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November 9, 2010Conference USA has sent their champion to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in every season since the league began in 1996, but there's a very real possibility that could be coming to an end.
The 2010 C-USA Champion could be scrambling to find a new bowl, or be relegated to one of the league's lesser bowls, should the SEC not qualify enough teams to fill both their Liberty and Birmingham Bowl slots.
The Liberty Bowl's new partnership with the BIG EAST apparently also gives first right of refusal to the SEC and they don't want to play a team from C-USA if they can help it.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl Executive Director Steve Ehrhart spoke about this possibility Tuesday morning during his weekly radio segment on "Sportstime Extra with Dave Woloshin and Brett Norsworthy", which airs on 560 WHBQ in Memphis.
The early part of the interview centered around the possible SEC representative in the bowl, which includes Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Georgia or Kentucky.
Assuming the SEC team would play the champion of C-USA, the show's hosts then asked Ehrhart to comment about UCF, who with a 5-0 league record is considered the current favorite to win the conference and that's when Ehrhart acknowledged a C-USA team may not go to Memphis after all.
"Not necessarily," Ehrhart said when asked about C-USA's participation in the bowl. "We may still go with a BIG EAST team against the SEC, provided the SEC has enough teams. That's no disrespect to Conference USA. It just may work out the combinations work that way.
"Certainly, Central Florida seems to be emerging as the team to beat and that's what George O'Leary told us in the summertime, that he has a real good team and the right kind of players in place. They lost two games, fumbling the ball away when they could have won, against Kansas State and NC State, two pretty good teams."
The hosts then mentioned the fact UCF is now ranked, even above Florida in one poll, and asked what scenario would have to occur for a C-USA team not to play in the Liberty Bowl.
"It goes back to the SEC," Ehrhart said. "The SEC would prefer to play against a BIG EAST team, or insist on that. We're somewhat at the mercy of the SEC on this one."
The SEC may not fill all nine of their bowl slots, especially if a second team goes to a BCS game. Eight bowl eligible teams are likely, but Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee still have work to do.
The Liberty Bowl has the No. 8 SEC tie-in, while the Birmingham Bowl is No. 9. If the SEC can't send a team to Birmingham - which would be against a BIG EAST team - then the SEC would "insist" on playing a BIG EAST team in Memphis, which is now possible due to the bowl's new agreement with the three conferences (SEC, C-USA and BIG EAST).
Most current projections assume Georgia will reach bowl eligible status, but not Ole Miss or Tennessee, and predict two SEC teams in BCS games, meaning this is a very real possibility.
"It depends on how many teams are available out of the SEC," Ehrhart said. "If there's a team available they would want them to play against the BIG EAST. If there's enough teams available to handle both the Birmingham Bowl, which is an ESPN-owned bowl, and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, then they don't mind playing against Conference USA. That's basically the SEC's position."
The show's hosts, assuming the eventual C-USA champion would be UCF, then asked where the Knights would be sent in such a scenario.
"They could move into one of the other ESPN-owned games," Ehrhart said. "ESPN has seven bowl games between Hawaii, Fort Worth, Birmingham and St. Petersburg among others. That would be what would happen at this point. We're not crossing any bridges until we see how it works out."
Ehrhart was asked about the "odds" of this happening.
"I could only answer that if I knew what the odds were the SEC would get two teams up into the BCS," Ehrhart said. "Historically they have. But now people say with Alabama losing that Alabama could be out (of a BCS game).
"If they don't get two up, I would say we'll have a Conference USA team here. Or, if the winner of the Ole Miss-Tennessee game becomes bowl eligible, there would be enough teams (for both the Liberty and Birmingham Bowls). That's how the formula works.
"I've seen some of the prognosticators say (the SEC) would get two (in the BCS) with LSU and the winner of the championship game, but let's say Florida or South Carolina knocks off Auburn in that championship game? Or if LSU stumbles? Ole Miss has beaten LSU down there many a time in the past. It's hard to put odds on."
If the SEC sends 2 teams to BCS games: The SEC would then need a total of 10 eligible teams, meaning three of the four bubble teams (Kentucky, Georgia, Ole Miss, or Tennessee) would need to reach six wins for bowl eligibility.
If the SEC sends just their champion to a BCS game: The SEC would fill all of their slots as long as nine teams become bowl eligible, meaning just two of the three bubble teams (Kentucky, Georgia, Ole Miss or Tennessee) must attain bowl eligibility.
SEC bubble teams for bowl eligibility
Kentucky (5-5) - Remaining games: Vanderbilt (Nov. 13), at Tennessee (Nov. 27).
Georgia (5-5) - Remaining games: at Auburn (Nov. 13), Georgia Tech (Nov. 27).
Ole Miss (4-5) - Remaining games: at Tennessee (Nov. 13), at LSU (Nov. 20), Mississippi State (Nov. 27).
Tennessee (3-6) - Remaining games: Ole Miss (Nov. 13), at Vanderbilt (Nov. 20), Kentucky (Nov. 27).