College Football's Bubble Watch: How Will Your Conference Do?

Michael CollinsAnalyst INovember 16, 2008

Thirty-four bowls, sixty-eight teams.  Isn’t college football at this time of year like pre-tournament college hoops?  At least it is for those BCS conference commissioners who are sweating out filling their bowl contracts, who signed up more bowls this year than last.

The real money games are college football’s version of Bubble Games between conference teams verging on bowl eligibility or being home for the holidays.  More bowl contracts filled means more revenue to be shared for the conferences.

BCS conferences have contracted to place 48 teams in bowls—with another two for the National Championship game, of course.  There are 18 spots for non-BCS football teams: More than they deserve, but throw them a scrap.

In a good year, non-BCS teams will get 15 percent of the bowl revenues.  When Notre Dame makes a BCS bowl, they get one percent.

Which conference is winning the bowl contract race?  Who’s doing the most sweating?  Which teams are on the Bubble Watch?

Here’s what the conference commissioners will be watching.

***Overall records are listed behind the Bubble Teams.  Conference records are in parentheses after the team’s schedule.  

Sitting Pretty

ACC (12 teams)

2008-09—Contracts for nine bowls (75 percent of teams in conference)

Teams In (8)—Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Miami, Florida State, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

Bubble Teams (2)

Virginia (5-5), Clemson (5-5)

Virginia (3-3) schedule—Clemson, Virginia Tech

Clemson (3-4) schedule—@ Virginia, S. Carolina

Outside Chance (2)

Duke (4-6), NC State (4-6)

NC State (2-4) schedule—@ North Carolina, Miami

Duke (1-5) schedule—@ Virginia Tech, North Carolina

Games of the Week: Clemson @ Virginia, NC State @ North Carolina, Duke @ Virginia Tech

Conclusion: Can you believe with two weeks to go that every ACC team could become bowl eligible?  Improbably, NC State climbed back into it with last week’s win.  

2007-08 Bowls, Profit: $19,263,649 (eight teams)

– Average distribution per conference team (after expenses): $1.6 Million   
The ACC already has as many bowl eligible teams as last year.  Either Clemson or Virginia qualifies in their Bubble matchup this week.  Sweet!  A sudden bear market would leave three bubble teams short.  This will go down to the wire.  Stay tuned!

More is Gravy

Big Ten (11 teams)

Contracts for seven bowls (63 percent)

Teams In (7)—Penn St., Ohio St., Michigan St., Northwestern, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin

Bubble Teams (1)

Illinois (5-6)  

Illinois (3-4) schedule—@ Northwestern

Games of the Week: Illinois @ Northwestern

Conclusion: Illinois will have to win their rivalry game at Northwestern to qualify.  

2007-08 Bowls, Profit: $24,394,305 (eight teams)

– Average distribution per conference team: $2.2 Million

Without the Illini, the Big Ten will have one less team than last year - but will meet their contracts.  Revenue would be down.

Big East (8 teams)

Contracts for seven bowls (87.5 percent)

Teams In (5)—Connecticut, South Florida, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, West Virginia

Bubble Teams (2)

Louisville (5-5), Rutgers (5-5)

Rutgers (4-2) schedule—Army and Louisville

Louisville (1-4) schedule – West Virginia, @ Rutgers
-- L’ville non-conference record (4-1): W—Tenn. Tech, Kansas State, Memphis, Middle Tenn. State; L—Kentucky

Games of the Week: Army @ Rutgers, West Virginia @ Louisville

Conclusion: Louisville is losing—three conference games in a row.  Rutgers is winning—four in a row.  Should Louisville lose to West Virginia and Rutgers, they will finish the season with five losses.

2007-08 Bowls, Profit: $14,197,021 (five teams)

- Average distribution per conference team: $1.77 Million

The Big East already qualified the same number of teams as last year but will not get 87 percent of their teams to bowls this year, filling their contracts.  Whoever wins the Rutgers-Louisville game adds one more team.  Big East’s dream scenario is for Rutgers to clinch against Army and then lose to Louisville.  More revenue than last, but an opening for a non-BCS team.  

Sweating It Out

Pac-10 (10 teams)

Contracts for seven bowls (70 percent)

Teams In (5)—USC, Oregon, California, Oregon State, Arizona

Bubble Teams (1)

Stanford (5-6)

Stanford schedule (4-4)—@ Cal

Outside Chance (2)

Arizona St. (4-6), UCLA (4-6)

ASU schedule (3-4)—UCLA, @Arizona
UCLA schedule (3-4)—ASU, USC  

Games of the Week: Stanford @ Cal, UCLA @ ASU—an elimination game

Conclusion: Pac-10 needs Stanford and ASU to win.  UCLA winning out is very improbable.  Stanford faces a very good Cal team in Berkeley.  Should the Sun Devils knock UCLA out, ASU will have to win in Tucson.

2007-08 Bowls, Profit: $17,647,012 (six teams)

-Average per conference team: $1.76 million

Should the Pac-10 consider a non-conference schedule more like the SEC, ACC, or Big 12?  The probability is that the Pac-10 will again have six bowl teams.


SEC (12 teams)

Contracts for nine bowls (75 percent)

Teams In (8)—Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, LSU, Mississippi, Vanderbilt

Bubble Teams (2)

Auburn (5-6), Arkansas (4-6)

Auburn schedule (2-5)—@ Alabama
-- Non-conference (3-1): Wins—La-Monroe, S. Miss, Tenn-Martin; Loss—West Virginia

Arkansas schedule (1-5)—@ Mississippi State, LSU   
-- Non-conference (3-1): Wins—W. Illinois, La-Monroe, Tulsa; Loss—Texas

Games of the Week: Auburn @ Alabama, Arkansas @ Mississippi State

Conclusion: Auburn's and Arkansas's non-conference wins are keeping them in consideration.  I doubt either Auburn or Arkansas will qualify.  With such poor conference records, should they?
2007-08 Bowls, Profit - $28,991,720 (nine teams)

- Average per conference team - $2.42 million

Since the SEC had two BCS teams last year, Alabama or Florida going to the National Championship and a second BCS bowl team will not increase bowl revenue.  SEC should have one less team this year and less bowl revenue.

Coming Up Short

Big 12 (12 teams)

Contracts for nine bowls (75 percent)

Teams In (7)—Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Nebraska

Bubble Teams (1)

Colorado (5-6)

Colorado (2-5) schedule - @ Nebraska

Games of the Week: Colorado @ Nebraska

Conclusion: Hot seat.  The Buffs will have to go into Lincoln and win against a Cornhusker team that has won four of its last five and who lost to Texas Tech by only six.

2007-08 Bowls, Profit: $21,706,427 (eight teams)

- Average per conference team: $1.81 million

Bets are that the Big 12 will have one less team than last year.

Non-BCS Conference Teams

Bowl Eligible (21)

Utah, Ball State, Boise State, TCU, BYU, Air Force, C. Michigan, W. Michigan, Tulsa, Rice, East Carolina, Navy (Congressional/Eagle Bank Bowl), Troy, Notre Dame, Buffalo,  La Tech, Fresno State, Houston, San Jose State, Nevada, Northern Illinois

Need One Win (10)

Akron (5-5), Bowling Green (5-5), Memphis (5-5), Louisiana-Lafayette (5-5), Hawaii (5-5), S. Miss (5-6), Colorado State (5-6), UNLV (5-6), Fla Atl (5-5), UTEP (5-5)    

Games of the Week:  Buffalo @ Bowling Green, UCF @ Memphis, Colorado St @ Wyoming, Fla Atl. @ Arkansas State, Akron @ Ohio, UTEP @ Houston, La-Lafayette @ Troy, UNLV @ San Diego State, Idaho @ Hawaii   

Conclusion: Non-BCS conference teams may have more than 26 bowl-eligible teams for 18-20 spots.  How many scraps are left over will depend on how the BCS Bowl Bubble Teams finish.

Four BCS conferences may come up one team short each.  The ACC should eat into that with two extra teams.  That leaves 20 spots for the non-BCS conference teams.  Already 20 non-BCS teams have qualified, with 11 more with one more win needed.     

Total Profits to Non-BCS schools and Other Distribution, 2007-08 Bowls: $16,670,198—11.6 percent of all bowl profits, slightly over $300,000 per team if divided equally.

Bubble Teams need to win their rivalry games this week: Stanford over Cal, Illinois over Northwestern, Auburn over Alabama, and NC State over North Carolina.  Almost all the Bubble Teams are on the road.


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