Race For 13 – Finish Line

Courtesy zimbio.com

Courtesy zimbio.com

The Race For 13 is over for 2015, with only five of our 15 contestants reaching the promised land. Such is life among the least powerful of the Power 5.

But everything is fine because Indiana is one of those five winners…

A quick recap of what this is all about: we’re shining a light on the most important goal for a certain subset of the Power 5 – obtaining bowl eligibility.  The qualifications for the Race are:

  • Must be in the Power 5.
  • If the team accomplishes nothing more than merely qualifying for a bowl in 2015 (i.e. goes 6-6 in the regular season), that team’s fanbase must view the season as a success.
  • Cannot have played in bowl game following the 2014 season.

At the start of the season, I predicted 6 of the 15 would make a bowl. I’ve made worse predictions.

In our midseason update in October, four teams appeared likely to achieve bowl eligibility, with two others in the “might achieve” category.  Three of the four “likely” teams made it – Cal, Northwestern, Texas Tech – while both “mights” made it, Washington State and IU.

My big miss – the Kentucky Wildcats. Based on coach Mark Stoops’ recruiting, a 5-7 season in 2014 and a favorable schedule, I ranked UK #3 on my initial list. They fell slightly to #4 in the quarter and midseason updates, and they needed just 2 wins in their last 6 games to earned a 13th. But tough losses to Vandy and Louisville ended the Cats’ bowl hopes.

The one team that never moved in the rankings: the Kansas Jayhawks. They started the season ranked 15 of 15, and a winless season didn’t provide any reason to move them up. David Beaty has his work cut out for him in Lawrence.

Without further ado, the final ranking:

(1)   Northwestern

Final Record: 10-2

Midseason Ranking: 3rd

Big Wins: Stanford, Wisconsin

Bad Losses: None.

Bowl: Outback Bowl vs. Tennessee

Analysis: Those people calling for Pat Fitzgerald’s job can all shut up now.  This team won 10 games with a freshman quarterback that really couldn’t throw the ball.

(2)   Washington State

Final Record: 8-4

Midseason Ranking: 5th

Big Wins: Oregon, at Arizona, Arizona State, at UCLA

Bad Losses: Portland St., at Washington

Bowl: Sun Bowl vs. Miami

Analysis: Quite the run between October 10 and November 21. The Cougars went 6-1, with the only loss a 2-pt defeat to eventual Pac 12 champ Stanford. Coach Leach notched road victories over Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. And then they were absolutely blown out by rival Washington, without their star QB Luke Falk. The 2015 Cougs remind us that The Race For 13 is not linear.

(3)   Texas Tech

Final Record: 7-5

Midseason Ranking: 2nd

Big Wins: at Arkansas

Bad Losses: None

Bowl: Texas Bowl vs. LSU

Analysis:  The defense needs to improve if they want to take the next step,[ref] Sound familiar??[/ref] but Kliff Kingsbury certainly has the offense back to Leachian levels.

(4)   California

Final Record: 7-5

Midseason Ranking: 1st

Big Wins: Washington State, Arizona State.

Bad Losses: None

Bowl: Armed Forces Bowl vs. Air Force

Analysis: The significance of the win at Texas faded, but the win over the Cougs gained steam. Sonny Dykes seems to have things moving in the right direction in Berkeley. If his interviewing the last few weeks is any indication, however, he would prefer to move in a different direction.

(5)   Indiana

Final Record: 6-6

Midseason Ranking: 6th

Big Wins: Western Kentucky

Bad Losses: Rutgers

Bowl: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Duke

Analysis: A huge two-game road winning streak to close the season sends the Hoosiers to their first bowl in 8 seasons. Some will say that six wins is the floor for this team, what with close losses to Ohio State, Rutgers, and Michigan. There’s something to that argument, but it ignores four non-conference wins that all were one-score games in the 4th quarter, including a dropped two-point conversion that, if caught, would have meant a loss to FCS opponent Southern Illinois. So let’s just be happy with our bowl game and not worry about not winning 8 or 9.

 (6)   Kentucky

Final Record: 5-7

Midseason Ranking: 4th

Big Wins: None

Bad Losses: at Vandy

Bowl: None

Analysis: The win over Mizzou lost luster. The loss to Vandy was crushing. A blown lead at home against rival Louisville was equally disastrous. Mark Stoops coached his way right out of consideration for a better job.

(7)   Syracuse

Final Record: 4-8

Midseason Ranking: 7th

Big Wins: None

Bad Losses: South Florida, Virginia

Bowl: None

Analysis: Syracuse fired head coach Scott Shafer after a disappointing 4-8 season.[ref] This will become a theme for the rest of the ranking.[/ref] His replacement, Dino Babers, formerly of Bowling Green, will bring an exciting offense to the Carrier Dome.

(8) Virginia

Final Record: 4-8

Midseason Ranking: 8th

Big Wins: None

Bad Losses: None

Bowl: None

Analysis: Another fired coach. Mike London recruited well, but could never put together a competent offense. This year, a brutal non-conference schedule put the ‘Hoos behind the 8-ball, and they never recovered. We’ll see what Bronco Mendenhall can do in Charlottesville.

(9) Colorado

Final Record: 4-9

Midseason Ranking: 10th

Big Wins: at Colorado State

Bad Losses: Hawaii

Bowl: None

Analysis: I watched a lot of football this season. I didn’t watch a single down of the Buffs. I blame the Pac 12 for ridiculous scheduling. But yeah, from what I read, it wasn’t great.

(10) Vanderbilt

Final Record: 4-8

Midseason Ranking: 11th

Big Wins: None

Bad Losses: None

Bowl: None

Analysis: Vandy has the defense part figured out. If Coach Mason can just field a serviceable offense, this team could do some damage in the SEC East.

(11) Wake Forest 

Final Record: 3-9

Midseason Ranking: 9th

Big Wins: None

Bad Losses: None

Bowl: None

Analysis: After two unsuccessful campaigns, Dave Clawson will need to show progress in Year 3. And I hope he does, before and after his September 24 game against IU.

(12) Iowa State

Final Record: 3-9

Midseason Ranking: 13th

Big Wins: None

Bad Losses: Toledo

Bowl: None

Analysis: Hated losing to Toledo so much that they took Toledo’s coach, Matt Campbell.

(13) Oregon State

Final Record: 2-10

Midseason Ranking: 12th

Big Wins: None

Bad Losses: None

Bowl: None

Analysis: Things went fairly poorly for Gary Andersen in his first season at Oregon State. But hey, at least he doesn’t have to deal with Barry Alvarez anymore!

(14) Purdue

Final Record: 2-10

Midseason Ranking: 13th

Big Wins: None

Bad Losses: Bowling Green

Analysis: Presumably, Darrell Hazell has one more season to show significant progress. New coordinators might help. New players would probably help more.

 (15) Kansas

Record: 0-12

Previous Ranking: 15th

Big Wins: None. Nor are there medium-sized wins or little wins.

Bad Losses: FCS South Dakota State

Analysis: KU could improve by 5 wins in 2016 and still fall short of bowl eligibility. Getting halfway to six next year would represent a substantial improvement.