It’s around this time that bowl projections start to get a little strange. With 40 bowl games, college football needs 80 teams to hit the normal bowl-eligibility threshold (six wins in 12 games) to avoid having to stretch its limits of what qualifies a team for the postseason.
That’s not likely to happen this year, as was the case last year, too. Barring a rash of upsets to close out the season, there won’t be 80 teams this season who meet the regular standard of bowl eligibility. I’m projecting that 75 teams will.
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So who gets those other five spots? If Hawaii beats UMass on Saturday, the Rainbow Warriors will finish with six wins in 13 games, making them the first alternate in the bowl picture. Even if Army loses to Navy, the Black Knights will have six wins, but two of those came against FCS foes, one more than typically allowed for bowl eligibility. That won’t matter much this year, so Army’s victory over Morgan State this week should secure its berth in the postseason.
As for the other three spots, it comes down to which 5–7 teams score the highest in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate. That sends Vanderbilt, Boston College and UCLA to bowl games (assuming the Bruins beat Cal on Saturday). So congrats, Commodores, Eagles and Bruins, your losing records won’t deny you bowl berths this year.
Before we get to the full projections, a reminder about how the college football bowl selection works. The College Football Playoff selection committee will choose the teams for the two playoff semifinals—the Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl this year—and the four other marquee bowls that are part of the New Year’s Six. The highest ranked Group of Five conference champion must play in one of those six games, and other games, such as the Rose Bowl, have conference tie-ins.
The remaining bowl games are also governed by agreements with the 10 FBS conferences, though if a league doesn’t produce enough bowl-eligible teams to fulfill all of its tie-ins, that bowl can select another conference’s representative. In some cases, leagues will pool together their bowl tie-ins to create more flexibility. The Music City Bowl, for example, can choose either an ACC or Big Ten team to face an SEC opponent.
And lastly, just because a bowl may be designated to have a particular order of selection among a conference’s teams doesn’t mean it has to adhere exactly to the standings. The Alamo Bowl’s second choice among Pac-12 teams, for example, does not require it to choose the No. 2 available team from the Pac-12 standings or from the playoff committee’s rankings. Other factors, such as location, the matchup, the size of a school’s fan base and the willingness of that fan base to travel, can influence bowls’ decisions.