The idea that Wake Forest could make a bowl game at 5-7 first caught my attention when it was posted on the Wake Forest-centric message boards OGBoards.com. It focused on an article by Jerry Palm (found here), that examined the fallout from Miami declaring themselves ineligible for a bowl this year.
Palm stated in the article the following:
Finally, in my projection, this is also good for Wake Forest -- the Demon Deacons now find themselves in a bowl with a projected 5-7 record. Teams with 5-7 records are the last category for fill-in teams, and they get selected in APR order. Among teams with potential 5-7 records, Wake is second in APR behind Rice, which is already in my bowl projections.
This caused me to want to look a little deeper into the situation, and what the research actually provided me with an answer that would bode well for Wake Forest extending their season beyond this Saturday vs. Vanderbilt, where the Deacs are +11.5 at home to the Commodores.
From this article written last week by Jon Soloman, the following is the order of events for choosing teams should there not be 70 bowl eligible teams (6-6 or better):
1. First consideration goes to 6-6 teams with one win against FCS teams, regardless of whether that FCS schools meets NCAA scholarship requirements. Until now, an FCS win only counted if that opponent met the scholarship requirements.
2. Next up are 6-6 teams with two wins over FCS schools. It's pretty rare for an FBS school to schedule two FCS opponents in a single year.
3. Teams that finish 6-7 with a loss in the conference championship game are next. This is the UCLA rule. The Bruins, staring at a 6-6 record before the Pac-12 Championship Game last season, got a waiver from the NCAA to be bowl-eligible even if they lost, which they did.
4. Then come 6-7 teams that normally play a 13-team schedule, such as Hawaii and its home opponents.
5. Up next are FCS teams making the transition to the FBS. This is why three-win Texas State, with wins over Houston, Stephen F. Austin and Idaho, could make a bowl by somehow sweeping Navy, Texas-San Antonio and New Mexico State.
6. Finally, the nod would go to 5-7 teams that have a top-5 Academic Progress Rate score. Among teams still in bowl contention, Rice, Miami, Air Force, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest have the best APRs. The bottom five: Houston, Troy, Tennessee, Maryland and Ole Miss.
However, Football Bowl Executive Director Wright Waters thinks that the NCAA will skip right to the #6 step (APR scores) due to the lack of teams that fall in categories #1-5.
I checked the ESPN standings and there are 63 teams that are bowl eligible right now.
There are 14 teams that can still make a bowl, and they are: Wake Forest, West Virginia, Baylor, Virginia Tech, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Michigan State, Purdue, Marshall, Rice, Central Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi and Troy.
Connecticut and Pittsburgh are both 4-6 and need to win each of their last two to make a bowl.
Wake Forest is 2nd in the APR out of those schools listed (only to Rice), but if Rice doesn't become bowl eligible it could actually help Wake reach a better bowl game because they are a more enticing team than Rice (theoretically), which will be explained further below.
Here are the schedules of the previously listed teams:
Need to win final game to become bowl eligible
Wake Forest vs. Vandy (7-4)
Rice @ UTEP (3-8)
Michigan State @ Minnesota (6-5)
Virginia Tech vs. UVA (4-7)
Purdue vs. Indiana (4-7)
Marshall @ ECU (7-4)
Southern Methodist vs. Tulsa (9-2)
Central Michigan @ UMass (1-10)
Missouri @ Texas A&M (9-2)
Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State (8-3)
Troy @ MTSU (7-3)
Need to win one of two remaining games to become bowl eligible
West Virginia (@ Iowa State (6-5), vs. Kansas (1-10))
Baylor (vs. Texas Tech (7-4), vs. Oklahoma State (7-3))
Need to win both games to become bowl eligible
UCONN (@ Louisville (9-1), vs. Cincy (7-3))
Pitt (vs. Rutgers (9-1), @ USF (3-7))
I bolded the 4 and 5 win teams that have a good chance of making a bowl because they have an easy final game, or in the case of Baylor and West Virginia, because I think they have a chance to win one of their final two games. Since there are currently on 63 teams bowl eligible that would make it 69 teams that are bowl eligible, leaving one spot left.
This is where Wake Forest's dedication to graduating players would pay off. Since Wake Forest is second in terms of APR of the teams that are, or could get to 5 wins, and Rice has made a bowl game, the Deacs would be the 70th and final bowl team, likely sliding, as Jerry Palm predicts, into the Independence Bowl against a likely 10-win Louisiana Tech Bulldogs team.
If Rice were to slip up and lose to UTEP, then Wake Forest could get chosen to a "better" bowl, or at least a different one than an ACC team would usually go to because if there are two bowl spots left and two bowls, the team with the first selection would presumably choose the Deacs over Rice. This can happen as long as Rice still goes to a bowl, which they would with two spots left.
So beyond all reasonable expectation, this season may in fact end in a bowl game for the Wake Forest Gridiron Deacs. In fact, looking at the schedules, and barring any reasonably sized upsets, I would say that it would be more unlikely that the Deacs do not a bowl.
Whether or not Wake Forest "deserves" to make a bowl is irrelevant, as the bowl money and extra practice time would be very useful indeed for the Deacs going foward.
Hopefully Coach Grobe and the guys come out focused on Saturday and take it right at the Commodores of Vandy, but just in case they do not, Wake has the overexpansion of bowl games and the mediocrity of football teams to thank for a second consecutive bowl game.
EDITORS NOTE: This is all under the assumption that I fully understand and comprehend the rules that are currently in place. If I am wrong in anything that I have said please correct me and do not be shy in doing so as I don't want to throw out extra hope that may not worth clinging to.