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Minnesota Football earns 5th win - are they bowl eligible?

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Can the Gophers get a bowl invitation with a 5-7 record?

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Gophers under first year coach PJ Fleck has managed to get to 5 wins with two game remaining. Traditionally it takes 6 wins to get your team to be bowl eligible. And while the Gophers have a chance to earn a bowl the old fashioned way, there is an avenue to earning that 13th game.

In 2012 the NCAA relaxed bowl eligibility rules to account for the occurrences when there are not enough actual bowl eligible teams to fill the plethora of bowl games. This paid off for the Gophers in 2015 when they finished the season 5-7 but were able to secure a trip to Quick Lane Bowl.

So...with the narrow win (sarcasm) over Nebraska on Saturday, the Gophers are 5-5. A trip to Northwestern is next, followed by hosting Wisconsin in the regular season finale. Minnesota will not be favored in either game. If they win either of them, they are bowl eligible without needing any help from the academic progress report.

Assuming that the Gophers do not get to 6 wins, they are looking for 1 of 2 things.

First, we need there to be fewer than 78 bowl eligible teams. If 78 teams get themselves to the magical 6th win, then our APR score is meaningless. Currently there are 59 bowl eligible teams out of 78 spots. 19 spots remain.

Secondly, if there are open spots for teams that sit at 5-7, they need to be one of the highest APR scores of the 5-7 teams. More on that later, but first we’ll discuss the 78 bowl openings.

Teams With 5 Wins (20)

As I mentioned, there are currently 59 bowl eligible teams, leaving 19 open spots. Currently there are 20 teams who need just 1 win and 19 spots open. Conceivably, if the Gophers lose out and all 19 remaining teams earn a win, then the bowls are full and we are done after the Wisconsin game.

Here are your 20 teams needing just 1 more win.

Teams with Less than 5 Wins and Still Have a Chance

Now, most of these teams are not going to go 2-0 to finish the season. But some will, so this list is worth listing. Not going to spend much time on this list, but it is here for your viewing pleasure.

Honorable Mention

  • Florida State - needs 3 wins. 2 games against bad teams and then @Florida. Seems unlikely this year, but not out of the question.

So, I just listed quite a few teams there. Considering they are all sitting at 4 or 5 wins, none of these are “great” teams and the chances are pretty good that many will fall short of 6 wins.

So...back to assuming the Gophers do not get to 6 and there is at least one open bowl spot because not enough teams qualified, how do they get in?

First and foremost, let’s take a look at the top APR scores in college football, looking just at the FBS teams.

  1. Northwestern (7-3) - already bowl eligible
  2. Air Force Academy (4-6) - keep an eye on the Falcons
  3. Michigan (8-2) - bowl eligible
  4. Duke (4-6) - one more win and they get the call before Minnesota
  5. Minnesota (5-5) - academically elite
  6. Vanderbilt (4-6) - tied with Minnesota for APR

So now the number of teams we truly care about is down to 2. Air Force and Duke. We want both of these teams to either stay at 4 wins or get themselves to 6. The good news is that there are only 2 teams that would go to a bowl ahead of us if we have the same record at 5-7. The Bad news is that there are only going to be a couple spots open and we need Duke and Air Force to fall short (or qualify on their own while still leaving us a slot).

Rooting Interests

Here are the things we are rooting or in the final couple weeks.

1 - Gophers to beat Northwestern - then all of the 800+ words I’ve written will have been a waste.

2 - Iowa and Wisconsin to lose. That’s just a given.

3 - Duke to Lose - the Blue Devils are on a 6-game losing streak and get to face Georgia Tech (5-4) and Wake Forest (6-4). I think losing both is more likely than winning both.

4 - Air Force gets Boise, which is hopefully a loss. And then they get Utah State who may need that win for bowl eligibility as well.

5 - After those three things, we basically just want as many 5-7 teams to lose as possible. It’s a list of 19 other teams, so not worth typing out again.

It seems likely that there will be a spot or two available for a 5-7 team. So it comes down to how many openings there are and what happens with Duke and Air Force.

Those are your scenarios.

Now...to the minority who want to know if they should even accept a bowl bid when they didn’t “earn” it with 6 wins? To you I say...OF COURSE YOU ACCEPT THE BOWL BID!

If they pass, it just goes to another team with a 5-7 record. The Gophers would be offered for the work they did in the classroom (which should sincerely be a nod to the former coaching staff). It isn’t Minnesota’s fault that the NCAA created too many bowls to fill them all with .500 teams. They are getting a big within the framework of the bowl selection.

Going to a bowl is additional practice for a team. I don’t care about “how young” they are, I care more about the opportunity to continue to learn and execute the playbook that was given to them just last Spring. And going to a bowl is great fun for the kids. Particularly the seniors who had to endure 3 head coaches in their last 3 years and had to work their butts off in a season that was part of a process to build for years down the road. It isn’t an easy thing and a bowl trip is something they should be allowed to enjoy.