Mid-American Championship opponents Northern Illinois and Miami (Ohio) have the inside track to fill the MAC’s slot in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, director of operations John Perles said in a phone interview Monday afternoon.
Perles said the bowl ideally would announce its MAC bowl representative sometime during Friday’s MAC Championship Game at Ford Field in Detroit – kickoff is at 6 p.m. – but that with a clouded bowl outlook he is “not real optimistic” that will happen. The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl also will be played on Ford Field on Dec. 26.
Even if the MAC West champion Huskies (10-2, 8-0 MAC) defeat the MAC East champion RedHawks (8-4, 7-1 MAC), the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl is not required to pick NIU. Rather, bowl officials can take any bowl-eligible MAC team they think will create the best matchup, best ticket sales or best sponsorships.
Perles said Ohio also is a possibility for the bowl and that other bowl-eligible MAC teams, including Toledo and Temple, would be “longshots” to fill the slot.
“There’s a lot of teams in the MAC that have good records,” Perles said. “NIU is ranked and in the top 25 just as we anticipated. There’s a lot of people that are interested in the Huskies.”
While the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl seems to have whittled down its list of MAC possibilities, the other slot is far from settled. The Big Ten has a primary agreement to send its No. 8 team to Detroit. But with two teams (Wisconsin and Ohio State) likely headed to BCS bowls and just six other bowl-eligible teams, the Big Ten likely will be unable to fulfill its requirement.
The Sun Belt has a secondary agreement with the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, but the conference would need a third bowl-eligible team – Florida International (6-5) and Troy (6-5) have clinched a bowl while Middle Tennessee (5-6) needs to beat FIU on Saturday to become bowl eligible – to fulfill its requirement.
If Middle Tennessee loses, the bowl will fill the vacated spot with an at-large team. Perles said at-large possibilities include Boston College, Georgia Tech and Louisville. But with so much yet to be determined this weekend, Perles said he can’t give any definitive outlooks on the matchup until the final games have been played.
“There’s no formula for this, so we’re trying to do what’s best for the bowl game,” Perles said. We want (the) TV audience, we want people in the stands, we want sponsors, we want to keep people in the MAC happy, we want to keep ESPN happy and sometimes with different aspects there’s pluses and minuses.”