For the second time in three years, Middle Tennessee State players enter the second week of December with nothing to look forward to but Christmas break.
On Sunday, the College Football Playoff selection committee named its top four teams and New Year’s Six bids, while the bowl executives took care of the remaining 70 postseason destinations—none including the 6-6 (5-3 C-USA) Blue Raiders.
“It’s disappointing obviously,” coach Rick Stockstill said, according to The Tennessean. “We had some hope this weekend, but some things had to fall our way, and they didn’t fall.”
There are three teams ahead of Middle Tennessee that could be argued against—Western Kentucky (7-5, 4-4 C-USA), South Alabama (6-6, 5-3 Sun Belt), and Arkansas State (7-5, 5-3 Sun Belt)—and at least one of their acceptances prove that college football hates the Blue Raiders.
Plain and simple: Middle Tennessee deserves a bowl game. One of the teams mentioned above does not. It has a legitimate gripe with the bowl higher-ups, especially after winning eight games in 2012 without a postseason destination.
“It was a travesty last year in the Sun Belt and I’m glad we didn’t have to experience it again,” Stockstill told me after losing to Navy in the 2013 Armed Forces Bowl, as he wrapped up another eight-win campaign.
MTSU went 6-6 in its 12 games this season, including a 3-5 record against bowl eligible teams. It had the 85th-ranked schedule, according to the Sagarin Ratings, where FBS opponents combined for a 73-60 record (.549). The Blue Raiders finished No. 85 in the ESPN FPI (Football Power Index) rankings, along with the No. 83-ranked strength of record (32.7).
Western Kentucky: Probably the most deserving of the three bowl teams, Western Kentucky won four of five (including four straight) to end the regular season, beating then-undefeated Marshall in the process. It did, however, suffer a bad loss to Florida Atlantic, and oh yeah, got beat by Middle Tennessee in Week 3.
South Alabama: USA broke down mid-season and lost four of five games in November—a time when it’s vital to be playing your best football. The Jaguars don’t have a marquee win (its best being at home vs. Texas State), and won against teams with a combined 21-49 record. Is this really a bowl caliber team?
Arkansas State: A familiar postseason name now, Arkansas State is making an appearance in its fourth straight bowl game; however, this one may be a bit unjustified. As you can see in the table above, the Redwolves have been wildly inconsistent, losing to Appalachian State and Texas State in back-to-back November games. 7-5 against the 118th-ranked schedule in the nation? Lest we forget that the Blue Raiders won six Sun Belt games in 2012 and weren’t invited to a bowl.
Granted, Middle Tennessee could have made things easier on itself by beating UTEP—a bowl team—in the season finale, where it lost 24-21 after allowing the game-winning touchdown with 6:19 remaining. It also should have beaten an inferior FIU team in Week 12, but turned the ball over a season-high five times in a 10-point defeat.
“You look back on it, we had a couple chances here toward the end of the year to control our own destiny, and we weren’t able to do that,” said Stockstill. “That adds to the frustration. It adds to the disappointment.
“We went 1-3 (out of conference) this year. That just leaves you no room for error with the conference schedule,” he continued. “(But) we did a lot of good things this year that I’m proud of and we’ll use that and build on that when we get back in here in January to start preparing for next season.”
Nevertheless, if we’re going to have 76 out of 128 teams be rewarded with a bowl berth, then I would expect the system to (carefully) at the least take the most deserving teams.
Take your pick, but Middle Tennessee should be bowling over one of the listed antagonists.