We are at the halfway point of what’s been a terrific season to this point. I was looking at the projected bowl matchups and realized we have the potential for some major surprises on the horizon. A quick look into my crystal ball and I see six prominent teams that will struggle to make a bowl. A closer look reveals six more squads that you might not expect to get a bowl invite. Time will tell, but let’s take a look at what we know.
1. Western Kentucky 5-1 The Hilltoppers from the Sun Belt Conference have never been bowling! Coach Willie Taggart is in his third year after taking over a team that had gone 2-22 prior. Quarterback Kawaun Jakes and running back Antonio Andrews have led the team to the top of the Sun Belt standings. Hilltopper fans should get to go bowling for the very first time!
2. Louisiana-Monroe 4-2 The Warhawks, also from the Sun Belt Conference, have never been to a bowl! Quarterback Kolton Browning has thrown for 1,606 yards and rushed for another 292 yards. His play led to a shocking opening day victory over Arkansas, a narrow overtime loss at Auburn and a heartbreaker against Baylor. Look for the Warhawks to close out the season strong and go bowling for the very first time.
3. Kent St. 5-1 Coach Darrell Hazell is in his second season after taking over a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2001. The Golden Flashes use a dominant rushing attack led by Trayion Durham and Dri Archer. The dynamic duo has combined for 1,150 yards and 12 scores. A strong finish will see the Flashes in their first bowl game since 1972.
4. San Jose St. 4-2 The Spartans will be looking to go bowling for the first time since 2006. The Spartan offense is firing on all cylinders and is led by Quarterback David Fales, ranked 10th nationally with 1,867 yards passing and completing 75 percent of his passes. An 8-4 season looks within reach and with that will come a bowl invitation.
5. New Mexico 4-3 Head coach Bob Davie has taken over a team that had gone 3-33 the last three years! Davie has brought with him a disciplined, physical style that has translated to the field. The Lobos are ranked 7th nationally in rushing offense, and the defense has improved dramatically. The Lobos have not been to a bowl game since 2007. With two more wins, they’ll be planning a bowl trip.
6. Duke 5-2 The Blue Devils are right on the cusp of a bowl for the first time since 1994! Sean Renfree has been a pleasant surprise at quarterback, tossing for 1,517 yards and 10 TDs. The remaining schedule includes North Carolina, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami. The Blue Devils need only one more win to reach the six wins needed for a bowl invite.
1. Southern Miss 0-6 The Golden Eagles will have to run the table to get to 6-6, and that doesn’t appear likely in Ellis Johnson’s first year in Hattiesburg. Johnson took over for Larry Fedora who left to take over the North Carolina program. The Golden Eagles have been to the post season the past five seasons.
2. Auburn 1-5 The Tigers have fallen on hard times! Gene Chizik has had all sorts of problems on offense, ranking 115th in passing yards and 117th in PPG, and neither Kiehl Frazier or Clint Moseley have taken over as the starting quarterback. With games against Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M remaining, Tiger fans will likely be at home for the bowl season.
3. Georgia Tech 2-4 The Yellow Jackets have been a rambling wreck to this point and need four wins down the stretch to make a bowl. The Jackets have been to bowls in each of the last five seasons, but that streak is in serious jeopardy. They’ll be the underdogs at North Carolina and Georgia, so they will have to win the rest to extend their post-season streak.
4. Utah 2-4 The Utes have also been bowling five years in a row but have been inconsistent on offense this season, averaging only 22 PPG. They need four wins down the stretch and have three winnable home games, making a road win at Oregon State, Washington or Colorado necessary.
5. Arkansas 3-4 Many people picked the Razorbacks to make it to the SEC Championship Game. The season turned after a home loss to Louisiana Monroe, and the Hogs need three wins to reach the magic six. Games against Mississippi State, South Carolina and LSU will make that tough, meaning they have to beat Mississippi at home this weekend to have a shot!
6. Missouri 3-4 The Tigers have been to five consecutive bowl games, but are 0-4 in SEC play. The loss of QB James Franklin has really hurt, and they’ll need him back to have any shot at becoming bowl eligible. With road games at Texas A&M, Florida and Tennessee, the Tigers will need to pull an upset to make the post-season.