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November 12, 2008

Rivals.com Bowl Bubble Watch

More: Rivals.com updated 2008 bowl projections

Ball State's drive toward an undefeated season isn't the only reason to pay close attention to the Mid-American Conference.

The league's members also could go a long way toward determining where schools across the country will be spending the holidays.

MAC schools dominate the first edition of the Rivals.com Bowl Bubble Watch. Akron, Bowling Green, Buffalo and Northern Illinois have five wins apiece, putting each one win away from bowl eligibility. No other league has as many teams stuck on five wins at this point in the season.

Here's an alphabetical list of teams with five wins. We'll update the list each week.

Rivals.com Bowl Bubble Watch
AKRON (5-4)
Remaining schedule: vs. Buffalo, at Ohio, at Temple
Why they will make it: Akron has won two in a row and has a red-hot running back in Dennis Kennedy, who has rushed for a total of 612 yards in his past three games. Although two of Akron's last three games are away from home, the Zips already have won on the road four times this year.
Why they won't: Akron needs Kennedy to control the clock because the Zips can't stop anyone. Akron is ranked 95th in the nation in total defense and has given up at least 30 points in three consecutive games.
AUBURN (5-5)
Remaining schedule: vs. Georgia, at Alabama
Why they will make it: Perhaps quarterback Kodi Burns' performance against Tennessee-Martin was a sign that he finally had turned the corner. Auburn's defense is good enough to give the Tigers a fighting chance against anyone as long as their offense is merely adequate.
Why they won't: Auburn hasn't beaten a quality team all year. It's hard to imagine the Tigers pulling an upset against either of the two toughest teams on their schedule.
Remaining schedule: vs. Buffalo, at Toledo
Why they will make it: Bowling Green's favorable schedule should result in at least one more win. The Falcons get Buffalo at home before traveling to Toledo, which has lost six of its past seven games.
Why they won't: The Falcons should beat Toledo, but the MAC might end up with more bowl-eligible teams than bowl tie-ins. If that happens, Bowling Green could get left out of the postseason even if it finishes 6-6.
Remaining schedule: at Akron, at Bowling Green, vs. Kent State
Why they will make it: Buffalo has won three in a row and has shown its bowl worthiness by staying competitive against the toughest teams on its schedule. Buffalo lost 27-16 to Pittsburgh, 27-25 to Central Michigan and 34-28 to Western Michigan. Although the Bulls lost 42-21 to Missouri, they trailed only 20-14 at halftime.
Why they won't: Buffalo has never played in a bowl before. Two of its final three opponents Akron and Bowling Green also are one win away from bowl eligibility. Will the Bulls get nervous now that they have a chance to make history?
Remaining schedule: vs. Oklahoma State, at Nebraska
Why they will make it: Quarterback Cody Hawkins showed signs of breaking out of his season-long slump last week by coming off the bench and throwing four touchdown passes in a come-from-behind victory over Iowa State.
Why they won't: Oklahoma State and Nebraska are a heck of a lot better than Iowa State. Nebraska's defense will be particularly eager for revenge after getting embarrassed in a 65-51 loss to Colorado last season.
Remaining schedule: vs. New Mexico State, at San Jose State, at Boise State
Why they will make it: Fresno State arguably has as much talent as any WAC team other than Boise State. Fresno State will be favored at home against New Mexico State, which has lost to the Bulldogs each of the past three seasons.
Why they won't: Fresno State entered this season with BCS aspirations. How will the Bulldogs respond at the end of a disappointing season? Fresno State's losses to Louisiana Tech and Nevada the past two weeks indicate the Bulldogs may just be playing out the string without much motivation.
HAWAII (5-5)
Remaining schedule: vs. Idaho, vs. Washington State, vs. Cincinnati
Why they will make it: Hawaii benefits from having its last three games at home, where it owns an 18-2 record the past three years. Two of those games are against Idaho and Washington State, which are a combined 3-17.
Why they won't: Because it plays a 13-game schedule, Hawaii has to win twice more to become bowl eligible. Hawaii probably needs to win its next two games because the Warriors might not have enough firepower to keep up with Cincinnati.
Remaining schedule: vs. Tulsa, vs. UTEP, at Rice
Why they will make it: Quarterback Case Keenum, running back Bryce Beall and tight end Mark Hafner give Houston an offense that can light up the scoreboard on just about anyone. The Cougars have scored at least 42 points in four of their past five games.
Why they won't: Houston's suspect defense could have a tough time the next three weeks against Tulsa quarterback David Johnson (the NCAA leader in passing efficiency), Rice quarterback Chase Clement (third in the nation in total offense) and UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe (19 touchdown passes and two interceptions in his past five games).
Remaining schedule: vs. Ohio State, at Northwestern
Why they will make it: Although Northwestern owns a better record than Illinois, the Illini have a good chance of beating the injury-riddled Wildcats. Illinois whipped Northwestern 41-22 last season.
Why they won't: Quarterback Juice Williams has thrown seven interceptions in his past three games. If he doesn't take better care of the ball, his team will stay home for the holidays.
Remaining schedule: at Florida International, at Troy, vs. Middle Tennessee
Why they will make it: Louisiana-Lafayette continues to control its destiny in the Sun Belt title race. Even if the Ragin' Cajuns lose those troublesome road games with Florida International and Troy, Tyrell Fenroy could run wild against a Middle Tennessee defense that is allowing 4.3 yards per carry.
Why they won't: Louisiana-Lafayette ought to finish at least 6-6, but that might not be good enough to earn a bowl bid out of the Sun Belt. Troy went 8-4 last year and got left out. The Sun Belt has since included more provisional bowl tie-ins to prevent history from repeating itself, but Louisiana-Lafayette needs to win seven games to feel safe.
Remaining schedule: vs. Utah State, at New Mexico State, vs. Nevada
Why they will make it: A favorable schedule should allow Louisiana Tech to win at least one and probably two of its final three games. Utah State and New Mexico State are a combined 5-14.
Why they won't: Louisiana Tech's 107th-ranked passing attack offers cause for concern, but the Bulldogs shouldn't have much trouble reaching the six-win mark. The Bulldogs own a two-game winning streak with victories over Fresno State and San Jose State. Both of those teams are better than Utah State and New Mexico State.
Remaining schedule: vs. Cincinnati, vs. West Virginia, at Rutgers
Why they will make it: Louisville has three more shots at earning that elusive sixth win and has two of those games at home.
Why they won't: Cincinnati, West Virginia and Rutgers are playing better than Louisville right now. The Cardinals need better production from senior quarterback Hunter Cantwell, who has struggled with consistency during a two-game losing streak.
Remaining schedule: vs. UCF, vs. Tulane
Why they will make it: Memphis has won two in a row and faces a 2-7 team at home in each of its remaining games.
Why they won't: Memphis' defense gives its offense little margin for error against anyone. The Tigers have allowed at least 26 points in five consecutive games.
NEVADA (5-4)
Remaining schedule: vs. San Jose State, vs. Boise State, at Louisiana Tech
Why they will make it: Nevada can run the ball and stop the run as well as just about anyone. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua have helped Nevada average an NCAA-leading 324.1 rushing yards per game. The Wolf Pack also rank second in the nation in run defense.
Why they won't: Nevada closes the season against three of the Western Athletic Conference's top four run defenses. If the Wolf Pack aren't able to run the ball, Kaepernick hasn't proved he can throw the ball consistently. He hasn't completed more than half his passes in any of his past three games.
Remaining schedule: vs. Central Michigan, at Kent State, vs. Navy
Why they will make it: Northern Illinois leads the MAC and ranks 20th in the nation in total defense. Even if the Huskies' defense isn't good enough to pull an upset against Central Michigan or Navy, it shouldn't have a problem holding Kent State in check.
Why they won't: Northern Illinois may have the toughest remaining schedule of any of the MAC teams with five wins. Kent State is only 2-7, but Central Michigan and Navy already are bowl eligible.
Remaining schedule: at Navy, vs. Syracuse, at USC
Why they will make it: Even though the Irish are slumping, they shouldn't have much trouble beating a Syracuse team that has won just twice all year. The talented receiving tandem of Golden Tate and Michael Floyd could bother a Navy team that ranks 108th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
Why they won't: Notre Dame has to take care of business early because the Irish won't have much of a chance against USC. If Notre Dame's offense plays as poorly as it did in a 17-0 loss to Boston College last week, even a victory over Syracuse is no guarantee.
OLE MISS (5-4)
Remaining schedule: vs. Louisiana-Monroe, at LSU, vs. Mississippi State
Why they will make it: Two of the Rebels' last three games are at home against inferior opponents. Ole Miss ought to win at least one of those games.
Why they won't: The Rebels need to learn from history. Louisiana-Monroe proved last season against Alabama that it isn't necessarily a pushover when it faces an SEC team late in the season. And Ole Miss' near-upset of Mississippi State in last year's Egg Bowl showed that the records of the respective teams don't necessarily indicate how the game will turn out.
Remaining schedule: vs. USC, at California
Why they will make it: Stanford managed to beat both USC and California last season, so it's not out of the question that the Cardinal could beat at least one of those teams again this season.
Why they won't: Even under ordinary circumstances, Stanford would enter these final two games as a heavy underdog. That USC and Cal both have a revenge motive make it that much tougher to envision Stanford pulling an upset in either game.
Remaining schedule: at Kentucky, Tennessee, at Wake Forest
Why they will make it: As bad as Vanderbilt's offense has looked the past few weeks, Tennessee's offense has been even worse. Vanderbilt's defense also is good enough to turn contests with Kentucky and Wake Forest into close, low-scoring games.
Why they won't: Vanderbilt's history suggests the Commodores fall apart once they reach the five-win plateau. Their performance in the past month has done nothing to dispel that notion.
Remaining schedule: vs. Clemson, at Virginia Tech
Why they will make it: The winner of the Clemson-Virginia game likely earns the ACC's last bowl bid. Virginia benefits from being at home, and its talented linebacker corps could give Clemson's inconsistent offense plenty of problems.
Why they won't: Virginia has endured a roller-coaster season. The Cavaliers lost three of their first four games before winning four in a row. Now that they've lost back-to-back games against Miami and Wake Forest, the Cavaliers appear back on a down cycle.
Remaining schedule: vs. Minnesota, vs. Cal Poly
Why they will make it: Wisconsin is arguably playing its best football of the season right now and closes the regular season against Cal Poly, a Football Championship Subdivision (i.e., Division I-AA) program.
Why they won't: If Wisconsin loses to Minnesota, the Badgers shouldn't overlook Cal Poly. The Mustangs are ranked third in the FCS and have scored at least 42 points in each of their past six games.

Steve Megargee is a national college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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