Now that we're two-thirds through the college football season, I wanted to take a look at the quest for bowl eligibility among Power 5 teams throughout the country.
For the purposes of this review, I'm ignoring the possibility of 5-7 teams reaching bowls via APR rating. While it's almost certain that at least a couple will go bowling by virtue of APR, analyzing that would be far too pedantic at this point in the season.
I'll go conference by conference (in somewhat random order because the ACC is a boring lead to me, alphabetism be damned). There will be four categories by which I sort teams:
- Going Bowling (teams that have already reached six wins)
- All But Official (5 win teams w/ 1 or more games in which they'll be heavily favored)
- Up In The Air (could go either way; ranges from 5 win teams with difficult schedules to 3 win teams with easy Nov. schedules, including nearly all 4 win teams along the way)
- Hanging By A Thread (would require major upsets)
- Eliminated (seven or more losses to date)
Going Bowling (5):
- Wisconsin (8-0)
- Ohio State (7-1)
- Penn State (7-1)
- Michigan State (6-2)
- Michigan (6-2)
All But Official (2):
- The Wildcats are likely to be favored in all of their November games with a schedule consisting of @Nebraska, vs. Purdue, vs. Minnesota, and @Illinois. After a strong October featuring a dominating road win over Maryland and back to back overtime triumphs against Iowa and MSU, NW only needs one win to send Pat Fitzgerald and crew to their third bowl game in a row.
- I struggled a bit with putting the Hawkeyes in this category, but I think it's exceedingly unlikely they go 0-4 in November, which is what they'd need to miss a bowl. That said, with their next two games against bonafide Top 5 squads (vs. Ohio State and @Wisconsin), it's very likely they go into the final two weeks of the season at 5-5 needing one more win. However, the Fighting Ferentzs should be favored in both their final two games (at home against Purdue on Senior Day and on the road against the floundering Cornhuskers of Nebraska).
Up In The Air (5):
- During the preseason, there was a lot of chatter about how Minnesota could start 7-1 with a Charmin-soft slate of games before the meat of their schedule began in November. Welp...Fleck's debut is off to a disappointing beginning after the Gophers dropped winnable games against Maryland and Iowa, as well as matchups against Purdue and MSU teams who are outperforming their preseason expectations. Now, Fleck needs two wins from a rugged November that will feature the Gophers as underdogs in three games (@Michigan, @Northwestern, vs. Wisconsin) and the fourth being a tossup tilt at home against Nebraska. Although it's not completely out of the realm of possibility that the Gophers could steal the Jug in The Big House or wrest the Axe from the Badgers' ironclad, 13-year grasp, you'd think the Gophers will need to beat the Huskers at home and knock off Northwestern in Evanston to be traveling over the holidays. At this point, it seems most likely the Gophers wind up short at 5-7.
- A last second win in West Lafayette last night kept the Huskers out of the "Hanging By A Thread" category. In November, Nebraska has one game that's essentially a sure-fire loss (at Penn State). Otherwise, the remaining three games are all approximately tossups (vs. Northwestern, @Minnesota, vs. Iowa) and Nebraska will need to win two out of three of them. 6-6 feels slightly more likely than 5-7 here, but it'll be close.
- The Terps prevailed in the Big Ten's most under-the-radar thriller of the weekend, winning 42-39 over Indiana. That win, plus earlier road triumphs in Austin and Minneapolis, has the Terps very much alive in the bowl hunt despite their young roster and littany of injuries. First and foremost, Maryland has an absolute must win game this weekend at Rutgers. If they can't emerge victorious from Piscataway, it's almost impossible to see the Terps going bowling. Assuming Durkin can hold serve against Chris Ash, UMD will need one upset (out of three tries) for a holiday excursion to become reality. Maryland's final three games are: vs. Michigan, @Michigan State, vs. Penn State. 0-3 is the most likely outcome here, but both the Wolverines and Spartans have looked vulnerable enough at times to keep the Terps in the "Up In The Air" category.
- Oh, Indiana, our dear, dear chaos team. It's truly astonishing how IU almost always overperforms against the OSU/UM/MSU triumvirate yet shits the bed against the Marylands and Rutgers of the conference. This was supposed to be #TheYear for IU's first regular season winning record since 2007. Losing in College Park destroyed that dream, barring an upset of Wisconsin this Saturday. All of that said, IU's final three games are @Illinois, vs. Rutgers and @Purdue. There is no margin of error, but a third consecutive 6-6 season is still up for grabs.
- Arguably, Purdue should be sitting pretty in the "All But Official" category right now, needing only a home win against lowly Illinois to clinch their first bowl game in 5 years. Alas, the Boilermakers have now dropped consecutive games "they should've won" to Rutgers and Nebraska by a combined total of 3 points. With a manageable November schedule including home games against Illinois and Indiana remaining, they're not quite dead yet. However, PU will need a modest road upset against either Northwestern or Iowa to go bowling. It's more likely that Purdue will finish 4-8 or 5-7 and be left agonizing over heartbreaking "what ifs" from Rutgers and Nebraska.
Hanging By A Thread (2):
- Say the Scarlet Knights win at home against Maryland this weekend in what should be somewhat close to a tossup game. Okay, they're 4-5 now. Then, let's say they eventually take advantage of a Hoosier squad that consistently underperforms against bottom dwelling teams to notch their second straight win in Bloomington. I wouldn't necessarily bet on either of those two scenarios propelling Rutgers to 5 wins, but it's possible, even if I do think that 4-8, or worse, is the most likely season outcome. The problem is that their 6th win would need to come either in Happy Valley or against the Spartans and Mark Dantonio. The multipled probabilities of three of those wins transpiring is too low to feel good about for the Jersey Jabronis.
- The Illini need to win out. They are scheduled to play a game in Columbus, Ohio. Nope.
- None yet. Coming soon, Lovie Smith & Co.
Going Bowling (7):
- Alabama (8-0)
- Georgia (8-0)
- Auburn (6-2)
- South Carolina (6-2)
- Kentucky (6-2)
- Mississippi State (6-2)
- LSU (6-2)
All But Official (1):
Texas A&M (5-3):
- Even though November collapses have become routine in College Station under Sumlin, the Aggies only need one more win. Due to having an 8 game conference schedule, A&M still has a non-conference home game against New Mexico. They also will likely be favored on the road at Ole Miss if the former goes the way of Troy vs. LSU. 7-5 feels most likely here (although 6-6 seems more probable than 8-4), with a home matchup against Auburn and a road game in Baton Rouge looking as likely losses.
Up In The Air (3):
- The Gators enter November on a dour three-game losing streak; however, their final four weeks contain a pretty manageable slate and there's still room for one more loss. This week's game at Missouri is practically a must-win; if they can prevail in Columbia, as well as against UAB at home on November 18th, UF needs to either knock off Muschamp's Gamecocks on the road or rival FSU (which is also having a woeful season, to put it lightly) at home in The Swamp. This feels like 50-50 at this point; the Hurricane Irma-related cancellation of the Northern Colorado game could prove decisive for Florida's bowl fate if the Gators wind up 2-2 in November.
- If the Vols played in any other division in Power 5 football (The Big Ten West may be worse, but B1G teams only get 3 non-conference games), they probably wouldn't have a shot at a bowl game. In the SEC East though, #ItJustMeansMore (chances for bowl eligibility). November brings home games against Southern Mississippi, #19 LSU and Vanderbilt, plus a road trip to horrid Missouri. It seems most likely that UT beats Southern Miss and Mizzou, loses to LSU, and goes into a bowl decisive instate rivalry game against Vanderbilt in Knoxville at 5-6. I wonder if the Vol fans would even want a win at that point.
- Vandy enters November needing 3 wins, with two games where they'll be slight favorites (vs. Western Kentucky, vs. Missouri), one tossup (@Tennessee) and one game where they'll be slight underdogs (vs. Kentucky). Definitely possible, but far from certain. At this point, odds are pretty strong for a November 25th game between 5-6 Vanderbilt and 5-6 Tennessee to decide which team will travel to a bowl and which will sit at home.
Hanging By A Thread (2):
- The Hogs stayed alive with a walk off winning field goal against Ole Miss in Oxford this past weekend. Moreover, Bielema & Co. have a non-conference home game against Coastal Carolina upcoming, plus a season-ending home rivalry tilt with wretched Missouri, so five wins seems very doable. However, to get to six Arkansas will still need to beat a ranked SEC West foe (either @ #19 LSU or against #21 Mississippi State at home). Given how they've looked this season, I don't feel good enough about that happening to keep the Hogs in the "Up In The Air" grouping, although they probably have a better chance than any other "Hanging By A Thread" team nationwide.
- The good news for the Tigers of Columbia: they're riding a two game win streak, with both wins coming by 40+ points (!!!). The bad news: those games were against Idaho and UConn. Mizzou is 0-4 in the SEC and likely won't be favored to win a single conference game. Given the putrid state of the SEC East, I wouldn't be shocked if Missouri wins a game, or even two, but the odds of finishing 3-1 in November for a team that lost by 30+ to Purdue seem dismal, even with a schedule of vs. Florida, vs. Tennessee, @Vanderbilt, and @Arkansas.
Ole Miss (3-5):
- The Rebels have a postseason ban this year. However, it seems unlikely they would've made a bowl game anyways (I'd have them in the Hanging By a Thread category without the ban). They'll probably defeat Louisiana-Lafayette at home, but Mississippi should be slight to moderate underdogs in all three of their remaining SEC games (@Kentucky, vs. Texas A&M, @Mississippi State). I'd venture that 5-7 is the most likely finish here, with 4-8 more likely than 6-6.
Going Bowling (4):
- Texas Christian (7-1)
- Oklahoma (7-1)
- Oklahoma State (7-1)
- Iowa State (6-2)
All But Official (1):
West Virginia (5-3):
- Similar to Iowa, November will be WVU's hardest month of the season schedule-wise, yet it's difficult to see them going 0-4 in a league with as much parity as the Big 12. The season-ending road trip to Norman to face the Sooners looks likely to be a loss, but otherwise the Mountaineers' remaining games are all close to tossups or better (vs. #14 Iowa State, @Kansas State, vs. Texas). 7-5 feels most likely here.
Up In The Air (3):
- Despite dropping the home opener to Maryland and losing all three of their ranked games in heartbreaking fashion, the Longhorns have a solid shot to go bowling; however, their margin for error is close to non-existent. The home game against Kansas on November 11th is a must win (for bowl eligibility and so much more). Assuming Herman doesn't blow that, it feels most likely that Texas will lose on the road to #10 TCU on 11/4 and in Morgantown, West Virginia on 11/18, leading to a decisive season-ending home game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders (who could be 5-6 and playing for a bowl themselves).
Texas Tech (4-4):
- Needing two more wins to seal the deal, the Red Raiders have one game where they will be a significant home favorite against a conference bottom-dweller (Baylor), two tossups (vs. Kansas State, @Texas) and one game as a significant underdog (vs. TCU). I actually like Texas Tech's chances better than Texas' (they could wrap things up in the next two weeks with two home wins), but with such a horrible defense anything could happen in Lubbock.
Kansas State (4-4):
- Bill Synder's squad was supposed to be solid this year, but a non-conference loss to measly Vanderbilt forebode the struggles to come. I was close to putting KSU in the "Hanging By A Thread" category due to their brutal November schedule. Namely, it's unlikely that KSU is favored in a single remaining game (@Texas Tech, vs. West Virginia, @Oklahoma State, vs. Iowa State), but they have a decent shot against TTU, WVU and ISU and still can lose one of those games. If the Wildcats fall in Lubbock this week, the outlook becomes more bleak.
Hanging By A Thread (0):
- Kansas (1-7)
- Baylor (0-8)
Going Bowling (6):
- Washington (7-1)
- Washington State (7-2)
- Southern California (7-2)
- Stanford (6-2)
- Arizona (6-2)
All But Official (1):
- With their bye week still to come on 11/11, the Ducks only have three games remaining. First, they'll be significant underdogs when they travel to Seattle to face a Top 15 Huskie team ravenous for a home win over their rival from south of the border (although UW won in Eugene last year, Washington hasn't beaten Oregon in Seattle since 2003; losing five straight on their home field). Next, Arizona comes to Autzen; if I were a Ducks' fan, I'd be incredibly anxious about newfound phenom Khalil Tate facing a porous Oregon defense. So, if the Ducks are more likely than not to embark upon a two game losing streak, why are they in the 'All But Official' category? The answer: a virtually guaranteed Civil War home victory over instate rival Oregon State (1-7, 0-5 PAC 12) will send the Ducks bowling on its own merits, regardless of what happens before then.
Up In The Air (5):
- The Buffs are only one win away after securing a must-win victory against Cal this past weekend, but with three tough games ahead, a bowl trip remains far from certain. Colorado has road games against Arizona State and Utah, arguably the two hardest road venues in the division (Trojan fans don't show up for games against schools like Colorado); its last home game of the season will feature a visit from division frontrunner, USC. It'll be interesting to see if the Buffs can notch one more victory to propel themselves to what would be their first back-to-back bowl berths since 2004/2005. The Rumble in the Rockies on November 25th likley could be yet another season ending rivalry game with a bowl game on the line for both teams.
- Assuming that a trip to Seattle to face #12 Washington on November 18th is a likely loss, the Utes will need to win 2/3 of their remaining home games (UCLA, #25 Washington State, Colorado). At this point, I'd bet on Kyle Whittingham's squad reaching six wins; the Utes have made a bowl game in 10 of his 12 seasons thus far and haven't missed the postseason since 2013.
- The Golden Bears start off November with an absolute must win, at home against conference bottom-dweller Oregon State. Assuming they hold serve there, Cal will use their late bye week on 11/11 to prepare for back-to-back road rivalry games at Stanford and UCLA (they need to go 1-1 to qualify for the postseason). You'd have to imagine downing the Bruins in Pasadena will be a much easier task than the Cardinal in Palo Alto, so Cal seems poised to be fighting until the last week of the season for a bowl (UCLA could also be 5-6 entering that game).
Arizona State (4-4):
- Things looked bleak after a 2-3 start in Tempe, but a huge upset over then #5 Washington plus a dominating 20 point road win at Utah provided a spark before a falter last week against USC. ASU enters November with a shot to win all of their games (vs. Colorado, @UCLA, @Oregon State, vs. Arizona) and 3-1 down the stretch to reach 7-5 seems most likely.
- Mora remains on the hot seat and failing to reach a bowl could very well be the final straw. He'll have his work cut out for him with road games in Salt Lake City against the Utes and against the cross-town rival Trojans at the Coliseum. Assuming they drop both of these, the Bruins need to notch home wins against resurgent Arizona State and rival California. I'd characterize the Bruins with two tossups (ASU and Cal), one game as a slight underdog (@Utah) and one game as a major underdog (@USC). The Bruins almost certainly have the worst shot to go bowling of the "Up In The Air" PAC 12 teams.
Hanging By A Thread (0):
- Oregon State (1-7)
Going Bowling (4):
- Miami (7-0)
- Clemson (7-1)
- Virginia Tech (7-1)
- North Carolina State (6-2)
All But Official (2):
Boston College (5-4):
- After throttling Florida State last Friday to snap a seven game losing skid to the Seminoles, the Eagles are in a great position to go 4/5 for bowl games under Addazio with a home non-conference game against UConn remaining (reminder, Uconn just lost by 40 points to Missouri...Missouri). BC also has a home game against #20 NC State and a road game at Syracuse to try to pad their win count.
- Louisville will probably be favored in their next two games (vs. Virginia, vs. Syracuse) and should only be slight underdogs @Kentucky to finish the season. They only need one win...that said, UL is has lost three of four and none of these teams are pushovers. Would be frankly astonishing if a returning Heisman winner couldn't even lead his team to a bowl, so keep your eyes out for this one.
Up In The Air (5):
- UVA is (currently, anyways) having quite the turnaround year; after finishing a paltry 2-10 in Bronco Mendenhall's debut, the Hoos raced off to a 5-1 start. However, the past two weekends have brought blowout losses to Boston College and Pittsburgh. Even though the Hoos only need one win in four tries, it almost feels as if this Saturday's home game against Georgia Tech is a must win. Virginia's last three games are: @Louisville, @ #9 Miami, vs. #13 Virginia Tech. 0-3 is more likely than not down the stretch. A 5-1 start doesn't do much for you if you finish the season 0-6.
Wake Forest (5-3):
- The Demon Deacons are well positioned for their first consecutive bowl berths since 2007/2008; however, November is their hardest month of the year schedule wise. The next three games are challenging (@Notre Dame, @Syracuse, vs. North Carolina State) before a home game with Duke to finish the season. It seems likely that Wake Forest beats at least one of Syracuse or Duke, but it doesn't feel certain.
- Bolstered by their shocking upset over the defending national champions, Cuse is in decent position for their first bowl game since 2013. Syracuse is a middle of the road ACC team and all four of their remaining games are against fellow middle of the packers. The Orange must go 2-2 or better against a slate of: @Florida State, vs. Wake Forest, @Louisville, vs. Boston College.
Georgia Tech (4-3):
- Another one of the teams hurt by Hurricane Irma (although honestly, UCF probably would've beaten them anyways) is the Yellow Jackets. To make a bowl, GT is very likely going to have to be road warriors down the stretch. They play @Virginia and @Duke, both winnable contests. Their home games on the other hand are against #13 Virginia Tech and #2 Georgia, either of which would be an enormous upset at this point. If GT winds up falling a game short, they'll kick themselves all of December for that opening collapse against Tennessee.
- The Blue Devils need to turn things around and time is running out to do so. It feels like years ago that Duke was 4-0. October was not kind to Cutcliffe & Co.; Duke is riding a 5 game losing streak. They'll need to flip momentum to close the season 2-1 or better, with road games at Army and Wake Forest plus Georgia Tech at home on Senior Day.
Hanging By A Thread (2):
- Pittsburgh stayed alive by defeating Virginia last weekend, and should move to an even 5-5 next week after a home game with 1-8 UNC. That said, their final two games of the season are against the division frontrunners (@Virginia Tech, vs. Miami). They'll need an upset to go bowling, and if you've watched the Panthers at all this year, you know that's not exactly likely.
Florida State (2-5):
- How the mighty have fallen. Since defeating Michigan in the Orange Bowl, it's been nothing but misery for Florida State. A hurricane related cancellation against University of Louisiana-Monroe looms large, forcing the Seminoles to need to win out. That would include a road win at Clemson. There has been some talk of the Seminoles paying a team to come to Tallahassee the first week of December to help them keep their bowl streak (the longest in the nation) alive, but FSU would have to win on the road at Florida, plus at home against a resurgent Syracuse, for that to even matter in the first place.
- North Carolina (1-8)
Stay tuned for a shorter version next week, once more teams have qualified or been eliminated!