Let's be real. After blowing a 17-point lead and losing to a team that successfully completed just two passes, there's no way Michigan State is winning at Penn State to close out the regular season this weekend.

That means the Spartans will be 5-7, falling one win shy of clinching a bowl berth.

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But MSU isn't officially eliminated from the postseason just yet. In fact, the Spartans' bowl hopes are still very much alive.

Here's why.

There May Not Be Enough 6-Win Teams

College football's bowl system requires 82 teams. But after the penultimate week of the regular season, just 73 teams have reached the six-win threshold to qualify for a bowl game.

Heading into the regular season finale weekend, there are 15 teams with a 5-6 record. They're listed below, with their opponents in parentheses.

  • Georgia Tech (at Georgia)
  • Miami FL (vs. Pittsburgh)
  • Michigan State (at Penn State)
  • Florida Atlantic (vs. Western Kentucky)
  • Rice (at North Texas)
  • UAB (at Louisiana Tech)
  • UTEP (at UTSA)
  • Missouri (vs. Arkansas)
  • Vanderbilt (vs. Tennessee)
  • Auburn (at Alabama)
  • Georgia Southern (vs. Appalachian State)
  • Southern Miss (at Louisiana-Monroe)
  • Miami OH (vs. Ball State)
  • Ball State (at Miami OH)

Since Miami OH and Ball State play each other, that means the nine vacancies for bowl season are guaranteed to be whittled down to eight.

Other Teams Still In The Mix

There are also several 4-7 teams that could play themselves into the mix by winning this coming weekend. They are:

  • Tulsa (at Houston)
  • West Virginia (at Oklahoma State)
  • Iowa State (at TCU)
  • Indiana (vs. Purdue)
  • Rutgers (at Maryland)
  • Florida International (vs. Middle Tennessee State)
  • Kent State (at Buffalo)
  • Western Michigan (vs. Toledo)
  • Central Michigan (at Eastern Michigan)
  • UNLV (vs. Nevada)
  • Cal (vs. UCLA)
  • Arizona (vs. Arizona State)
  • Texas A&M (vs. LSU)
  • Georgia State (at Marshall)
  • Texas State (vs. Louisiana)
  • Navy (vs. Army on Dec. 10)

Three more teams are still alive for bowl season:

  • Army (4-6): The Black Knights have two games left — this weekend at UMass, then they play in college football's time-honored regular-season finale against Navy on Dec. 10.
  • Buffalo (5-5): The Bulls host Kent State this weekend, but they may yet have another game. Buffalo's home game versus Akron was postponed this past weekend due to a winter storm that dumped more than five feet of snow across the Buffalo area. MAC officials said a potential rescheduled date would be decided this week, with Dec. 3 being the likely target.
  • New Mexico State (4-6): The Lobos' game versus San Jose State on Oct. 22 was postponed after San Jose State running back Camdan McWright died tragically in a traffic accident the day before the game was to be played. If the game is made up, it will probably be played on Dec. 3.

So what happens if there aren't enough six-win teams and there are more 5-7 squads than there are openings?

How Bowls Break Ties Among 5-7 Teams

The NCAA tracks a metric called Academic Progress Rate, or APR for short. Here's how it's calculated:

• Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.

• A team's total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team's Academic Progress Rate.

• In addition to a team's current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

When multiple 5-7 teams are contending for a bowl invitation, the team with the higher APR ranking is chosen.

Here are the APR points and rankings for each of the teams that could finish 5-7, in order from best to worst:

  • Rice: 994, T-5th
  • Iowa State: 986, T-17th
  • UNLV: 948, T-21st
  • Auburn, 983, T-27th
  • Michigan State: 983, T-27th
  • Missouri: 983, T-27th
  • Miami FL: 982, T-32nd
  • Army: 980, T-35th
  • Georgia Tech, 979, T-37th
  • Miami OH: 977, T-42nd
  • Rutgers: 977, T-42nd
  • Indiana: 976, T-46th
  • Cal: 974, T-49th
  • Georgia State: 974, T-53rd
  • West Virginia: 974, T-53rd
  • Ball State: 973, T-57th
  • Vanderbilt: 973, T-57th
  • Navy: 970, T-66th
  • Buffalo: 968, T-73rd
  • Florida International: 966, 78th
  • Arizona: 965, 79th
  • Kent State: 960 T-89th
  • Central Michigan: 958, T-94th
  • Texas A&M: 958, T-94th
  • Texas State: 958, 101st
  • Georgia Southern: 952, T-112th
  • Florida Atlantic: 949, T-115th
  • UAB: 949, 122nd
  • New Mexico State: 940, 124th
  • Tulsa: 939, 125th
  • Western Michigan: 938, 126th
  • Southern Miss: 934, T-128th
  • UTEP: 934, T-128th

Which 5-Win Teams Are Likely To Win?

We can start to get a picture of how things might shake out by trying to predict the outcome of the remaining games. It's by no means scientific, but going by who Las Vegas favors can give us an idea.

Here are the final records of all the aforementioned teams, assuming that what Vegas predicts actually comes to pass.

  • Army (6-6)
  • Buffalo (6-5)
  • Miami OH (6-6)
  • Southern Miss (6-6)
  • Arizona (5-7)
  • UNLV (5-7)
  • Rice (5-7)
  • Michigan State (5-7)
  • Auburn (5-7)
  • Missouri (5-7)
  • Miami FL (5-7)
  • Georgia Tech (5-7)
  • Ball State (5-7)
  • Vanderbilt (5-7)
  • Georgia Southern (5-7)
  • Florida Atlantic (5-7)
  • Navy (4-8)
  • Tulsa (4-8)
  • West Virginia (4-8)
  • Iowa State (4-8)
  • Indiana (4-8)
  • Rutgers (4-8)
  • Florida International (4-8)
  • Kent State (4-8)
  • Western Michigan (4-8)
  • Central Michigan (4-8)
  • UNLV (4-8)
  • Cal (4-8)
  • Texas A&M (4-8)
  • Georgia State (4-8)
  • Texas State (4-8)
  • New Mexico State (4-7)

In this scenario, there would be five bowl slots available for teams with a 5-7 record. Let's go ahead and assume Army beats Navy on Dec. 10, too, which would clinch the Black Knights a bowl berth.

That would mean four 5-7 teams would be invited to a bowl game.

Who Would Make The Cut?

If this hypothetical played out, the four teams with a 5-7 record who go bowling would be Rice, UNLV, Auburn, and Michigan State. It would be by the slimmest of margins, but the Spartans would have a postseason and the invaluable extra practice time that comes with it.

It's impossible to know what will actually happen, but the point here is that MSU still has a chance at a bowl game.

What it means for you, as a fan, is that this weekend you need to root against every other team with five wins, as well as all the four-win teams ahead of the Spartans in the APR rankings. As a refresher, those teams are:

  • Army
  • Buffalo
  • Georgia Tech
  • Miami FL
  • Michigan State
  • Florida Atlantic
  • Rice
  • UAB
  • UTEP
  • Missouri
  • Vanderbilt
  • Auburn
  • Georgia Southern
  • Southern Miss
  • Iowa State
  • UNLV
  • Miami OH/Ball State

As embarrassing as it may be, MSU has a real shot of backing into a bowl game with a losing record. Now, as to which bowl game that might be, there are several possibilities.

And speaking of embarrassing, the Spartans could find themselves spending Christmas in Detroit.

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