Seventeen staffs coaching for bowl eligibility this weekend
Earlier this week we touched on the note that 18 staffs will play for bowl eligiblity this weekend in First and 10. (We originally counted 20 bowl eligible teams, but the number is actually 18. Penn State is ineligible and Cincinnati, though it has five wins, needs two more wins to reach a bowl. The 18th team, BYU, is off this week.) With that in mind, here are the scenarios facing each of the 17 staffs looking to strike gold.
Air Force: at Army (12 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network). Last non-bowl season: 2006. Outlook: Air Force has only lost to Army twice since 1989. The Black Knights are struggling again this season (1-7), so the forecast looks good for a sixth straight bowl trip.
Arizona: at UCLA (10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks). Last bowl appearance: 2010. Outlook: The Wildcats are riding high on a two-game winning streak, including Saturday's thriller over USC. Arizona won this game last season, 48-12, but with two new coaching staffs this year's meeting won't bear much resemblance to the 2011 game.
Arizona State: at Oregon State (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Last non-bowl season: 2010. Outlook: The Sun Devils have missed their first two chances to reach six wins with a loss to Oregon and last week's shootout loss to UCLA. A visit to the Coliseum to face USC follows this week's game, so it's entirely possible Todd Graham's team may have to wait until Nov. 17 vs. Washington State to lock in a bowl game. Arizona State had better not pass that chance up, because their season to be on the line when they close the season in Tucson.
Arkansas State: at North Texas (5 p.m. ET). Last non-bowl season: 2010. Outlook: Mark Gus Malzahn among the group of first-year coaches looking to toast a successful debut season. The Red Wolves' offense has clicked in recent weeks, scoring 34, 36 and 50 points in their three-game winning streak. North Texas has an improved defense but will struggle to match Arkansas State's firepower.
East Carolina: vs. Houston (12 p.m. ET, FSN). Last bowl appearance: 2010. Outlook: It's hard to believe a team very much contending for a conference championship can not be bowl eligible entering November, but that's the state of things in Conference USA. Nevertheless, Ruffin McNeil's group fell an overtime loss short of going bowling last year, so the Pirates would treasure a win on Saturday.
Iowa State: vs. Oklahoma (12 p.m. ET, ABC). Last non-bowl season: 2010. Outlook: Paul Rhoads continues to make strides at Iowa State, and clinching back-to-back bowl trips for the first time since 2004-05 would demonstrate that.
Michigan: at Minnesota (12 p.m. ET, BTN). Last non-bowl season: 2009. Outlook: This is one of many games pitting teams on the brink of bowl eligibility against each other.
Michigan State: vs. Nebraska (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2). Last non-bowl season: 2006. Outlook: 2012 has been a rollercoaster ride for Mark Dantonio as the Spartans' last five games have been decided by four points or less. Michigan State won't return to the Big Ten Championship this season but they will play in a bowl for the sixth straight year.
Middle Tennessee: at Western Kentucky (9:15 p.m. ET, ESPNU on Thursday). Last bowl appearance: 2010. Outlook: Leaving Bowling Green, Ky., where the Hilltoppers have won five of six, will be a tough task. But if Rick Stockstill's squad is unable to clinch bowl eligibility on Thursday, a trip to South Alabama next week should do the trick.
Minnesota: vs. Michigan (12 p.m. ET, BTN). Last bowl appearance: 2009. Outlook: With three wins in each of their past two seasons, Minnesota's next win will be a much-celebrated one. Jerry Kill's team will look back on a 30-27 triple-overtime win over UNLV as its saving grace.
Navy: vs. Florida Atlantic (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network). Last bowl appearance: 2010. Outlook: Credit Ken Niumatalolo with one of college football's best in-season turnaround jobs. After a 2-7 finish to 2011 and a 1-3 start this year, the Midshipmen have won four straight. Carl Pelini's program is still gathering its footing in year one, so Navy could be celebrating on Saturday evening.
N.C. State: vs. Virginia (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Last non-bowl season: 2009. Outlook: Virginia has struggled in ACC play, so all signs point to go for Tom O'Brien and co. locking up a bowl for the fourth time in five years.
Oklahoma: at Iowa State (12 p.m. ET, ABC). Last non-bowl season: 1998. Outlook: It's only a matter of time before the Sooners lock up their 14th straight bowl trip under Bob Stoops. Paul Rhoads' team will provide an interesting test after an emotional loss, but Oklahoma is in no danger of missing a bowl game.
Oklahoma State: at Kansas State (8 p.m. ET, ABC). Last non-bowl season: 2005. Outlook: Saturday begins a month-long proving ground for Mike Gundy's team with the first of four consecutive ranked opponents on tap. A sixth win may not come at Bill Snyder's No. 2 ranked Kansas State, but it will happen at some point.
Ole Miss: at Georgia (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS). Last bowl appearance: 2009. Outlook: Just getting to this point is a testament to the work of Hugh Freeze in his first season in Oxford. Predicted to finish last in the SEC West, the Rebels still have three top 15 teams left on the slate, so next week's date with Vanderbilt is paramount.
TCU: at West Virginia (3 p.m. ET, FOX). Last non-bowl season: 2004. Outlook: TCU will look to beat their new conference-mates to the punch to secure a place in the Big 12's bowl lineup. Things don't get easier from here for Gary Patterson's team with dates ahead against Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma to close the year.
West Virginia: vs. TCU (3 p.m. ET, FOX). Last non-bowl season: 2001. Outlook: Dana Holgorsen and co. will look to snap a two-game losing skid after taking a week off.