Mario Moccia’s message Thursday largely was this: Sometimes the system, in fact, works.
Earlier in the day, New Mexico State learned from the NCAA that its appeal to the governing body’s Football Oversight Committee has been viewed favorably, thus making it probable that the 5-6 Aggies are going to a bowl game. Here’s why:
Though a six-win season and a .500 record are typically minimums to be bowl eligible, only 79 such qualifying teams existed as of Thursday for 82 slots.
Buffalo (5-6) may become the 80th if it beats Akron (2-9) Friday, leaving two slots open to five-win teams.
Moccia, New Mexico State’s athletic director, and other staffers argued that the Aggies’ 5-6 record after winning last Saturday at Liberty should be viewed more favorably than all the 5-7s out there; and that NMSU had been trying futilely to get a 12th game against a fellow Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) program after San Jose State canceled on their Oct. 22 game upon the accidental death of a Spartan player the day before. There were no takers.
NMSU Deputy AD Braun Cartwright got the news early Thursday that the NCAA agreed.
“We tried to put the best case forward,” Moccia said via Zoom Thursday. “The important thing that’s easier to say when you get a favorable outcome is that we were heard. That’s all we can ask for.”
In the meantime, and independent of the appeal to clarify its bowl eligibility status, the Aggies did in fact earlier this week get a 12th game for this Saturday. It’s at home, 1 p.m., against a lower-level Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent, Valparaiso. NMSU wanted to get a game in any case just to fulfill obligations to sponsors and season-ticket holders and to send off their seniors with some pomp.
The Aggies can’t count a win over Valparaiso toward bowl eligibility; only one vs. an FCS team per year is countable, and the Aggies already have that (vs. Lamar in November).
But in the “God forbid” vein, Moccia wasn’t sure late Thursday if an upset loss to the non-scholarshipped Beacons would harm the Aggies – even as a win can’t help them – by dragging the Aggies back to 5-7 and too far down in the pecking order (based on academics) of 5-7 teams to get a bowl bid.
“Well, that’s why Jerry (Kill, NMSU football coach) said ‘the game coming up is the most important game.'”
All of the bowl pairings will be announced Sunday on ESPN. New Mexico State theoretically could go to preferred and closer bowl destinations in Albuquerque (New Mexico Bowl, Dec. 17) and Tucson (Arizona Bowl, Dec. 30), but Moccia acknowledged the program can’t and won’t be picky.
The New Mexico Bowl’s partners are the Mountain West and an opponent from the American, Mid-American, Sun Belt or Conference USA, but ESPN Events can make back-channel deals with another bowl it owns to create another matchup.
First-year coach Kill thanked literally everyone in Las Cruces on Thursday for the program being in this position and urged fans to show up for Saturday’s game vs. Valpo.
“We’re still a long way away from where we want to go,” Kill said. “But this is certainly a faster start than I thought.”