Giving credit where credit is due: Who is to blame for this year’s Liberty Bowl match-up?

The 54th Liberty Bowl is almost upon us and it features the Tulsa Hurricanes versus the Iowa State Cyclones. Needless to say, this is clearly not the most ideal match-up for local fans who would rather see one of their beloved SEC schools in the bowl game.  In fact, this is the first time in five years that the bowl will not have an SEC participant. One would think that the Liberty Bowl would have more of say so and be able to attract more lucrative teams, after all it is the eighth oldest bowl in the nation.   Alas, even though the bowl usually gets the Conference USA champion and the SEC eighth place team, this year is an exception with Iowa State (Big 12 ninth place team) set to play in the game for the first time ever. To make matters worse, these two teams have already played in the first game of the season. Iowa State won 38-23 in the first match-up, and we all know the sequel is rarely as good as the original. So who really deserves the credit (or blame) for this match-up?
If the Golden Hurricanes had beat Iowa State when they had the chance they would not be playing the Cyclones again during bowl season, because Iowa State would not be bowl eligible. Tulsa breezed through their schedule (pun intended) on their way to a C-USA Championship. They almost beat Arkansas and had a slight let down against SMU on their way to an impressive 10-3 record.  While every loss matters just as much as the other, their loss to Iowa State in the first game of the season is one of the reasons Iowa State gets to play in the Liberty Bowl. The Golden Hurricanes were favored in that contest (albeit by one point but favored nonetheless), but they allowed 24 unanswered points in the second and third quarters to give Iowa State their first win of the season. Iowa state is 6-6 going into the Liberty Bowl, so had Tulsa beat the Cyclones there would be a different (possibly more attractive) team on the other side of the field.
Big 12
The Big 12 was one of the most competitive conferences in the nation this year. Nine of the ten Big 12 teams are bowl eligible, which means either they are all pretty good, or they are all mediocre. There are five teams with identical regular season overall records of 7-5 and four teams with a 4-5 conference mark.  Iowa State was able to upset conference rivals TCU and Baylor on their way to six wins and a Liberty Bowl birth. If one of those two teams would have taken care of business against the Cyclones there would be a different Liberty Bowl participant .  Also, had the conference not been full of so many solid (or mediocre) teams Iowa State would not be bowl eligible.
SEC underachievers
The Big 12 is not the only conference that deserves some credit for this bowl match-up. This year was full of underachieving teams in the SEC.  John L. Smith was unable to hold Arkansas together after Bobby Petrino’s firing, while Tennessee and Missouri both struggled and were both one win away from bowl eligibility. Missouri blew their shot at bowl eligibility when they allowed Syracuse to gain 508 total yards and score 21 fourth quarter points in a rare home loss. On the other-hand, Tennessee blew their shot at bowl eligibility with a 51-48 overtime loss at home to Missouri. That defeat meant that the Vols had to win their final two games against Kentucky and Vanderbilt to become bowl eligible. Which in a normal year would not have been a problem, but not with this year’s Vandy squad, who obliterated the Vols 41-18. If the SEC had one more team bowl eligible the Liberty Bowl probably would have selected them, especially if it was Tennessee, and we would have a match-up with more local intrigue.
That is right, blame the No. 2 team in the nation for the Liberty Bowl match-up. The Crimson Tide ruined it for everybody, by simply being better than everybody, and earning a spot in the BCS National Championship. The SEC has 10 bowl tie-ins, with the Liberty Bowl alternating the eighth and ninth pick with the BBVA Compass Bowl. This year the SEC was unable to get 10 bowl eligible team, but the conference did get nine teams which is usually just enough to give the Liberty Bowl an SEC team. However, with Alabama playing in the BCS National Championship game the SEC was left two teams short, and the Liberty Bowl and Independence Bowl had to look elsewhere for teams. Also, do not forget that Alabama beat Tennessee and Missouri, who were both just one win away from bowl eligibility, by a combined score of 86-23.  Curse you Alabama.
BBVA Compass Bowl
How a bowl game that has been around for 54 years has to wait to pick after one that has been around for less than ten years is beyond me, yet that is what happened this year. The two bowls alternate yearly between the eighth and ninth place teams from the SEC. So every other year the Liberty Bowl gets to pick before the BBVA Compass Bowl, and sadly this was not the year for the eighth oldest bowl in the nation. With Ole Miss left as the last SEC school the BBVA Compass Bowl higher-ups selected the Rebels, leaving the Liberty Bowl short an SEC team.
Steel Jantz
Most people have never heard of the Cyclones senior quarterback, but he deserves credit for the Cyclones up and down season. His inconsistent play is one of the reasons Iowa State has a 6-6 record. Jantz’s best game came against Baylor as he threw for 381 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception. It is hard to believe he is the same quarterback that threw for just 73 yards and three interceptions against Texas Tech, and lost the starting job several times throughout the year. Liberty Bowl observers probably will not get to see Jantz in action however. Thanks to his wildly inconsistent play, freshman Sam Richardson will most likely get the start. Richardson started the last two games of the year and threw for 412 yards, with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Maybe if Richardson was starting all year Iowa State would matter more nationally and make this a more intriguing game for local fans.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from different college football games throughout the Mid-South.Other college football articles:


  1. Clearly whoever wrote this does not want ISU in the game. After being in Memphis the last few days I guessing the Liberty Bowl and the rest of Memphis are thinking ISU was the right choice. All I’ve seen is Cyclone fans everywhere I’ve been in the city. Even staying at Tulsa’s team hotel 20 miles outside downtown, it is almost filled with ISU fans. There is no way anyone involved with the game or city can be disappointed by ISU’s turnout.