Hilltoppers hoping 7-5 record good enough for a bowl bid
Western Kentucky hopes this time around it gets a bowl invitation.
After missing the post-season last year despite going 7-5, the Toppers are waiting to see if finishing with the same record this season earns them an invitation to their first bowl game as a FBS member.
They won't know until bowl pairings are announced on Sunday. That means a long, painful wait to see if the process favors WKU this time around or if the Hilltoppers will again be post-season observers instead of participants.
WKU Athletics Director Todd Stewart said the decision-making process is "a little bit like a Rubik's Cube," but the Hilltoppers think their blocks are lined up for a bowl bid.
"You'll solve one side of it and then you look at the other side and it doesn't look the way you want it to look," Stewart said.
One certainty is the Hilltoppers, who placed fifth in the Sun Belt Conference at 4-4, won't receive bids to either of the two bowls with automatic conference tie-ins — the New Orleans and GoDaddy.com bowls. Louisiana-Lafayette (7-4, 5-2) accepted an invitation Saturday to its second consecutive New Orleans Bowl. The winner of Saturday's game between Arkansas State (8-3, 6-1) and Middle Tennessee (8-3, 6-1) will likely represent the league in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
That leaves WKU stuck in the at-large pool of bowl-eligible teams, whose post-season hopes lie with other leagues not having enough eligible teams to fill all of their bowl slots.
Stewart identified four games where WKU could fill an at-large vacancy right now — the Independence, Military, Little Caesar's Pizza and Liberty bowls.
If Big East Conference members Connecticut (5-6, 2-4) and Pittsburgh (5-6, 2-4) both lose this weekend, the BBVA Compass and Beef O' Brady's bowls would have openings as well.
"All the bowls we've talked to have said they wanted to get the regular season finished before they decide anything," Stewart said.
As it stands now, WKU would be guaranteed a bowl berth as one of 70 teams eligible to fill bowl slots.
But wins by Connecticut, Pitt and Georgia Tech (6-6, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) would make it 73 eligible teams and put WKU on the bubble. The first eligible team likely to be denied a bowl berth is Central Michigan (6-6, 4-4 Mid-American Conference).
WKU could be next on that list. Hilltoppers Coach Willie Taggart said those circumstances make weekend showdowns between Connecticut-Cincinnati, Pitt-South Florida and Florida State-Georgia Tech that much more important.
And the waiting that much more difficult to endure.
"I'll keep my fingers crossed," Taggart said. "I hope the football gods are with us Saturday."
■ Penn State's Bill O'Brien was named the Big Ten's coach of the year. O'Brien replaced Hall of Fame head coach Joe Paterno, who was fired last year in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. O'Brien led the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record, going 6-2 in conference play.
Big East adds Tulane in all sports, plus East Carolina in football
It's getting hard to tell the Big East from Conference USA without a program. Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco on Tuesday announced the addition of Tulane in all sports and East Carolina in football only as of the 2014 season. That means six current C-USA members — half of that league — will be competing in the Big East within two years.
Four other C-USA members — Central Florida, Memphis, Houston and SMU — previously announced plans to join the league in all sports starting in 2013 along with Boise State and San Diego State of the Mountain West in football only and Temple in all sports.
■ The troubled Western Athletic Conference is adding Grand Canyon to replace the Denver, which is bolting for the Summit League after just one year in the WAC. But the WAC must find another school — and quickly — in order to keep its automatic qualifying berths in the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments.
Patterson scores 22 in Rockets' win
James Harden scored 24 points and matched a career high with 12 assists to lead the Houston Rockets over the visiting Toronto Raptors 117-101 on Tuesday night.
Patrick Patterson added 22 points for the Rockets, who have won four in a row. Omer Asik had 13 points and 18 rebounds.
■ Evan Turner scored 22 points and Thaddeus Young had 20 to lead the host 76ers to a 100-98 win over the Mavericks.
■ The Grizzlies sent rookie guard Tony Wroten to their NBA Development League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns. The 6-foot-6 Wroten has played in three games so far for the Grizzlies, and he's had one rebound and one steal in that time.
High school basketball
Henry Clay boys open with win
Henry Clay, ranked fifth in the coaches' pre-season poll, shot 54.2 percent in its season opener, a 70-46 victory at Tates Creek. Teddy Ware led the Blue Devils with 16 points. Christian Cunningham had 14 points and 10 assists.
■ Tyler Harville scored 24 points, including going 5-for-8 from three-point range, and had five assists in Lexington Christian's 61-55 victory at home against Louisville Christian.
■ Aesha Mays hit a free throw with five seconds left to give Danville a 61-60 victory at Lafayette.
No. 3 Michigan holds on to beat N.C. State
Trey Burke had 18 points and 11 assists, and No. 3 Michigan held off a late rally by No. 18 North Carolina State in a 79-72 victory Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Mich. Freshman Nik Stauskas led the Wolverines (6-0) with 20 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. added 16, but it was Burke who controlled the game, equaling his previous career high of nine assists in the first half and going the whole game without a turnover.
■ Joe Coleman scored 16 points, Rodney Williams added 14 and No. 21 Minnesota (7-1) beat defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion Florida State 77-68 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
■ Nicole Coffman (Casey County) scored 29 points in the Transylvania women's 77-70 victory at Spalding.
Former Western Ky. star Towery dies
Carlisle Towery, Western Kentucky's first two-time All-American in basketball, died Sunday at his home in Marion. He was 92. Towery, who played for WKU from 1939 to 1941, was the first Hilltopper to score 1,000 points. He finished with 1,010 in three seasons.
Phillies' Ruiz suspended for 25 games
All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz was suspended for the first 25 games of next season following a positive test for an amphetamine. The 33-year-old catcher had a career year in 2012, hitting .325 with 16 homers and 68 RBI in 114 games.
The last word
Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Ryan Pickett on his team's 38-10 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday:
"Maybe it's a good reminder of what happens when you don't come to play ... We didn't have enough energy. They played harder than us. That's not going to happen again."