Let’s keep it simple: Indiana’s best path to a bowl game is clear. Beat a regular conference opponent for the 5th straight time in West Lafayette on Saturday, and there’s a great shot at setting up a big time rivalry game with Kentucky in Nashville around New Year’s Eve. (More on those permutations later.) But, because this is Indiana football and we’ve all been stuck in football-fan version of a drunken Cthulhu’s jowls for decades, it’s fair if you’re wondering -- well, what happens if we lose!
Good news: Even with a loss at the hands of Purdue on Saturday, Indiana can still play in a bowl game! Thanks to the bloated-but-fun bowl game landscape, the Hoosiers could end up playing football around Christmas, even with a 5-7 record. It likely wouldn’t be a fun bowl game, but it’s still a bowl game — which means a great way to avoid conversing with family for a few hours around the holidays and ignoring what figures to be a hellish basketball season in Bloomington. Where you say this is the Participation Trophy Generation, I say Viva Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
How do we pick which teams that don’t reach 6-6 will make the postseason, if needed? Grades, of course! Or, really a semi-bullshit metric the NCAA’s concocted to represent relative academic success! Conference tie-ins are thrown out the second we run out of actually eligible teams, and we go instantly to APR scores, in decending order. Indiana’s 982 for the last published cycle is pretty good -- and near the top of the list of teams that would be in contention for a slot.
That’s nice information to have, but it doesn’t really tell us what chances of such a scenario like that playing out — and what Indiana would need to happen. Lucky for y’all, I was slightly too hungover to drink on Saturday night and sorted through the permutations. Over the final couple weeks of play, here’s how the Hoosiers can make a bowl game even if they lose in West Lafayette on Friday.
Let’s walk through it step by step.
We need 80 teams to fill out the schedule through bowl season. 69 teams (nice) are already bowl eligible.
40 games, not counting the CFP final, requires 80 of the FBS’ 130 total teams to play a postseason game to fulfill obligations to sponsors, fans, and tv networks.
Right now, that leaves only 11 slots of teams that need to reach bowl eligibility to make the point of 5-win teams completely moot. At first glance, that makes IU’s chances seem.. well, not great! And it actually gets a bit bleaker from there when you look at how many spots might actually be available.
In this scenario, at least two more open spots would be guaranteed to go away.
If Indiana’s looking to get in a bowl this way, it means Purdue’s 6-6 -- and your 70th eligible team. That takes us to 10 spots.
Cal and UCLA are both set to meet as 5-6 teams on Saturday, too. That winner makes 71 teams. And only leaves us with 9 spots to go.
But, there’s already five 5-win teams with better APR scores than Indiana. That means they’re in ahead of IU no matter what.
The good news for Indiana? 5-win bowl teams are chosen exclusively in decending APR order from this list, and Indiana’s high on it. The bad news? A few teams that are sitting at 5 wins are higher. Here’s the current priority ranking of those teams, with APR scores listed in parenthesis.
T-1. Duke (992)
T-1. Minnesota (992)
T-3. Utah (983)
T-3. Middle Tennessee State (983)
T-3. Georgia Tech (983)
6. Indiana (982)
That’s suddenly an extremely massive APR point.
Of those not listed above, 4 more teams reaching bowl eligibility would eliminate Indiana’s chances. 10 teams could do that.
Those teams are: Texas Tech, Colorado, Tulane, UNLV, Old Dominion, Louisiana Tech, Buffalo, UL-Lafayette, New Mexico State, Florida State, and UL-Monroe.
On numbers alone, that doesn’t exactly put it in Indiana’s favor that they could reach a bowl game. Until we start to look at the path each would have to a 6th win.
- Texas Tech, losers of 5 of their last 6, is a 3.5-point underdog per S&P+ at a Texas team coming off their best performance of the year at West Virginia.
- Colorado’s lost 4 of 5, and is nearly a 9-point underdog at Utah.
- Tulane is a 8.5 point S&P underdog on the road at SMU.
- Old Dominion is a 10-point underdog on the road at MTSU.
- Louisiana Tech is a 5-point home underdog to a sneaky-good 8-4 UTSA team.
- Buffalo is a 6-point home underdog against a top-30 S&P Ohio team.
- Though favored by 6 points in both, New Mexico State would need two home wins over Idaho & South Alabama.
- Florida State needs to win a virtual toss up game at Florida, then beat UL-Monroe.
- UL-Monroe would need to win out, and is a double-digit underdog in both remaining games, including the one mentioned above.
As is stands now, only UNLV (slight favorite in rivalry game against Nevada) at 54% and UL-Lafayette (must beat either Georgia Southern or App State) at 74% are listed by S&P has having a better than 50% chance of reaching bowl eligibility.
That means if those forecasts held for every single team, we’d still have two spots remaining for 5-7 teams after all the APR teams above IU. Indiana would be in.
But, three teams could still reach 5 wins that would bump Indiana further down the consolation bowl pecking order: Vanderbilt, Maryland, and Air Force.
Might as well count these teams as teams with 5-wins, if you’re an IU fan. But just like the above, things don’t look awful here.
- Vandy’s the only team favored by S&P, though by less than a point — and they’ll be on the road. The thing you certainly want is your fate in the hand of Brady Hoke and Tennessee football in 2017. Cool.
- Maryland’s got Penn State, so yeah.
- Air Force is a road underdog by about 4 points at Utah State.
That would mean, if chalk holds again, one spot remains.
So, under current rules, if S&P projections are exactly correct on a per-team basis, Indiana would claim the last available bowl slot as a 5-7 team.
That’s a lot to happen, sure. But — it’s possible, and now you know what to root for.