Arizona State was, as athletic director Lisa Love said, “in the fray” for a Bowl Championship Series invitation, but on Saturday, the possibilities whittled down as unfavorable results elsewhere piled up.
Finally, well after midnight, Hawaii edged Washington in the final minute. Then, the Sun Devils pretty much knew their postseason fate: A trip to San Diego for the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl against Texas, which was confirmed shortly before the team gathered for its awards banquet on Sunday.
“It’s a storied program and great opportunity for us,” first-year coach Dennis Erickson said prior to heading into a ballroom at the Phoenician resort. “We have no control over the BCS; all we can do is play football. And we did that well this season.”
ASU had been hopeful for a berth in the Fiesta Bowl, which matched Big 12 champion Oklahoma and Big East titlist West Virginia.
“I stayed up really late watching Hawaii,” Love said. “You could go through the puzzle and check off the at-large teams for the slots that became available, and there wasn’t a place for us in the end.”
The process started when BCS championship game participants Ohio State and Louisiana State were determined. Three anchor conference champions — Oklahoma in the Fiesta, Southern California (Pac-10) in the Rose and Virginia Tech (ACC) in the Orange — were then slotted.
The Rose Bowl’s selection of Illinois as an at-large replacement for Ohio State ended the game for the Sun Devils, who went 10-2 and shared the Pac-10 title. Had the Rose taken another team, an at-large slot would have remained open, potentially for ASU.
As expected, the Sugar Bowl followed by taking Georgia to replace LSU, and the Orange chose Kansas with the final at-large selection. That left the Fiesta to choose between two automatic qualifiers, West Virginia and Hawaii.
“We have to make sure we’re good partners to the Big 12, which is our conference in the BCS, but there were a number of ways we were looking forward to the possibility of (having ASU),” Fiesta Bowl president John Junker said. “That didn’t transpire, and that’s the nature of the business.”
Had No. 12 ASU gotten into the Fiesta, it would have earned the Pac-10 $4.5 million in payouts as the second conference team in a BCS bowl. USC will collect $17 million for the conference with its Rose Bowl appearance. The Holiday payout is $2.2 million per team.
“We looked at each other and got down and out for a little bit,” running back Keegan Herring said when asked how players reacted to the news. “We worked hard to get where we felt we could be in (the BCS), but what really hurt us is that we had two losses we shouldn’t have had.”
The meeting against No. 17 Texas (9-3) will be the Sun Devils’ first against a program that has won four national titles, most recently in 2005.
Erickson has coached against the Longhorns once — with Miami (Fla.) in the 1991 Cotton Bowl, where the Hurricanes rolled, 46-3.
Both schools receive 11,000 tickets. When the Sun Devils played in the 2002 Holiday Bowl against Kansas State, their allotment sold out.
“Certainly, ASU is a deserving team, but there is only so many spots in the BCS,” Holiday Bowl executive director Bruce Binkowski said. “To get a team that is 10-2, has an established coach in Dennis Erickson and fan support that is a short drive away, we couldn’t be happier with the matchup. We think it’s one of the marquee matchups in the entire bowl season.”
This week, players have final exams and the coaches will be recruiting, so ASU will not practice next until Dec. 14. They will work out six times in Tempe before leaving for San Diego on Dec. 22.
Tribune writer Kyle Odegard contributed to this report.