Assessing the APR: Can a five-win Vanderbilt make a bowl game?

The Commodores are still in contention for a bowl game. What needs to happen for Vanderbilt to play postseason football?


Miguel Beristain

Will Sheppard goes up for a grab against Florida on Nov. 19, 2022 (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain).

Aiden Rutman, Sports Podcast Producer

There’s an obvious answer. It’s something that the Commodores haven’t done since 2018. Something that no one—not even the most optimistic fans—could have envisioned for this season. Something that would send college football-related shockwaves all over the country on Saturday. Two words. 

Beat Tennessee. 

This would put the Commodores at 6-6 on the season, making them bowl eligible. No one expected it. 3-6 heading into Lexington to face a ranked opponent in Kentucky. Win. 4-6 heading back to Nashville to take on a red-hot Florida team. Win. With their backs against the wall, the Vanderbilt football team has exceeded expectations and then some. 

They’ll face an even mightier foe on Saturday, Nov. 26, in Nashville, in the form of the No. 9  Volunteers. This matchup, albeit a little less scary now that Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker is done for the season, still poses a massive threat to the Commodores. Well-coached and loaded with talent, Tennessee is no pushover. That said, what happens if Vanderbilt fails to win their third straight and falls short? The casual fan would say that the season’s over. The general consensus is that six wins are required to make a bowl game. 


Enter one of the most fascinating loopholes in all of sports: the APR. Short for Academic Progress Rate, the APR measures student-athletes’ academic success. Every scholarship athlete on a team receives one point for staying in school and another for being academically eligible. Every player’s points are added together and divided by the maximum possible points, then multiplied by one thousand. 

You might be wondering: How does this have anything to do with bowl games?

There are 41 bowl games, in which 82 teams will play. If there are not 82 six-win teams in college football, the NCAA will turn to five-win teams with the highest APR and choose those teams to fill in the remaining slots. There are currently 73 bowl eligible teams in college football, with nine slots remaining. 

Left to fill in those nine slots are 17 teams that are just a win away from eligibility. They are listed below, in order of highest APR to lowest APR. 

  1. Rice
  2. Auburn
  3. Michigan State
  4. Missouri
  5. Miami
  6. Georgia Tech
  7. Miami University
  8. Vanderbilt
  9. Ball State
  10. Buffalo
  11. Appalachian State
  12. Lousiana
  13. Georgia Southern
  14. Florida Atlantic
  15. UAB
  16. Southern Miss
  17. UTEP

The chances are slim that nine of these teams end up winning their rivalry week matchups. Auburn will have to travel to Alabama. Missouri will take on a surging Arkansas. Michigan State will face Penn State. Georgia Tech heads to Athens to play Georgia. Of all the matchups for these teams, just six are favored to win. Let’s assume that the six favored teams win, and the eleven underdogs lose. 

That still leaves three bowl slots for the teams with the highest APR. Of the remaining five-win teams, Vanderbilt ranks eighth in APR with a score of 973. While this isn’t a death sentence for the Commodore’s bowl aspirations, it means they’re going to need some help. They’ll need some upsets. Of the six teams favored to win—Miami of Ohio, Buffalo, UAB, Louisiana, Appalachian State and Southern Miss—only Miami of Ohio ranks ahead of Vanderbilt in APR.

In an ideal world, every team on that list will lose. If there was ever a time to find a Sun Belt game in the 800s of your cable package, this is the weekend to do it. 

Unfortunately for the Commodores, the loophole does not yet end here. There are 19 four-win teams that pose a threat—albeit not quite as significant—to them. They are listed below.

  1. New Mexico State
  2. Army
  3. Arizona
  4. California
  5. UNLV
  6. Navy
  7. UL Monroe
  8. Western Michigan
  9. West Virginia
  10. Central Michigan
  11. Texas A&M
  12. Iowa State
  13. Kent State
  14. Indiana
  15. Tulsa
  16. Rutgers
  17. Florida International
  18. Texas State
  19. Georgia State

If Vanderbilt loses and any of these teams win, the NCAA would once again turn to APR. Seven of these teams—Army, UNLV, West Virginia, Iowa State, Indiana, Rutgers, and Georgia State—have higher APR scores than the Commodores. However, only two of them (Army and UNLV) are expected to win this weekend. 

It would be best to avoid all of these scenarios and simply defeat the Volunteers on Saturday evening. That said, the Commodores are heavy underdogs, and while they are riding a two-game win streak, it’ll be hard to count on them to defeat their in-state rivals. 

There are nine spots left for grabs and 36 teams competing for them. Among these 36, Vanderbilt ranks 15th in APR scores, so the odds are stacked against them. But there’s an old saying that many college football fans are all too familiar with. A saying that throws statistics, odds and records into the wind. A saying that can justify the most outlandish takes and the most unrealistic outcomes. 

Any given Saturday.