There are a number of reasons that Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury and deputy AD Mark Rountree have worked so diligently to try to secure a 12th game for the Yellow Jackets.
One is that players and coaches who have invested hundreds of hours of time and effort want the opportunity to reap the fruit of their labor. Another reason, particularly after Saturday’s loss to Duke, is that the Jackets’ bowl eligibility could hinge on it.
“I would say the probability (of a 12th game) is low, but we’re going to keep working on it until the probability is zero,” Stansbury said on his monthly podcast, recorded this past Friday.
To gain bowl eligibility – either by upsetting No. 7 Georgia Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium or by winning a possible 12th game to replace the one vs. UCF canceled due to Hurricane Irma – would unlock rewards for the Jackets. Players would be rewarded with a bowl trip, bowl gifts and a stay in a comfortable hotel with their teammates. Coaches would get a bonus – one month’s salary is standard. And the Jackets would have the opportunity to give their frustrating season a satisfying conclusion.
There’s at least one bowl in ACC lineup that’s interested in the Jackets – the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md. The game is played at Navy, the former employer of coach Paul Johnson. It likely will have the sixth pick of ACC teams after those selected for the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six (including the Orange Bowl) games.
“From our perspective, Georgia Tech would be a good fit,” Military Bowl executive director Steve Beck told the AJC. “Obviously, the whole Paul Johnson reunion story would be nice. We’ll just have to see who’s there.”
Should the Jackets finish at five wins, a bowl berth is still possible, but hardly probable.
“Their best chance, without a doubt, is to win six games,” said Wright Waters, executive director of the Football Bowl Association.
To start, to go to a bowl as a five-win team, Tech would need for there to be a shortage of bowl-eligible teams, and spots are filling up. There are 78 bowl slots, and 70 teams have earned eligibility. Another four of the remaining eight unfilled spots are guaranteed to be filled, as there will be four matchups this weekend between teams with 5-6 records.
That leaves 10 other teams, including Tech, who are at five wins with games remaining. There are four teams at 4-6, most notably Florida State, who would gain bowl eligibility with two more wins.
Of the 10 at five wins, three have a better than 50 percent chance of winning Saturday according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, and one of them, Louisiana Tech, has two games remaining. (Tech fans may be unsurprised to learn that the Jackets are not the other team. ESPN assigns the Bulldogs a 79 percent chance of winning Saturday.)
If the 78 spots fill up – Florida State looks like it has a favorable path also, against Florida and then Louisiana-Monroe – then Tech has no options at five wins.
But if there are slots available, then the Jackets have a chance. The NCAA has provisions for teams that do not qualify with six wins.
The pecking order for teams that aren’t bowl eligible:
Teams that are 6-6 but with a win over an FCS team that does not meet the NCAA’s scholarship standards to be deemed a worthy FCS opponent.
Teams that finished 6-7 in the regular season. (Hawaii and teams that play Hawaii are allowed to play 13 regular-season games)
Teams that are otherwise deserving but are in the process of reclassifying to FBS, as Georgia Southern did in 2014 before becoming bowl eligible in 2015.
Teams that finish 5-7. Teams are taken in order of their APR score. Among five-win teams, Tech is tied for third behind Duke and Minnesota.
Tech could conceivably ask the NCAA for a waiver to be slotted ahead the 5-7 teams. A year ago, South Alabama received one after finishing 6-6 with two FCS wins because the Jaguars had to play a second FCS team when LSU canceled on them. But, Waters said, it would still require there to be an insufficient number of deserving teams.
“Ones that are truly bowl eligible have to be placed,” he said.
In short, it’s possible that Tech has a chance, but the Jackets would be depending on help from other teams.