to do with years of bad play than anything.
  3. Which team offers the best incentives to pick them. There’s nothing stopping a bowl tied to a conference from picking a lesser team, although that is sometimes frowned upon. This, though, comes into play more often with at-large bids. Remember 2008, San Jose State fans, when Florida Atlantic swooped in and took a bowl bid by essentially offering to cover everything and let the then-Motor City Bowl keep all the money? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about here.
  4. Politics. It’s all a matter who you know sometimes,  for how long, and what you can lord over them. Remember, San Jose State AD Gene Bleymaier was once AD at Boise State, and in 1997 helped get the progenitor to the Potato Bowl — The Humanitarian Bowl — off the ground. There are strings he can almost assuredly pull here.

What do the Spartans have going for them?

They have a few things:

  1. David Fales is one of the nation’s best (or at least hottest) quarterbacks, and he just finished turning in one of the season’s great performances against the one of the nation’s top BCS busters. He’s also been hauling in the national and conference awards this week. The senior is rocketing up people’s top-quarterbacks-in-the-nation lists on Friday with his near-flawless performance, and he alone makes the Spartans more attractive.
  2. The Spartans are also a more exciting offense than their closest competitors for a bowl spot. The performance against Fresno State likely lifted them into the conversation, just because it could produce a game people would want to watch and gives them a win over someone no one else can claim. Craig Thompson, the conference’s commissioner, said in a conference call Monday that the first half of Friday’s game was “the most phenomenal 30 minutes of football I’ve ever seen.”
  3. For what it’s worth, the Spartans have wins over two of their biggest competitors for the last few bowl spots: Colorado State and UNLV. And they have better wins in general, despite only having six total. San Jose State beat three bowl eligible teams, the two aforementioned wins and Fresno State. When you look at conference schedules, Colorado State gets exposed for raiding the Little Debby shelf by not beating a single bowl eligible team this year. UNLV beat two: Central Michigan, which isn’t likely bowling this year at 6-6, and San Diego State. The Aztecs are likely bowling despite being 7-5 and technically in this conversation, but knocking off Boise State and taking Fresno to the wire did wonders for them. All of this stuff is broken down by the Merc’s Jimmy Durkin here.

Is there any likelihood that the all seven teams from the Mountain West could go bowling?

Slim to none, if conference commissioner Craig Thompson is to be believed. The speculation is that Boise State is being dangled for one of the open at-large bowl spots elsewhere because of the school’s name-brand appeal, but that’s unlikely with so many ACC and Pac-12 teams not having homes.

So, someone is staying home this year from the conference barring a miracle.

How much will is there to get the Spartans into the postseason?

Considering the Spartans have only had back-to-back bowl seasons once, and that was almost 30 years ago, I’d say they really want to get somewhere. San Jose State has essentially rebuilt its program from nothing twice in the last 10 years.

First, Dick Tomey and AD Tom Bowen set the standard for how it should be run after the ruinous Fitz Hill and Dave Baldwin years. Then, Mike MacIntyre worked his magic to build an actual contender and get the program into the Mountain West. Ron Caragher has been tasked with continuing that excellence.

Now that the future of the team is more or less safe, it’s time to prove they belong.

Can AD Gene Bleymaier work his connections in Boise enough to get the Spartans somewhere?

There’s been an upwelling of support for the Spartans to go to the Potato Bowl in particular, and it’s certainly getting noticed.

Bleymaier could pull favors and use his clout to try and get the Spartans there rather than having to campaign fight for a spot in one of the open bowls. Given some of the official interactions on Twitter, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did reach out to them, and got the response, “Show us you want it.”

It’s not a pretty bowl game, by any stretch. A colleague of mine  quipped, “that’s the least exciting sounding bowl game possible. Until the Cream of Wheat Bowl is started.”

And he’s essentially right.

But the Spartans will take anything right now. San Jose State is making it seem like the Potato Bowl is the Disney World of bowl games, and it would seem the bowl’s patrons are listening … and liking what they are hearing.

Is there any hope for anything better for the Spartans?

Not really.

Why not?

The Spartans are a 6-6 team with some 75-plus bowl eligible teams, many of whom have bigger fan bases nationally, with only 70 bowl spots available. They are on the lowest rung of teams here, and the only way they see the postseason is by showing a little extra to get into  one of the conference’s six affiliated bowls.

(These links are in the story, but this post could not have been crafted in any way without three key sources: Jimmy Durkin of the Mercury News and his prolific work on Twitter and on this story; Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman and his breakdown here; and the anonymous authors who diligently assembled this post on Wikipedia.)

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