This weekend, the stakes are huge. While are about 10 teams vying for an appearance in the College Football Playoff and a chance to become National Champions, several other teams will be playing a one-game playoff in an effort to become bowl eligible. Here’s a review by conference of which Power 5 teams are playing their own playoff games, as they seek a sixth win and become bowl eligible, as well as look at teams from the Group of 5 in this same sort of playoff. By Saturday night, we should know which teams are giving thanks as we head into week 13 of the college football season
Virginia Tech – Could this be the last game for a legendary coach? The 5-6 Hokies will be in the biggest match-up featuring two losing teams when they take on their in-state rival, the 4-7 Virginia Cavaliers this weekend. They are playing for more than just their coaches good name — the Hokies have appeared in an astounding 22 straight bowl games. Everybody in the Commonwealth except the Cavalier faithful will be rooting for the Hokies, so that Coach Beamer has one more game, and is sent out with a bowl appearance as his storied career comes to an end.
Kansas State – The Wildcats barely made this list, needing a 21-point second half comeback against Iowa State last weekend to give the Wildcats another life in the pursuit of a bowl bid. K-State sits at 4-6 and needs to win out to become bowl eligible. They’ll face winless Kansas on the road this weekend before coming home for a home contest against a hot West Virginia team. Expect legendary Head Coach Bill Snyder to have his team fired up for these two games as he wants to keep K-State’s five-game bowl appearance streak alive.
Texas – The Longhorns also are sitting at 4-6 with two games remaining, but they’ll need to slow the high octane offenses at Texas Tech and Baylor. The Longhorns will square off against the Red Raiders at home this weekend and then face Baylor in Waco next weekend.
Illinois – After a 4-1 start, the Fighting Illini have lost six of seven and sit at 5-6 needing a win Saturday in Chicago against No. 16 Northwestern to extend their season. This season has been a rocky one for the Illini beginning with the firing of Head Coach Tim Beckman, but Bill Cubit has done an admirable job keeping the team together as an interim coach. Upsetting a nationally-ranked in-state rival and making a bowl game would a would end the season on a high-note.
Indiana – The Hoosiers have had one of the most up and down season of anybody in college football. After starting 4-0, the Hoosiers lost six straight including heartbreaking losses to Ohio State, Rutgers and Michigan. They sit at 5-6 with a road match-up at Purdue this Saturday with the Old Oaken Bucket, and bowl eligibility on the line. More than any other team, the Hoosiers need to make a bowl game. It would be their first since 2007 and only the second since 1994! With exceptional leader and talented QB Nate Sudfeld playing his last game in Indiana, expect the Hoosiers to play with a passion on Saturday, this game is about much more than making a trophy and making a bowl.
Minnesota – The Golden Gophers are another Big Ten team that started the season hot, rolling to 4-3 before head coach Jerry Kill resigned due to health issues. The Gophers now sit at 5-6 and host their biggest rival, Wisconsin in the most played college football rivalry. It’s been 12 years since the Gophers won the Battle for the Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the best trophy in college football, so they will be motivated. The Gophers have been competitive under new Head Coach Dave Clawson, they’ll need to play their best football of the season in order for them to become bowl eligible for the fourth straight year, and bring the axe to the Twin Cities for the first time since 2003.
Nebraska – What a fitting scenario it is for this Cornhuskers team to have their bowl hopes come down to the last game of the season. It has been perhaps the craziest season for this 5-6 Cornhuskers team as they have lost five of their six games by a total of 13 points (including a Hail Mary) and needed a very controversial ruling to beat the Michigan State Spartans. The Huskers now host the 11-0 Iowa Hawkeyes on Friday and must win in order for their seven-game bowl appearance streak active.
Washington – The Huskies have rolled to a 5-6 record under second-year head coach Chris Petersen, with only three wins coming against bowl eligible teams. The Huskies season comes down to a critical Apple Cup this Friday when they host the No. 20 Washington State Cougars. The Cougs may be without star QB Luke Falk, who’s head injury could cost him the game, but they’ll still be looking to take advantage of the Huskies youth. With Falk out, the Huskies shot at making a sixth straight bowl game may be even better than imagined.
Kentucky – The Wildcats have tumbled since a 4-1 start, by losing five straight games before defeating Charlotte last weekend. The Wildcats host in-state rival Louisville on Saturday in what will be their biggest game of the season due to not just the rivalry nature of the game alone, but the fact the Wildcats must win to become bowl eligible. Kentucky faced a similar situation last season where they entered this game 5-6 but lost 44-40, spoiling their season, and keeping them home for the holidays watching the basketball team.
Missouri – If Nebraska’s season on the field has been the craziest this year, then Missouri’s off the field season has been even more volatile. Amid a crazy epidemic on campus with racial threats, players threatened they wouldn’t play against BYU if then President Timothy Wolfe didn’t resign, which he did. Following this, long-tenured head coach Gary Pinkel announced he was retiring after the season due to health issues. On the field, The Tigers started the year 4-1, but lost starting QB Maty Mauk to suspension, and then lost four straight. There crazy season fittingly comes down to a road matchup against Arkansas which will determine if Pinkel coaches another game.
Group of 5
Buffalo – The Bulls have had a turbulent season in 2015 after starting 2-4, they ripped off three straight wins before dropping two straight to end up at 5-6. They will host the 2-9 UMass Minutemen this Friday evening in what should be a game that sees the Bulls gain bowl eligibility. However, in a year where eight potential MAC teams could all reach bowl games, the Bulls could still be left out of a bowl game.
East Carolina – The Pirates sit a 5-6 entering this weekend where they will host the already bowl-eligible Cincinnati Bearcats. The Pirates six losses this year have all come at the hands of bowl-bound teams that had a combined record of 49-16. Blake Kemp will need to play like he did last week against UCF in order for the Pirates to keep pace with the prolific offense of the Bearcats.
Georgia State – Though their chances of making a bowl game are slim, a quick shout out needs to be given to the Georgia State Panthers who sit at 4-6 with two games left on the season. This Panthers squad has won just FIVE games total the last four years total, and they have a chance to match that in the 2015 season alone. The Panthers will face Troy at home this weekend in a game they should win which would set up a road matchup against Georgia Southern that could determine the Panthers bowl eligibility.
Louisiana-Lafayette – The Ragin’ Cajuns find themselves in a tough position as their record stands at 4-6 with a road matchup at Appalachian State this weekend and a home contest at Troy to close their season. The Cajuns have made four consecutive New Orleans Bowls and their streak could be in jeopardy if they don’t win these final two games.
Old Dominion – The Monarchs currently sit at 5-6 on the season and will look to become bowl eligible for the second straight season, despite not actually making a bowl last year. The Monarchs host the 2-9 Florida Atlantic Owls this Saturday and will need a win to have any hope of making their first ever bowl game. In a year where Conference USA is weaker than usual, a 6-6 Monarch team will get a bowl bid.
San Jose State – The Spartans will host the Boise State Broncos on Friday in what will be a critical game for the Spartans bowl hopes. Even with a win over the Broncos, the Spartans are not guaranteed of a bowl bid due to seven teams from the conference already gaining bowl eligibility. The Spartans will look to upset the Broncos and gain bowl eligibility, much like they did to the ranked Fresno State Bulldogs two years ago.
South Alabama – The Jaguars currently sit at 5-5 on the season with a road contest at Georgia Southern and a home matchup against Appalachian State left on their schedule. This team has surprised many people this season, myself included, as not many projected this team to go to a bowl game. Unlike other teams on this list, the Jaguars aren’t in a must-win scenario yet, they just need one more win to gain bowl eligibility for the third straight season.
Tulsa – A pleasant surprise coming in on this list is the Golden Hurricanes who sit at 5-6 and will go on the road to Tulane to try and obtain a critical sixth win. Phillip Montgomery has this team playing very well in his first year as head coach, and has them poised to make their first bowl game since 2012 when they were Conference USA Champions.
The teams above will have a lot more on the line than just bragging rights in their rivalries this weekend. Though not every team will make a bowl game or become bowl eligible, it will still be intriguing to see how these teams show up and play knowing they have a lot on the line.