ATHENS, Ga. — There was a sea of red in Colorado two weeks ago. Thousands of Georgia fans, armed with nonrefundable plane tickets, descended on the Rocky Mountains to watch their team play.
More than a few observed that because of the Bulldogs’ record, the fans might want to count Boulder as their bowl trip for this year.
But all is not lost on that front — even if the Bulldogs finish with a losing record.
Thanks to the national picture, and the amount of bowls with SEC tie-ins, Georgia might need only three or four more wins to reach the postseason.
Yes, a 5-7 Georgia team could end up in a bowl — if it wants to at that point.
Georgia’s outlook is a bit more short term.
“Obviously, going into the season every year you want to win every game and go to the SEC championship, go to the national championship,” senior offensive tackle Clint Boling said. “Right now, that’s probably not realistically probable. But we’re still playing for our pride in Georgia and things like that. So we’re just getting ready for Vanderbilt right now.”
That Vanderbilt game, and next week at Kentucky, could prove critical to whether Georgia sits out the postseason for the first time since 1996.
The SEC has nine bowl tie-ins this year, but if it gets two teams into the BCS, as it has nearly every year, then there are 10 slots to fill.
So among Georgia (2-4 overall), Tennessee (2-4) and Vanderbilt (2-3), someone would get in a bowl. Then there are Kentucky (3-3) and Mississippi (3-2 but with a loss to an FCS team.)
Those midseason records seem to enhance the chances that there will be at least three SEC teams with losing records.
According to NCAA bylaws, a bowl cannot invite, say, a five-win SEC team over a six-win team from the Sun Belt or Conference USA. But what if there are no other available six-win teams? This year, that could happen, and the NCAA isn’t ruling out an adjustment to its bowl-eligibility formula to allow five-win teams.
“The football postseason licensing subcommittee has discussed the issue, but, at this time, no final decisions have been made,” said Christopher Radford, an NCAA spokesman.
There are 35 bowls this year, one more than last year. The Dallas Football Classic and New Era Pinstripe Bowl, in New York City, were added. The International Bowl, set in Toronto, was discontinued.
So for every bowl game to be filled by teams with at least six wins, 70 of the 120 teams in the FBS have to reach the mark. And Southern California is ineligible, thanks to its NCAA sanctions.
There are 76 teams in the FBS with a winning or an even record. But that number figures to decrease as conference play forms the brunt of the schedule.
Last year, there were 71 bowl-eligible teams, with 68 slots to fill. Notre Dame (6-6) opted out of bowl contention, as it was going through a coaching change. Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe were the only six-win teams shut out.
Georgia played a six-win team, Texas A&M, in the Independence Bowl. And the Insight Bowl matched two more, Iowa State and Minnesota. Florida State, with outgoing head coach Bobby Bowden, got a sentimental pick to the Gator Bowl. Michigan State played in the Alamo Bowl.
Rewarding mediocrity could get worse this year and reach down to five-win teams. Why? Those loveable upsets by FCS teams.
Last year, FBS teams were 89-5 against FCS teams. But this year, the FBS is 69-7 against its FCS brethren, and there are 14 games left.
Georgia has one of those, against Idaho State in November.
And as crazy as it sounds, the Bulldogs aren’t mathematically eliminated from the SEC race. But the players seem to realize that their goals have to adjust.
“Our goals have turned into, honestly, one game at a time, looking at Vanderbilt,” senior wide receiver Kris Durham said. “We can’t look past that. We’ve already tried that, and it wasn’t successful. So we talked about winning the East, we talked about winning the SEC and hopefully being in the national title at the beginning of the year. But what we didn’t focus on was coming out fighting to the finish and doing the little things, the little steps, it does take to accomplishing those goals.”