Tulane Willie Fritz

Advocate file photo of Tulane coach Willie Fritz

If the Tulane football team beats Navy on Saturday, it appears destined for a bowl game it has never been to in the past — if it goes anywhere at all.

The whole process is a bit murky considering the American Athletic Conference has no pecking order among its seven bowl tie-ins and potentially eight teams vying for those seven spots.

Here is the the list of bowls, none of which the Green Wave has appeared in during its 11 previous postseasons games, the most recent being the New Orleans Bowl in 2013 against Louisiana-Lafayette:

  • Cure Bowl (Orlando, Florida), vs. Sun Belt Conference, Dec. 15
  • Cheribundi Tart Cherry Bowl (Boca Raton, Florida) vs. Conference USA, Dec. 18
  • Frisco Bowl (Frisco, Texas) vs. at-large opponent, Dec. 19
  • Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (Tampa, Florida) vs. Conference USA, Dec. 20
  • Armed Forces Bowl (Fort Worth, Texas) vs. Big 12, Dec. 22
  • Birmingham Bowl (Birmingham, Alabama) vs. SEC, Dec. 22
  • Military Bowl (Annapolis, Maryland) vs. ACC, Dec. 31

The most popular landing spot for the Green Wave among a host of projections are the Cherry Bowl (formerly the Boca Raton Bowl) and the Frisco Bowl, but there are too many variables at this point for a reliable prediction.

First, Tulane has to win to become bowl eligible. The Green Wave (5-6, 4-3 AAC) is a touchdown favorite against the Midshipmen (3-8, 2-5) but is 0-3 against Navy in AAC play, losing 31-14 in 2015, 21-14 in 2016 and 23-21 last year.

“It would be big for the program,” coach Willie Fritz said. “We increased our conference wins, but getting to a bowl game is always a goal we are going to have. It would be excellent for the program.”

Clouding the picture even more is the possibility, though unlikely, that the AAC will have more bowl-eligible teams than available openings in its primary tie-ins. There is precedent for a bowl-eligible AAC team staying home for the postseason. Temple beat Tulane 10-3 in its 2014 finale to get to 6-6 but did not receive a bowl invitation.

If Tulane and SMU (5-6, 4-3), which plays at Tulsa on Saturday, both win, the league will have eight qualifiers. Central Florida (10-0, 7-0), though, will earn a spot in a major bowl as the highest ranked champion from a Group of Five Conference if it wins its final two games, freeing the other seven teams to fill the spots in the AAC’s seven bowls.

The only way a team could get squeezed is if UCF loses the AAC championship game (to Houston or Memphis) or loses at South Florida on Friday and is not the highest-ranked Group of Five conference team on selection day.

The AAC has secondary tie-ins with the Independence (ACC vs. SEC) and Liberty (Big 12 vs. SEC) bowls in case their conferences do not have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill their spots, but there is no guarantee about an opening in either of them. 

Entering the final weekend of the regular season, 71 NCAA teams are bowl eligible for 78 spots, with the possibility of another 20 joining the list with victories. Last year, 81 teams were bowl eligible, forcing Buffalo and Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference and Texas-San Antonio of Conference USA to stay home.

For Tulane, the focus is simply on beating Navy.

“My mindset isn’t on getting to a bowl game or anything like that,” quarterback Justin McMillan said. “It’s more so to beat Navy and doing our job and the bowl will come. We’ll worry about a bowl game after that if it happens.”

Lagniappe

Fritz said senior defensive lineman Robert Kennedy tore an ACL against Houston, ending his college career. Kennedy, a Belle Chasse High graduate, started four games this year and had 33 tackles, the third most among Wave linemen. He also missed the first seven games of 2017 with a knee injury. He will leave with 81 career tackles. … Fritz said Tuesday he expected defensive end Cameron Sample to play against Navy after missing the past two games with a sprained ankle.


Follow Guerry Smith on Twitter, @guersmith