Feeling flush from its startling 49-14 upset win Saturday at Liberty, New Mexico State hopes its 5-6 football season isn’t over yet.
NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia said Monday that the school is arguing for bowl eligibility and also is trying to add a game to its regular season schedule Saturday at home vs. Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent Valparaiso.
For either to happen, the NCAA has to get involved.
Ordinarily, six wins and a .500 record are the minimums for bowl eligibility, but sometimes teams with 5-7 records get invites when there aren’t enough teams 6-6 or better to fill all bowl slots.
Moccia’s appeal to the NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee notes the Aggies didn’t get to play one of their games — the Oct. 22 home date vs. San Jose State was called off after a Spartans player was killed in a vehicle accident near his campus — and that at 5-6, the Aggies have a better win percentage and should jump the line in front of 5-7 teams.
“There’s no book on a player dying, on how to handle that situation,” said first-year Aggies football coach Jerry Kill, referring to the Oct. 21 death of San Jose State running back Camdam McWright — who was riding an e-scooter when hit by a school bus. The Spartans decided that day not to travel to Las Cruces.
Still, Kill said, “I don’t think we should be punished for something that happened that was out of everybody’s control. If we would have played it and won the game, we’re not having this conversation.”
CBS Sports reported after this weekend’s games that seven bowl slots would still be open after accounting for all teams with at least six wins. Only one team has a chance to gain its sixth victory this week (5-6 Buffalo vs. 2-9 Akron on Friday).
So, some five-win teams would need to be invited to the bowl party. Typically the hierarchy of such is by Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores, which wouldn’t favor NMSU. But “5-6 is clearly better than 5-7,” said Moccia, likening the Aggies’ record to a better batting average or free-throw percentage.
Moccia said NMSU meanwhile had contacted three Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools who could play this week — San Jose State (7-4), Virginia Tech (3-8, missed the Virginia game after three Cavalier players were shot to death) and Vanderbilt (5-7 but, since it played at Hawaii to open the season, was eligible for a 13th game). He said there were no takers and he told the Journal Monday night he’s unsure if SJSU will do a make-good game on a future schedule. Kill called it “ironically funny,” since the number of teams wanting to play New Mexico State not long ago was large.
Importantly, a win against non-scholarship Valparaiso would not gain NMSU bowl eligibility. That’s because only one win against an FCS team in any year can count for such. New Mexico State has that — a 51-14 Nov. 12 home victory vs. Lamar.
Moccia said NMSU nonetheless wants that game to fulfill its obligations to season-ticket holders and sponsors and provide a proper sendoff for Aggie seniors. Valparaiso (5-6), meanwhile, has already played 11 games, the maximum allowed for an FCS team, and would require a waiver from the NCAA for permission to play a 12th.
Kill said his staff would go to work on Monday on preparing for Valparaiso, not knowing yet if the game will happen. NMSU was hoping to get a definitive answer on Valpo’s waiver request on Monday but didn’t. An answer on its bowl status can wait till later this week.
The entire bowl eligibility question only became an issue after the Aggies’ stunning performance Saturday against a Liberty team favored by 24.5 points and that finished 8-4. It came in the context of word leaking that there was mutual interest between Auburn and Liberty coach Hugh Freeze regarding the Tigers’ vacant coaching position.
On Monday, it was announced Freeze is in fact going to Auburn.
“People say ‘well, (Liberty was) a little bit down,’ ” Kill said. “They came to play. We just played better.”
One of those playing better was quarterback Diego Pavia of Albuquerque, who was lauded by ESPN College Football Final and was nominated for the Manning Award quarterback of the week honor.
Pavia accounted for six touchdowns vs. Liberty and is the first Aggie since 2011 to throw and run for more than 100 yards in a game.