With a 5-7 record, Nebraska was an unusual selection as UCLA’s opponent in the Foster Farms Bowl. Typically, teams with losing records are not eligible for the postseason.
But with a record 40 bowl games to fill, there were not enough eligible teams.
The uncertainty led to creativity. Before Nebraska became available, the Foster Farms Bowl developed contingency plans. For a time, organizers talked with the Pac-12 about a matchup of conference teams, according to Gary Cavalli, the bowl’s executive director.
“We looked very hard at the possibility of trying to put UCLA against Washington, because they hadn’t played each other this year,” Cavalli said.
Ultimately, the NCAA decided to make three 5-7 teams — Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State — eligible to fill out the bowl slate. The extra teams were selected according to the most recent Academic Progress Rates, and Nebraska had the highest APR among all 5-7 teams.
UCLA and Nebraska will play Dec. 26 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
The expanding bowl schedule, and the NCAA’s eligibility waivers, ignited a mild controversy over how many bowls are too many, and how teams should be selected.
In a lengthy statement Sunday, Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson expressed dismay at the process. He cited the Foster Farms Bowl as a reason why two Mountain West teams — Nevada (6-6) and Colorado State (7-5) — are playing in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl.
Thompson argued 6-6 teams should have been placed in bowl games first, before any 5-7 team was chosen.
“It is a travesty the Mountain West has been forced into this situation,” Thompson said. “Clearly, the system is broken.”
Cavalli said the Foster Farms Bowl’s willingness to schedule two Pac-12 teams was evidence that a game featuring teams from any conference that haven’t played each other should not be objectionable.
“That’s why I don’t really get this whole fuss about the Mountain West,” he said. “Those two teams didn’t play each other, they’re two deserving teams, and I would think they would be happy that they found a nice home in the Arizona Bowl.”
For Nebraska, the benefits of playing in the Foster Farms Bowl are numerous. The team gets extra practice. The school gets an extra payout. And the fans get an extra game.
Huskers Coach Mike Riley defended his team’s inclusion.
“We’re certainly not going to apologize for being selected,” Riley said. “They had a criteria, and we were selected.”
Riley said the NCAA’s use of APR was appropriate because it emphasized the importance of academics.
“With our circumstances this year, we certainly couldn’t count on this,” Riley said. “But we’re going to treat it like a tremendous bonus.”
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