What games this weekend could determine Duke football's bowl chances?

Johnathan Lloyd's one-handed catch Saturday helped Duke pick up a critical win for its bowl hopes.
Johnathan Lloyd's one-handed catch Saturday helped Duke pick up a critical win for its bowl hopes.

After decades of losing seasons, postseason play had become the norm for Duke football. The Blue Devils made a bowl game each year between 2012 and 2015, picking up the program's first bowl victory in more than half a century with a 44-41 win at the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl.

But that streak came to a screeching halt in 2016.

With a 4-8 season, Duke missed out on a bowl bid last year, and after a 4-0 start to 2017, a six-game losing skid had the Blue Devils looking like a team that would not be playing in December yet again.

But with a win Saturday, Duke can officially become bowl-eligible, as it would push its overall record to 6-6 despite finishing just 3-5 in ACC play. And even without a victory, the Blue Devils still might find themselves playing in a bowl game—but plenty would have to go right for that to be the case. 

For Duke fans looking to pay attention to a number of games that could impact the Blue Devils' bowl chances this holiday weekend, here's a schedule of all the relevant contests:

Battling for No. 6

Currently, there are 70 bowl-eligible teams, and with 39 bowl games—plus the College Football Playoff championship game—there will be 78 available spots. Of those eight spaces still up for grabs, four will come from these games, as each team in these matchups enters the final weekend of the season with five wins.

California at UCLA, Friday, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN FPI: UCLA 69.4 percent, Line: UCLA -7)

Indiana at Purdue, Saturday, noon (FPI: Purdue 56.4 percent, Line: Purdue -3)

Old Dominion at Middle Tennessee, Saturday 3 p.m. (FPI: MTSU 75.4 percent, Line: MTSU -12)

Colorado at Utah, Saturday, 10 p.m. (FPI: Utah 64.8 percent, Line: Utah -10.5)

Will 5-6 be enough?

Thanks to severe weather at the start of the college football season, a couple of teams had games either pushed back or cancelled. Georgia Tech remains behind Duke in the APR (which we'll discuss more later on), but it remains to be seen whether the NCAA will favor 5-6 teams versus those with a 5-7 record, since the two are not differentiated in the most recent set of bowl guidelines. With an upset win, however, the Yellow Jackets would move to 6-5 and take another potential spot from the Blue Devils.

No. 7 Georgia at Georgia Tech, Saturday, noon (FPI: Georgia 78.6 percent, Line: Georgia -11)

Searching for a 6th

Like Duke, there are nine other teams that can get to six wins with a victory this weekend. Louisiana, due to Sun Belt scheduling, has one more game next weekend in addition to its contest with Georgia Southern this Saturday.

If more teams were to become bowl-eligible than spots available, then some teams with a .500 record will simply not be selected to play in a bowl game. 

Florida State currently sits at 4-6 and will play Florida Saturday before hosting Louisiana-Monroe next weekend in a makeup game—two wins would also push the Seminoles into bowl-eligible territory. 

(Note: underlined teams currently have 5 wins)

Mississippi at No. 16 Mississippi State, Thursday, 7:30 p.m (FPI: MSU 87.0 percent, Line: MSU -14.5)

Ohio at Buffalo, Friday, 1 p.m. (FPI: Ohio 70.0 percent, Line: Ohio -5)

Texas Tech at Texas, Friday, 8 p.m. (FPI: Texas 74.6 percent, Line: Texas -10)

Tulane at Southern Methodist, Saturday, noon (FPI: SMU 72.2 percent, Line: SMU -7.5)

UNLV at Nevada, Saturday, 3 p.m. (FPI: Nevada 59.6 percent, Line: Nevada -3)

No. 5 Wisconsin at Minnesota, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (FPI: Wisconsin 89.4 percent, Line: Wisconsin -17)

Temple at Tulsa, Saturday, 4 p.m. (FPI: Tulsa 64.5 percent, Line: Temple -3.5)

Georgia Southern at Louisiana Lafayette, Saturday, 5 p.m. (FPI: Louisiana 63.7 percent, Line: Louisiana -6.5)

Texas-San Antonio at Louisiana Tech, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. (FPI: LA Tech 55.4 percent, Line: LA Tech -2.5)

The Fight for No. 5

Neither Air Force nor Vanderbilt is going to get to six wins in 2017. But thanks to the NCAA's rules on filling open bowl slots, the Falcons and Commodores have a shot due to their APR scores. Academic Progress Rate is a measure of graduation rates over a four-year period—Air Force tops the list of FBS schools along with Northwestern at 995. With a win, the Falcons would move to 5-7 on the year and would get preference ahead of the Blue Devils if Duke were to lose at Wake Forest.

A couple of slots further down the list, there is a tie at 992 between the Blue Devils, Minnesota and Vanderbilt. It remains to be seen how the NCAA would break a tie in this scenario, but the 4-7 Commodores could also potentially jump Duke with one more victory. 

Vanderbilt at Tennessee, Saturday, 4 p.m. (FPI: Tennessee 69.3 percent, Line: Tennessee -1)

Utah State at Air Force, Saturday, 10:15 p.m. (FPI: Air Force 52.5%, Line: Air Force -1.5)

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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