There are 39 FBS bowl games, not including the Playoff National Championship game. To be eligible for one of the 78 slots available, a team needs to finish .500, which usually works out to 6-6. This season ended with 82 eligible teams. You can do the math.
Meet the teams that had enough wins to bowl but got left out:
Southern Miss (6-5, 5-3 in Conference USA)
The Golden Eagles have an awful offense, but they can really defend. They’re in the top 20 in Defensive S&P+, with havoc-wreaking linebackers and DBs who have been too much for a lot of C-USA offenses to handle. They held Auburn to 24 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and 10 of those Auburn points came after the Tigers got short fields. The combination of bad O and excellent D means USM plays a lot of nail-biters. Five of their games came down to a field-goal margin or less. It’s easy to see how they weren’t exciting enough for a bowl to go after.
Miami (Ohio) (6-6, 6-2 in MAC)
The RedHawks were 3-6 after a barnburner loss to Buffalo the day before Halloween, but they won their last three to finish 6-6 on the season.
One of those wins came against Ohio, which had won five in a row and 11 of 12 in the teams’ annual series. Still, giving a bowl slot to a non-champion MAC team isn’t the thing any bowl organizer’s really dying to do.
Wyoming (6-6, 4-4 in Mountain West)
The Cowboys closed their season with four straight wins after a 2-6 start, including close ones against both Colorado State and Air Force. Although all of Wyo’s losses came against bowl-eligible teams, six wins over mediocre opponents like Wofford, San Jose State, and New Mexico didn’t exactly give the Pokes much credit. They also didn’t have much of an offense, though it was better than it was in 2017 with future top-10 NFL pick Josh Allen.
UL Monroe (6-6, 4-4 in Sun Belt)
The Warhawks had a year of streaks. They won two in a row to start, then lost four in a row, then won four in a row, then lost two more. That all worked out to produce a solidly middle-of-the-road Sun Belt team, and for ULM, that’s more than fine. It just wasn’t enough to bowl.
The program has only played in one bowl game, so missing out again is certainly disappointing — especially given they got left out of bowl season despite a 6-6 record in 2013.
Also: Liberty’s not bowling at 6-6.
The independent Flames were playing their first year in FBS, when teams were typically ineligible. They’d made a deal with the Cure Bowl but were relying on a scarcity of eligible teams leading to some kind of waiver that would get them eligible. Two of their wins came against FCS teams, and FBS teams are only allowed to count one FCS win toward the total anyway. It was a long shot that they’d find their way in.
Teams hovering around .500 in in the Group of 5 conferences have no bowl guarantees.
When it comes to bowl selections, there are a lot of good teams available. Justifying a .500 team that isn’t in a power conference and didn’t win its conference is tough when there are a lot of worthy teams out there with bigger followings that can help with ticket sales and TV ratings. It’s hard to be a smaller program with a smaller fanbase.
Bowl and TV executives aren’t that worried about team quality in the first place, but they do care about ratings and attendance draws. When there’s a surplus of teams, it’s easy for mid-majors to get shut out. That’s what’s happened to these guys.