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Refs, bubble teams and going bowling

11/26/2010

Welcome back to a special day-after-Thanksgiving edition of Going Bowling, where we're always Kraft Fight Hunger-ing for some leftover turkey and gravy. And don't bother with giving us a plate. We have 35 bowls to eat out of.

The Zebra Report: Going Bowling Edition

While the team you love to cheer is fighting for its best bowl berth over the season's final two weekends, so are some of the men you love to boo. I'm talking about the officials. To the Men In Black (and White), bowl rings, watches and memories are just as coveted as they are among the teams and coaches. Because not every official makes it to the postseason. Not even close. On any given weekend there are 60 or more major college officiating crews in action. Only half of those will get to go bowling.

As soon as bowl bids are announced Dec. 5, the conference officiating coordinators begin assigning their refs to postseason games. Why wait until after the bids go out? Because who goes where team-wise can alter the number of crews that a conference is sending to the postseason. Conferences cannot send officials to games in which one of their teams is participating. For example, the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, which is annually played between schools from the SEC and ACC, can't have officials from either one of those conferences. (Plus officials cannot work games of their alma maters or of schools located in their cities of residence.)

While conference tie-ins mean that most of those per-conference officiating bids are already locked in, there are situations nearly every season in which that gets blown up because of a lack of eligible teams. Say the Big 12 has an off year and can't fulfill its eight postseason commitments. If one of its bowls has to plug in a non-Big 12 team, then it's now possible for a Big 12 crew to go work that game.

The BCS championship is assigned to conference officials on a rotating basis, but that rotation can be altered depending on who gets into the game. For example: The SEC's title game turn has been put on hold for the last four years because the conference has had teams in each game.

Once conference coordinators sort out who can go where based on the teams participating, then the individual co-ords start the process of assigning seven-man crews, plus an alternate, replay officials and in some cases a clock operator.

So, how are those bids are handed out? It depends entirely on the person making the decision.

Some conference coordinators go strictly on ratings. During every regular season, game officials at each position are rated on their performance by conference evaluators, as well as the head coaches of each participating school. In addition, the coordinators themselves have watched every game and done their own evaluations.

Other coordinators take a less numerical approach. They base their decisions on evaluation ratings but also factor in individual performances, such as a game-changing call and controversial penalties. They may also include how many bowl games an official has worked and whether or not the coveted spots should be distributed evenly to spread the wealth. Some co-ords prefer to keep regular-season crews together in the name of continuity, while others lean toward assembling all-star teams that may not have worked together all season. "Crews are overrated," says ACC officiating coordinator Doug Rhoads. "First, all of my guys know each other and are in constant contact. Second, if each individual does his job, then they should all be able to do so together, no matter who they are on the field with."

For proponents of centralizing college football officiating from a national pool instead of grouping them by conference, the non-scientific method of postseason assignments is one of the planks of their argument. But the men who make the decisions, even those who come from the centralized roster of the NFL, the current system works just fine.

"Different coordinators use different sciences for their bowl assignments," Conference-USA coordinator Gerry Austin said last spring. Because of his 26 years as an NFL official (including three Super Bowls), he prefers the NFL's ratings-based postseason reward system. "But at the end of the day, the best guys -- the guys with the most experience -- end up in the big games. Just like the teams, the guys who should be out there on the field in January always are."

And those guys will all be waiting anxiously by the phone the week after the conference championships are settled, hoping their boss deems them worthy of the call.

Big Bowl Bonanza Matchup of the Week: Bunkhouse Stampede Edition

This is typically the time when we pick one game as the contest with the biggest potential bowl impact. But as this is the last week with a full slate of games, there are too many to pick just one.

Entering Thanksgiving weekend, 64 FBS teams had reached bowl eligibility and 36 teams (including 7-4 USC) had been eliminated from bowl contention. That means 20 schools are still bouncing up and down on the bowl-eligibility bubble. Who? Let's take a look conference-by-conference, along with how I think there bubbles will end up -- either bowling or bursting.

Keep in mind that we need enough six-win teams to fill the 35 bowls. It's going to be close, folks. If my predictions are right, we'll have 74 teams to fill 70 slots. But that's assuming we don't have any big upsets or that the Pac-10 and Sun Belt conferences, which have two full weekends of games remaining, don't totally destroy themselves from within.

ACC

9 eligible, 3 out, 0 bubble teams

Big 12

8 eligible, 2 out, 2 bubble teams

Colorado Buffaloes 5-6, remaining game: Nov. 26 at Nebraska

Bubble chances: Burst

Texas Longhorns 5-7

Bubble chances: Burst

Big East

5 eligible, 0 out, 3 bubble teams

Cincinnati Bearcats 4-6, remaining games: Nov. 27 at UConn, Dec. 4 vs. Pitt

Bubble chances: Burst

Louisville Cardinals 5-6, remaining game: Nov. 26 at Rutgers

Bubble chances: Bowling

Rutgers Scarlet Knights 4-6, remaining games: Nov. 26 vs. Louisville, Dec. 4 at West Virginia

Bubble chances: Burst

Big Ten

8 eligible, 3 out, 0 bubble teams

Conference USA

6 eligible, 5 out, 1 bubble team

Houston Cougars 5-6, remaining game: Nov. 27 at Texas Tech

Bubble chances: Bowling

FBS Independents

All 3 eligible

Mid-American

5 eligible, 7 out, 1 bubble team

Western Michigan Broncos 5-6, remaining game: Nov. 26 at Bowling Green

Bubble chances: Bowling

Mountain West

5 eligible, 4 out, 0 bubble teams

Pac-10

3 eligible, 3 out, 4 bubble teams

Oregon State Beavers 5-5, remaining games: Nov. 27 at Stanford, Dec. 4 at Oregon

Bubble chances: Burst

Washington Huskies 4-6, remaining games: Nov. 27 at Cal, Dec. 4 at Washington State

Bubble chances: Bowling

California Golden Bears 5-6, remaining game: Nov. 27 vs. Washington

Bubble chances: Burst

UCLA Bruins 5-6, remaining games: Nov. 26 at Arizona St, Dec. 4 vs. USC

Bubble chances: Burst

SEC

8 eligible, 2 out, 2 bubble teams

Georgia Bulldogs 5-6, remaining game: Nov. 27 vs. Georgia Tech

Bubble chances: Bowling

Tennessee Volunteers 5-6, remaining game: Nov. 27 vs. Kentucky

Bubble chances: Bowling

Sun Belt

0 eligible, 4 out, 5 bubble teams

Florida International Golden Panthers 5-5, remaining games: Nov. 27 vs. Arkansas State, Dec. 4 vs. Middle Tennessee

Bubble chances: Bowling

Troy Trojans 5-5, remaining games: Nov. 27 vs. Western Kentucky, Dec. 4 vs. FAU

Bubble chances: Bowling

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks 5-6, remaining game: Nov. 27 vs. La-Lafayette

Bubble chances: Bowling

Florida Atlantic Owls 4-6, remaining games: Nov. 27 at Middle Tennessee, Dec. 4 vs. Troy

Bubble chances: Burst

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders 4-6, remaining games: Nov. 27 vs. FAU, Dec. 4 at FIU

Bubble chances: Burst

WAC

4 eligible, 3 out, 2 bubble teams

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 4-6, remaining games: Nov. 27 at San Jose State, Dec. 4 vs. Nevada

Bubble chances: Burst

Idaho Vandals 5-6, remaining games: Nov. 27 at Fresno State, Dec. 4 vs. San Jose State

Bubble chances: Bowling