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How canceled games change college football’s postseason picture

Bowl eligibility rules are unforgiving to teams with canceled games, but it usually doesn’t matter.

NCAA Football: South Carolina State at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Hurricane season has already led to the postponement of well more than a dozen Division I football games, including a handful at the FBS level. Some of those postponed games are unlikely to be made up because of scheduling constraints.

Though hurricanes’ intersection with college football season brings up far more serious issues than this, it is likely to alter the postseason outlook for at least a few teams. The NCAA’s eligibility requirements for bowl games don’t have exceptions for canceled games, so teams on the fringes that only play 11 games might miss the postseason as a result.

The rules for bowl eligibility are straightforward, for the most part.

To be eligible, a team needs to win as many games as it loses. Because almost all FBS teams have 12-game schedules, that means they have to go 6-6.

Technically, a team needs to go .500 against FBS competition. But there’s an exception that lets each team count one win against an FCS team. Every year, that’s how a number of fringy teams get eligible for bad bowl games.

There’s also an exception for a team that goes .500 in the regular season but then loses its conference championship game to go to 6-7. That really only comes up when the actual division champ is postseason-banned. Ole Miss likely isn’t winning the SEC West.

What about the College Football Playoff?

Any teams that have Playoff hopes should know the committee’s charged with evaluating only what a team’s done in games it’s played, rather than its number of wins.

For example, 2015 LSU canceled its Week 1 FCS game due to weather and was still No. 2 in the committee’s initial rankings.

What about conference championships?

There were no canceled conference games among those affected by Hurricane Florence in Week 3. When conference games are canceled, if they’re slated to affect the top of the standings at all, leagues and schools try hard to make them up.

For bowl eligibility, there’s no cancelation exception to the eligibility rule.

(In theory, the NCAA could move to add an exception in the middle of the season, because this year’s featured so many cancelations. But so did 2017, and that didn’t happen then.)

That leaves the possibility that someone finishes 5-6. If someone did, it would be ineligible for a bowl game under the NCAA’s current rules.

For a few teams, missing a bowl at 5-6 is at least a possibility.

It’s hard to know early who’s going to be on the bubble later. But you can run through these post-Week 2 S&P+ win projections and find a few teams that wouldn’t shock anyone by having a record in the 5-6 realm when the regular season ended.

If a team missed out in this way, it might still have a way in, but it’d be tricky.

Barring any legislative changes, that’d be through the usual path for alternates. If there aren’t enough 6-6 teams, the NCAA looks to teams from these groups:

  1. Teams that couldn’t count an FCS win because of a weird scholarship thing, if they’re otherwise eligible. (This is sort of related to something that almost happened to Florida State in 2017, but ultimately didn’t.)
  2. Teams that played 13 regular season games and went 6-7
  3. Teams in their second year of FBS reclassification, if they’re .500 or better (only Coastal Carolina could be in this group this year)
  4. Five-win teams with the highest Academic Progress Report scores

The big thing is the last thing on that list there: APR scores. Nobody who had a postponed game at the beginning of the year is near the top of the list of teams that might get eligible at 5-7 because of how they did in the classroom.