SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In 2015, three teams earned bowl bids despite finishing the regular season with 5-7 records: Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State. With Notre Dame sitting at 4-6 and staring down its two most difficult games of the year to end the 2016 season, could the Irish be a candidate to go to a bowl despite a sub-.500 record?
The short answer is no. The longer answer involves the imperfect method of Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores, which would work against Notre Dame in the selection process.
Notre Dame, which declined a bowl invitation after going 6-6 in Charlie Weis’ final season of 2009, could earn a bowl bid as a 5-7 team but only if a number of teams decline to go to one ahead of them or finish with four wins.
“I haven't given it much thought, to be honest with you,” coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “I think those scenarios I would address at the end of the year.”
In 2015, Nebraska had the highest APR score among 5-7 teams and was selected to play in the Foster Farms Bowl, in which the Huskers beat UCLA. Missouri was second, but after longtime coach Gary Pinkel retired, the Tigers declined to be considered for a bowl bid at 5-7. Kansas State was third in line but beat West Virginia on the final weekend of the season to reach six wins, opening the door for Minnesota (No. 4) and San Jose State (No. 5) to play in bowl games. Minnesota beat Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl, while San Jose State beat Georgia State in the Cure Bowl.
The following teams, along with Notre Dame, enter week 12 with four or five wins: Cincinnati, SMU, Syracuse, Boston College, N.C. State, Duke, Texas, Texas Tech, Indiana, Maryland, Northwestern, Charlotte, Texas-San Antonio, Southern Mississippi, North Texas, Army, Miami (Ohio), Akron, Central Michigan, Ball State, Colorado State, UNLV, Hawaii, Cal, Arizona State, UCLA, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia Southern, Louisiana-Monroe and South Alabama.
Plenty will reach the six wins necessary to become bowl eligible, but among those schools, seven are ahead of Notre Dame (975) in 2014-2015 APR scores: Duke (995), Northwestern (992), Vanderbilt (990), Army (989), North Texas (984), Boston College (981), Indiana (979) and Maryland (977).
The four 5-5 teams on that list all have winnable games that should get them to six wins down the stretch: Indiana (at Michigan, vs. Purdue), Northwestern (at Minnesota, vs. Illinois), Maryland (at Nebraska, vs. Rutgers) and Army (vs. Morgan State, vs. Navy). So that leaves Duke, Vanderbilt, North Texas and Boston College as the most likely culprits to earn a 5-7 bowl bid over Notre Dame.
Duke finishes its season with tough road trips to Pitt and Miami and, by S&P+, has a 44 percent chance of finishing 5-7 or better. Vanderbilt has home games against Ole Miss and Tennessee but only has a 35 percent chance of going 5-7 or better.
Boston College (UConn, at Wake Forest) has a 76 percent chance of finishing 5-7 or 6-6, while North Texas (Southern Miss, at UTEP) has a 72 percent chance of finishing 5-7 or 6-6.
Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel pegged Duke to be the only 5-7 team to reach a bowl game, though, so it’s not like there would be many spots for Notre Dame to grab in the first place. But even if there a handful of spots for 5-7 teams, it’s unlikely enough dominos would fall to get Notre Dame into one of them.
So the short of this: Notre Dame can expect to stay home in December if it doesn’t beat Virginia Tech and USC in the season’s final two weeks.
A quick explanation on APR, per the NCAA:
The APR, or Academic Progress Rate, holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.
The APR is calculated as follows:
-- Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
-- A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
-- In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.