Last Saturday afternoon, while most college football fans watched games featuring Football Bowl Subdivision powers such as Penn State-Ohio State or Nebraska-Michigan, Steve Beck was paying special attention to a rather nondescript matchup in the Bay Area. The game between Navy and San Jose State featured programs that entered with a combined seven wins.
While that contest had little resonance nationally, it was of interest to Beck because he serves as president and executive director of the Military Bowl, where the Midshipmen were to play if they became eligible with six victories. But Navy fell to San Jose State, 27-24, ensuring its first losing season since 2002 and ending its streak of eight consecutive years with a bowl appearance, a service academy record.
So throughout the rest of the weekend and into the start of this week, Beck fielded telephone calls from potential replacements for Navy, which was scheduled to play an ACC opponent at RFK Stadium on Dec. 28. And depending on how North Carolina State fares on Saturday against Maryland, Beck could be looking for another replacement, too.
“We’re disappointed with not getting Navy,” Beck said on Monday from his home, where he was working the phones throughout the day. “They’ve been a great partner, great to deal with, and I’m sure the kids feel way worse than I do about it, although I feel pretty bad about it. But if there is a good side, it’s not having to wait until December 10th.”
That’s when Navy plays Army at FedEx Field, and if the Midshipmen had beaten San Jose State, their record would have been 5-6. A victory over Army then would have made them bowl eligible for a bowl game that’s less than an hour drive from Annapolis.
The latest the participants will be named is Dec. 4, when the official bowl matchups are unveiled on ESPN. But Beck said he’s hoping to finalize the teams much sooner, perhaps this weekend. There’s been interest from teams in the Mid-American Conference, the Big Ten and the Sun Belt, according to Beck, and in certain scenarios, representatives from the Big East and perhaps the Big 12 also may be in play.
Air Force is the only service academy still able to become eligible for the postseason, and it would seem an ideal fit philosophically if not geographically for the Military Bowl given the game’s association with service academies. Navy played in the inaugural game in 2008 when it was the EagleBank Bowl, and Army is tied into next year’s game.
The Falcons (6-5) must beat Colorado State on Saturday to qualify because two of their wins came against Football Championship Subdivision foes.
The Mountain West Conference, in which Air Force competes, has four bowl tie-ins this season; if the Falcons win Saturday, the conference will have six bowl-eligible teams.
“It really comes down to the schools, which schools we think will travel the best, filling hotel rooms,” Beck said. “Of course the economic impact on D.C. is one of our primary missions, so I think that’s important. Proximity will play an important role.”
As for the ACC representative, the Military Bowl has the eighth choice of bowl-eligible teams from the conference, but there are currently only seven bowl-bound teams (Miami has enough victories to qualify but has issued a self-imposed postseason ban because of possible NCAA sanctions). North Carolina State can become the eighth with a victory over reeling Maryland on Saturday and thus be in line to play in the Military Bowl. The Wolfpack is 6-5, but two of those victories came against FCS opponents, so like Air Force it needs seven wins to qualify.
In 2007, North Carolina State could have become bowl eligible with a victory over Maryland, but it lost at home, 37-0. Last year, the Wolfpack, playing for a berth in the ACC championship game, lost to the Terrapins, 38-31.
Maryland wound up going to last year’s Military Bowl in the final game for Ralph Friedgen, who departed his alma mater with a 51-20 victory over East Carolina.
“The ACC side should become crystal clear after this weekend,” Beck said. “But there’s still the process with the championship game involved and then the selections, so each bowl will be able to choose going down the list. Theoretically if N.C. State wins, we’ll have that final selection.”