It would be great if this post could announce that every deserving Mid-American Conference team could go to a bowl game this year. Unfortunately, that's not going to be the case.
Without mincing words, multiple teams from our beloved conference are going to be bowl eligible but left out of the party.
Let's examine why:
Right now, 34 teams have already gained bowl eligibility, including four from the MAC. That's one shy of half the 70 teams needed to fill every bowl slot. For the MAC, they already have one more team than needed to fill their three guaranteed spots.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, just 16 teams have been eliminated from bowl contention (seven or more losses). Sadly, six of those teams are from the MAC (no other conference has more than two). This means that ten of the MAC's 13 teams already have their status determined.
How about the other 75 teams, you say? Many of those are very close to gaining bowl eligibility. In total, 42 schools need just one or two wins to qualify to play in the post-season. In the MAC, Toledo and Bowling Green are among that group of 42, and both schools need just one win.
The schools who will be eliminated with one or two more losses total 22. This set includes Central Michigan, who must win three of their final four games to earn a chance at a bowl game.
The final 11 teams in the FBS are "on the bubble" -- their records are all 3-4. If any of those teams win 3 or more of their final 5, they'll be eligible. If they lose 3 or more, they'll be out. Nobody in the MAC is in this position.
There are now two important things to determine: how many of these 75 teams will become eligible and which conferences they come from. Remember, it's not just the total number of eligible teams that matters; conferences also have to be able to fill their guaranteed spots, or another conference with a surplus of eligible teams will reap the benefits. (This is how the MAC placed so many bowl teams in 2012.)
You have to figure that most of the 42 teams that need just one or two wins will make it, and based on remaining schedules, I project that 35 of the 42 will ultimately become eligible. This would bring the total up to 69 teams -- one shy of the 70 required. You also have to figure that some of the teams who are in danger of being eliminated will get hot and end up at least 6-6. Again, based on remaining schedules, I project that three teams will do just that (West Virginia, Louisiana Tech, Central Michigan). Finally, I believe that four of the 11 teams currently "on the bubble" will become eligible.
In all, that would be 76 bowl eligible teams, which means that six would end up not playing in a bowl game. I believe that Bowling Green, Toledo, and Central Michigan will be among the qualifying teams, and that will give the MAC seven eligible schools. That's four more than their guaranteed allotment of bowl games.
The unfortunate thing for these seven MAC teams is that most other conferences appear to be in position to fill all of their bowl spots. In my projections, only the Mountain West fails to fill all of it's slots -- and that's based on the current presumption that Fresno State goes to a BCS game. Of course, how those BCS at-large bids is probably the biggest wild-card in this picture, and if NIU sneaks in, that would absolutely help a fellow MAC school.
However, I'm looking ahead based on what's currently on the board, so Fresno State gets the ticket. This means that only two bowl spots will be open: the Mountain West's spot in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and Army's spot in the Poinsettia Bowl.
The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is not going to pit MAC vs. MAC, so that spot will likely end up going to a Sun Belt team (great, right?). That leaves just the Poinsettia Bowl. That could definitely be a possibility for a Bowling Green or Toledo, if they don't land in one of the guaranteed spots. As it looks now, the MAC's only competition for that spot would be from the Sun Belt and perhaps one or two teams from BCS automatic-qualifier conferences.
Now, let me close with this: things could definitely change. With five weeks left in the regular season, the bowl picture could shift significantly. I'll revisit this topic every week until the end of the season, and update predictions as necessary.
Projected MAC Bowl-Eligible Teams (Already Clinched in BOLD):
Buffalo, Ohio, Ball State, Northern Illinois, Toledo, Bowling Green, Central Michigan
Projected MAC Bowl Games:
Little Caesar's -- Northern Illinois (vs. Big Ten)
GoDaddy.com -- Ball State (vs. Sun Belt)
Famous Idaho Potato -- Ohio (vs. Sun Belt)
Poinsettia -- Toledo (vs. Mountain West)