As the wheeling and dealing of bowl season begins, CMU remains optimistic

This week, after the conclusion of the regular season schedule, was a rollercoaster last season for head coach Dan Enos.

His 6-6 Central Michigan football team was in a bowl game, he was told. Then they were out. Then they were still out.

Then came the Sunday afternoon phone call from athletic director Dave Heeke, telling him they were in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

This time around, with the Chippewas jostling for position with a similar 6-6 record, he’s trying not to pay attention to the speculation.

“It didn’t do me any good,” a laughing Enos said Tuesday evening. “I have a lot of people telling me this needs to happen and that needs to happen. Last year I heard all of that and none of it was true.”

Most projections have CMU out of the bowl picture, the victim of too many bowl-eligible teams and with not enough spots. As of Tuesday, 77 Football Bowl Subdivision teams were bowl eligible to play in 35 games with two others, Rutgers and Southern Methodist, both 5-6, playing Saturday. That means at least seven teams will be left out, making it more competitive than ever with programs trying to make a case for why they should be in the game.

Some will argue record and strength of schedule, neither of CMU’s strong suits. The Chippewas only have one win against an FBS opponent with a winning record, while their six wins came against teams with an overall winning percentage of .358 (it was .267 last year).

“We don’t control the schedule,” Enos said. “We’re 5-3 in our league, I know that. I think we got better as the year went on.”

Then there's geography, a big sticking point with smaller bowls. This is where CMU can make inroads with its proven ability to draw a crowd, especially to the Pizza Bowl in Detroit. The Chippewas helped set the game’s attendance record, 60,624, in 2007 against Purdue.

CMU athletic director Dave Heeke, tasked with trying to juke CMU into a bowl, compared the bowl alignment to a chess game and the need to be a “step or two ahead.” He says he’s been tracking games for about three weeks now and has been in contact with several bowls about trying to get CMU in.

“You can’t predict anything,” Heeke said. “There are more teams eligible this year, quite frankly it’s as many as I remember, but there are a number of scenarios. Last year we took advantage of some things that we helped create and we’re going to try to do that again this year.”

Much like last year, CMU’s fate could rest on the shoulders of Northern Illinois. The Huskies (12-0, 8-0 MAC) play Bowling Green for the Mid-American Conference championship on Friday, one win away from their second consecutive BCS bowl appearance.

A loss would mean NIU would likely fall to one of the five MAC-affiliated bowls, effectively killing any chance of the Chippewas’ bowl hopes.

“We’re all rooting for NIU to make the BCS,”  Heeke said. “If they win, they deserve it. And that’s certainly one big component to the entire bowl scenario. It’s in the best interest of everyone that Northern Illinois make it to a BCS bowl.”

CMU, still unsure of its fate, took Monday and Tuesday off so players could focus on school while the coaches hit the recruiting trail. The players will workout Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before the real wheeling and dealing begins this weekend.

They remain optimistic. Could last year repeat itself?

“I definitely feel like we’ve got a shot,” Enos said. “I don’t think anybody really knows. There’s games to be played still, there’s a lot of situations to be looked at.

“The only thing that we can control right now is just trying to stay ready."

One bowl set

CMU’s chances of making a bowl shrank just a little bit Tuesday as Tulane accepted an invite to play Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 21.

BYU (Kraft Fight Hunger, Dec. 27), Navy (Armed Forces, Dec. 30) and Arkansas State (GoDaddy, Jan. 2) have already locked themselves in for a bowl game, leaving 65 spots left.

Contact Aaron McMann: Follow him on Twitter @AaronMcMann.


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