The final pieces of the bowl puzzle will fall into place this weekend.
Of the 80 teams needed to fill 40 games, 78 are set — including 31 from the Group of Five conferences:
- American (7): Houston, Memphis, Navy, South Florida, Temple, Tulsa, UCF
- Conference USA (7): Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, Southern Miss, UTSA, Western Kentucky
- MAC (6): Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Miami, Ohio, Toledo, Western Michigan
- Mountain West (7): Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Hawaii, New Mexico, Wyoming, San Diego State
- Sun Belt (4): Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Idaho, Troy
The shortage of six-win teams opened the door for 5-7 teams, selected in order of their APR (Academic Progress Rate) scores. North Texas and Mississippi State will make it because they have the top two APR rankings.
Two Sun Belt games on Saturday will determine whether Texas and Northern Illinois, ranked third and fourth in APR, join them
Louisiana and South Alabama, both 5-6, become bowl eligible if they beat UL Monroe and New Mexico State, respectively. If either loses, Texas is the next team in. If both lose, Northern Illinois will join the mix.
A look at what’s at stake this weekend for schools in the ASN family:
- Ohio vs. Western Michigan, 7 p.m. ET (MAC Championship): If Western Michigan wins, the 13-0 Broncos should play in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2 in Dallas, probably against Penn State. If the Broncos lose and Navy wins, the Midshipmen likely will go to the Cotton Bowl for the first time since the 1963 season with Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach at quarterback.
- Temple at Navy, noon ET (American Championship): Navy, ASN’s Team of the Week, will be in contention for the Cotton Bowl with a win. The Midshipmen then play Army on Dec. 10, which could delay the announcement of the highest-ranked G-5 team until after that game. But if not the Cotton Bowl, Navy can still expect to play in Texas — likely in Forth Worth against Baylor in the Armed Forces Bowl.
- Louisiana Tech at Western Kentucky, noon ET (Conference USA Championship): The winner will get its pick of five bowl games — Boca Raton Bowl vs. a MAC team, Hawaii Bowl or New Mexico Bowl vs. Mountain West teams, New Orleans Bowl vs. a Sun Belt team or Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. a Big Ten team. But not the Bahamas Bowl. That matchup is set: Old Dominion vs. Eastern Michigan.
- Louisiana at UL Monroe, 1 p.m. ET: Louisiana (5-6) becomes bowl eligible with a victory.
- New Mexico State at South Alabama, 1 p.m. ET: South Alabama (5-6) becomes bowl eligible with a victory.
- Alabama vs. Florida, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Championship): No. 1 Alabama has won 24 consecutive games and opened as 22-point favorites over the Gators. It seems inconceivable, but what if the Crimson Tide loses? Does it open the door for an undefeated Western Michigan making the College Football Playoff?
“We’re just going to play football,” said Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck, speaking for all his colleagues. “We’re going to let our play talk for itself.”