Gophers football’s path to bowl game with 5-7 record remains possible

The Gophers football team is assured only more game this season: the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe against Wisconsin at Huntington Bank Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

“We got one week guaranteed left, so let’s go make the most of it,” defensive end Danny Striggow said after a 37-3 loss to No. 2 Ohio State last weekend. “It’s against a team like Wisconsin, where you have so much on the line.”

If the Gophers (5-6 overall) win, they will retain the Axe for three consecutive years for the first time since the mid-1980s. If they win the rivalry game, they will reach bowl eligibility with six wins.

But there’s a chance that even if the Gophers, two-point underdog on Saturday, lose to the Badgers and fall to 5-7 overall, Minnesota might still advance to a bowl game because there might not be enough six-win outfits to fill out the full bowl schedule.

Here’s the breakdown:

Total bowl teams needed: 82

Teams qualified with 6 wins: 67

Open spots remaining: 15

Current 5-win teams: 24

If the Gophers lose to Wisconsin, they will likely need three, maybe four open spots to make it to a bowl.

One wrench in the process is the status of James Madison and Jacksonville State. Those two programs are transitioning from FCS and the NCAA won’t allow them to go to a bowl based on their win totals, but they can go to the front of the line ahead of any 5-7 team.

After those two programs, a 5-7 Minnesota would take the next vacant spot because of its high Academic Progress Rate (APR).

The Gophers’ multi-year APR is actually tied with Wake Forest, but if the Demon Deacons (4-7) beat Syracuse (5-6) on Saturday to reach five wins, they would move ahead of Minnesota based on a tiebreaker: APR in the most recent academic year. Wake had a perfect 1,000 score in 2021-22, while Minnesota’s was 994.

The Gophers also found themselves in this 5-7 bizarro world in 2015. They didn’t reach six wins that fall, but had a high APR and went to the Quick Lane Bowl, where they beat Central Michigan in Detroit.

Pulling up the rear

Five-win FBS teams with one week left in regular season:

Big Ten: Gophers, Nebraska, Illinois

American: South Florida, Navy, Rice

Atlantic Coast: Virginia Tech, Syracuse

Big XII: Brigham Young, Central Florida, Texas Christian

Mid-American: Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan

Mountain West: Utah State, Colorado State

Southeastern: Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State

Sun Belt: Marshall, Louisiana, Old Dominion

Pac-12: California, Washington State

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