The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt bowl game scenarios after earning fifth win

Photo by Claire Barnett

Back in October, we examined the possibility that Vanderbilt could make a bowl game, even if they only win five games instead of the normally-required six.

Now that they’ve won their fifth game with a 38-17 drubbing of Ole Miss, the possibility of making a bowl game seems quite realistic.

There are a number of scenarios that could put the Commodores in a bowl game.

First, if Vanderbilt beats Tennessee next Saturday in Nashville, they should be essentially guaranteed a bowl berth. Their destination would depend on a number of uncontrollable outside factors.

If the Commodores lose to Tennessee, a number of scenarios could play out. As of Sunday, November 20, there are 64 bowl-eligible teams to fill 80 total bowl slots. There are 17 teams with five wins headed into the final week, meaning that, in theory, all the bowl slots could be filled by 6-win teams should all of those teams win another game. Additionally, Army and South Alabama have opportunities to be bowl eligible (see at the bottom of the article).

However, that is unlikely to happen, and in all likelihood, there will be more bowl slots than bowl-eligible teams. In that situation, the NCAA would likely take the five-win team(s) with the highest Academic Progress Rate (APR), which measures student-athlete academic performance. As of last year’s rankings, Vanderbilt would only be overtaken by two potential bowl teams on that list: Duke and Northwestern.

Duke is currently 4-7 and takes on Miami in Florida next week, which is a tough game. That means Duke likely won’t get to five wins. Northwestern currently has five wins and takes on Illinois next week, a 3-8 team that has lost their last two games. Odds are they win and become bowl eligible.

That means that should Vanderbilt remain at five wins, they would likely be the top choice amongst five-win teams.

With five or six wins, there are a number of bowls Vanderbilt could likely make it to. Here are some likely scenarios for Vanderbilt to make a bowl game:

1. Birmingham Bowl (SEC vs. AAC), December 29 OR Camping World Independence Bowl vs. ACC, December 26

This might be Vanderbilt’s most likely scenario, and requires the simplest math. The SEC will likely have 11 bowl slots this season (if/when they send their champion to the College Football Playoffs), and currently has 10 bowl-eligible teams. That means that next week’s games have the following implications:

-IF Vanderbilt beats Tennessee AND Ole Miss loses to Mississippi State, Vanderbilt goes to SEC bowl.

-IF Vanderbilt loses to Tennessee AND Ole Miss loses to Mississippi State, Vanderbilt goes to SEC bowl.

-IF Vanderbilt loses or wins against Tennessee AND Ole Miss beats Mississippi State, Vanderbilt fills another conference’s bowl slot, assuming there are open spots for a five-win team.

Essentially, Commodore fans should watch that Ole Miss-Mississippi State game closely. It will determine if Vanderbilt goes to one of the lower-tier SEC bowl games or has to find another conference’s game to fill.

2. Fill an ACC bowl slot: St. Petersburg Bowl vs. AAC (December 26) or Military Bowl vs. AAC (December 27)

This is the second-most likely scenario if Vanderbilt does not take one of the final SEC bowl slots. Right now, assuming the ACC sends a team to the College Football Playoffs, they have nine bowl-eligible teams for 11 bowl slots. The only two remaining teams to fill those slots are NC State, who can earn their sixth win against North Carolina on the road (highly unlikely), and Duke, who would get in with just a fifth win based on APR with a win in Miami.

Neither of those things are likely to happen, which brings us to Vanderbilt.

Other ACC bowls, such as the Quick Lane Bowl, have a pre-set backup conference if the ACC can’t fill their slots, so the Commodores would not likely slide in there. However, the St. Petersburg Bowl and Military Bowl do not have designated backup conferences.

This means that if Vanderbilt is bounced from SEC bowls and are the top APR choice among five-win teams, they would likely slide into one of these bowls.

Hey, a trip to St. Pete sounds pretty nice this time of year, eh?

3. Pac-12 and Mountain West chaos: Motel 6 Cactus Bowl (December 27) or Las Vegas Bowl (December 17)

This least-likely is about to get really tricky, so bear with me.

The Motel 6 Cactus Bowl has a Pac-12 affiliation with a Mountain West invite as a backup if the Pac-12 can’t fill all their slots.

Here’s what could happen to send the Commodores out west:

– The Pac-12 needs Arizona State to win at Arizona to fill its last bowl slot, assuming Washington does not go to the College Football Playoffs.

– If Washington does go to the Playoffs and Arizona State loses to Arizona, the Pac-12 has six teams for eight spots. The Mountain West presumably takes the spot in the Cactus Bowl since they’re the backup, BUT a spot in the Las Vegas Bowl against Mountain West champ would still be open.

– If Washington goes to the Rose Bowl (non-CFP game) and Arizona State loses, the Mountain West takes the Cactus Bowl spot, while the Pac-12’s seventh bowl-eligible team gets bumped to Las Vegas.

– If Washington makes the Playoff AND Arizona State wins, the Mountain West would once again take a Cactus Bowl spot, while a Pac-12 team (likely ASU) heads to the Las Vegas Bowl.

– If Washington goes to the Rose Bowl AND Arizona State wins, the Sun Devils would be in the Cactus Bowl, while the second-to-last bowl-eligible Pac-12 team goes to Las Vegas.

– Finally, if ASU loses to Arizona, Hawaii loses at home to UMass and Boise State heads to a New Year’s Six bowl game as the highest ranked Group of Five team, the Mountain West wouldn’t have enough teams to fill the open Cactus Bowl spot as the Pac-12’s designated backup. In this case, Vanderbilt could theoretically be selected.


That scenario is convoluted and unlikely, but given the wackiness of this college football season, could play out and give Vanderbilt a trip out to Phoenix, Arizona or to Vegas, Baby, Vegas.

No matter which way you look at it, a Vanderbilt bowl berth is certainly in the cards as the season winds down, no matter what happens against Tennessee.

But, if you’re following along next Saturday, program score alerts for Duke, Northwestern and Ole Miss. It’s going to be a fun day of scoreboard-watching.

Here are all the games to watch this upcoming week. Note that the five win teams are listed first:

SMU: vs. Navy (8-2)

NC State: at UNC (8-3)

Boston College: at Wake Forest (6-5)

TCU: at Texas (5-6), vs. Kansas State (6-4)

Texas: vs. TCU (5-5)

Indiana: vs. Purdue (3-8)

Maryland: vs. Rutgers (2-9)

Texas-San Antonio: vs. Charlotte (4-7)

North Texas: at UTEP (3-8)

Southern Mississippi: vs. LA Tech (8-3)

Miami (OH): vs. Ball State (4-7)

Akron: at Ohio (7-4)

Hawaii: vs. UMass (2-9)

Arizona St.: at Arizona (2-9)

Ole Miss: vs. Miss St. (4-7)

Other strange scenarios:

As noted above, Northwestern at five wins already holds an advantage over Vanderbilt because of a higher APR score. They play Illinois (3-8), which appears to be a winnable game regardless.

If Duke beats Miami (7-4), then they would make it over a five win Vanderbilt because of a higher APR score.

South Alabama must win both games against Idaho (6-4) and New Mexico State (3-7) to be bowl eligible even though they already have five wins. Two of their wins came against FCS opponents, but only one counts towards eligibility.

Army, even with six wins, must beat Navy in order to be bowl eligible because they played two FCS opponents, but only one counts towards eligibility.

Sports Editor Robbie Weinstein contributed calculations and scenarios to this story. 
View comments (1)
About the Contributor
Cutler Klein
Cutler Klein, Former Sports Editor
Cutler Klein ('19) was the Sports Editor of the Vanderbilt Hustler. He previously served as Assistant Sports Editor. He majored in communication studies in the College of Arts and Science. When he's not writing stories, tweeting silly GIFs or watching any hockey game he can find, Cutler is running the sports department of VandyRadio, hosting VU Sports Wired on VTV and covering the Nashville Predators as a credentialed media member for Penalty Box Radio. Cutler has had bylines on and
More to Discover

Comments (1)

The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
All The Vanderbilt Hustler picks Reader picks Sort: Newest
Notify of
1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

Thought I read where Army, while 5-5 for bowl purposes, would get the nod over a 5-7 team such as Vandy? Also, the Navy game likely becomes irrelevant since most, if not all, bowl bids will go out prior to the Army/Navy game.