Bowl Projections: Which Teams Need to Make Their Move in October?

These bowl matchups are little more than guesses until November, but that doesn’t mean teams can’t make or break their year in the middle month of the regular season.
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Before November, bowl projections are 25% educated guess, 75% overreaction to early-season results. The final month of the regular season features all the conference showdowns and rivalry games that shape each team’s final résumé; they just have to make it there in one piece. Before we get into this week’s bowl matchup predictions, let's take a quick look at some notable teams who can set themselves up for a surprising finish as long as they take care of business in October.

Notre Dame (4–1): The Irish close out their regular season with two of their usual rivalries—Navy and Stanford—and two games against upstart ACC teams who might be better than most thought in the preseason in Miami and Wake Forest. Notre Dame’s lone loss so far came to Georgia, which has since moved into the top five, so its playoff case could get stronger by the week if the Bulldogs keep winning and Brian Kelly avoids any no-show performances. The Irish go to North Carolina this weekend, then get a bye before hosting No. 14 USC and No. 24 NC State to close out the month. If they hold serve against those two ranked opponents in South Bend, it should be safe to adjust their postseason expectations well up the bowl hierarchy.

Maryland (3–1): The Terrapins badly needed Week 5’s 31–24 win at Minnesota to stabilize a hot start that was in danger of being hijacked by quarterback injuries. Expectations will be low when they travel to Ohio State and Wisconsin in the next three weeks, but if they can use home games against Northwestern and Indiana to get to five wins by the end of the month, they would only need to beat Rutgers (Nov. 4 at home) or Michigan State (Nov. 18 in East Lansing) to become bowl eligible, then grit their teeth through probable losses to Michigan and Penn State down the stretch.

Pitt (2–3): The Panthers deserve their record after putting up little resistance against top-10 foes Penn State and Oklahoma State and crumbling late in a road loss to Georgia Tech. But the schedule lightens up considerably this month: at Syracuse, NC State, at Duke, Virginia. Take three of those four, and Pitt will get to play for its bowl bid against UNC before closing out the year against the ACC Coastal’s two ranked teams, Virginia Tech and Miami.

Colorado (3–2): Like Pitt, the Buffaloes got off to a discouraging start in conference play and now need to pick up some victories before confronting their ranked division foes (USC and Utah) at the end of November. A trip to Pullman to take on red-hot Washington State on Oct. 21 may not be cause for much optimism, but Colorado can still get bowl-eligible before the month is out if it sweeps Arizona, Oregon State and Cal.

Oklahoma State (4–1): TCU has back-burnered the Cowboys’ playoff hopes for now, but their season still swings on their performance against Oklahoma on Nov. 4. Successive games against Baylor, Texas and No. 23 West Virginia should allow Oklahoma State to ramp back up to the Sooners’ level, and a Bedlam win coupled with a Big 12 title would put it right back into the playoff discussion. Mason Rudolph & Co. did well to not let one loss snowball in Week 5’s tight win at Texas Tech.

Kentucky (4–1): You may have assumed Kentucky’s football program folded after it choked away a historic win over Florida two weeks ago, but the Wildcats are a sneaky 4–1, with wins by 11 points or fewer against Southern Miss, Eastern Kentucky, South Carolina and Eastern Michigan. Each of their three October SEC opponents—Missouri, Mississippi State and Tennessee—all may be on a similar tier as their September wins by the time those winnable contests arrive.

Without further ado, the post-Week 5 bowl picture ...

Saturday, Dec. 16

R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, New Orleans (1 p.m., ESPN)
Sun Belt vs. C-USA
Louisiana Monroe vs. Southern Miss

AutoNation Cure Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (2:30 p.m., CBSSN)
AAC vs. Sun Belt
Tulane vs. Appalachian State

Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas (3:30 p.m., ABC)
​MWC vs. Pac-12
Colorado State vs. Utah

Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
UAB vs. New Mexico

Raycom Media Camelia Bowl, Montgomery, Ala. (8 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. Sun Belt
Western Michigan vs. Arkansas State

Tuesday, Dec. 19

Boca Raton Bowl, Boca Raton, Fla. (7 p.m., ESPN)
Memphis vs. Florida International

Wednesday, Dec. 20

Frisco Bowl, Frisco, Texas (8 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. Sun Belt
SMU vs. New Mexico State

Thursday, Dec. 21

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, St. Petersburg, Fla. (8 p.m., ESPN)
Marshall vs. Houston

Friday, Dec. 22

Bahamas Bowl, Nassau, Bahamas (12:30 p.m., ESPN)
North Texas vs. Buffalo

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Boise (4 p.m., ESPN)
Ohio vs. Wyoming

Saturday, Dec. 23

Birmingham Bowl, Birmingham, Ala. (12 p.m., ESPN)
UCF vs. Arkansas

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, Texas (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Army vs. C-USA
Army vs. Louisiana Tech

Dollar General Bowl, Mobile, Ala. (7 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. Sun Belt
Toledo vs. Troy

Sunday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu, (8:30 p.m., ESPN)
South Florida vs. Hawaii

Tuesday, Dec. 26

Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dallas (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. C-USA
Colorado vs. UT-San Antonio

Quick Lane Bowl, Detroit (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten
Duke vs. Indiana

Cactus Bowl, Phoenix (9 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. Pac-12
Texas vs. UCLA

Wednesday, Dec. 27

Independence Bowl, Shreveport, La. (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
Louisville vs. Mississippi State

New Era Pinstripe Bowl, New York (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten
Virginia vs. Minnesota

Foster Farms Bowl, Santa Clara, Calif. (8 p.m., FOX)
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Purdue vs. Oregon

Texas Bowl, Houston (9 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. SEC
Texas Tech vs. LSU

Thursday, Dec. 28

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman, Annapolis, Md. (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
Wake Forest vs. Navy

Camping World Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big 12
Georgia Tech vs. Kansas State

Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Pac-12 vs. Big 12
Stanford vs. West Virginia

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl, San Diego (9 p.m., FS1)
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Iowa vs. USC

Friday, Dec. 29

Belk Bowl, Charlotte, N.C. (1 p.m., ESPN)
Florida State vs. Kentucky

Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas (2 p.m., CBS)
ACC vs. Pac-12
Notre Dame vs. Washington State

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Nashville, Tenn. (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
SEC vs. Big Ten or ACC
Vanderbilt vs. Maryland

Arizona Bowl, Tucson, Ariz. (5:30 p.m., CBSSN)
Sun Belt vs. MWC
Idaho vs. Boise State

Saturday, Dec. 30

TaxSlayer Bowl, Jacksonville, Fla. (12 p.m., ESPN)
SEC vs. Big Ten or ACC
Florida vs. NC State

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (12:30 p.m., ABC)
Big 12 vs. SEC
Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M

Monday, Jan. 1, 2018

Outback Bowl, Tampa, Fla. (12 p.m., ESPN2)
Big Ten vs. SEC
Michigan State vs. Tennessee

Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (1 p.m., ABC)
Auburn vs. Virginia Tech

New Year's Six Bowls

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Arlington, Texas (Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-large
TCU vs. Ohio State

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz. (Dec. 30, 4 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-large
Washington vs. San Diego State

Capital One Orange Bowl, Miami Gardens, Fla. (Dec. 30, 8 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame
Miami vs. Wisconsin

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Atlanta (Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-Large
Michigan vs. Georgia

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual, Pasadena, Calif. (Jan. 1, 5 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinalist vs. CFP semifinalist
Clemson vs. Oklahoma

Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans (Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinalist vs. CFP semifinalist
Alabama vs. Penn State

College Football Playoff National Championship, Atlanta (Jan. 8, 8 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinal winner vs. CFP semifinal winner