25 Teams with the Most to Prove Before Bowl Season

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIINovember 20, 2012

25 Teams with the Most to Prove Before Bowl Season

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    With the 2012 season almost completely finished, we now have a clear picture of what everyone in contention needs to do to make a good impression on the bowl selection committees. From teams who are 5-6 with one last shot at bowl season to one-loss teams with national championship hopes, there are at least 25 with something to prove during both rivalry weekend and championship weekend.

    With so much chaos at the top of the BCS Rankings, there are two things we know:

    1. The playoff system can't come soon enough.

    2. Nobody in the top five is “locked” into the title game yet.

    Here are the 25 teams with the most to prove over the next two weeks.

25. Marshall Thundering Herd

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    Marshall hails from Conference USA, and the Herd have one last opportunity to make the postseason. That opportunity comes against the 7-4 East Carolina Pirates, led by Ruffin McNeill.

    Marshall is a win away from bowl season, and the Herd can make a serious impression on the selection committee with a win over the upper-tier Pirates. (Upper tier in C-USA's East Division.)

    The Herd accomplished that last year in overtime. Another thrilling victory would give them a bowl game for the second year in a row.

24. Rice Owls

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    After a disappointing 1-5 start to the season, the Rice Owls reeled off four wins out of the next five games to bring on a potential bowl game scenario.

    Rice takes on UTEP (3-8) Nov. 24. A win there will put the Owls at the requisite six-win mark for postseason consideration.

    Rice's late-season surge has left its fans questioning whether the Owls are that good or just that lucky. The answer is coming in Week 13.

23. SMU Mustangs

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    SMU has managed to limp to a 5-6 record as well. The Mustangs face a similar situation as the Missouri Tigers, but we will get to them a bit later.

    SMU faces the 9-2 Tulsa Golden Hurricane for a chance to pull an upset that lasts into December. A win over the divisional champion would certainly send a message to the rest of the conference about what to expect next season.

    SMU absolutely destroyed the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Compass Bowl last season after a seven-win regular season.

    SMU has a golden opportunity (wah, wah, waaaaahh) against Tulsa Nov. 24. A win would certainly put the Mustangs on the map as far as bowl selection goes.

22. Purdue Boilermakers

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    Purdue was expected to have some sort of a breakout season this year, and the Boilermakers can still give the fans something that they have only seen once since 2008: a bowl appearance.

    Purdue won the Little Caesar's Bowl last season over Western Michigan. The Boilermakers failed to improve on that season in 2012, though. That's disappointing, but tolerable if they can take down 4-7 Indiana in Week 13.

    Purdue still has far to go before contending for the Big Ten title, but salvaging the season by making it to the postseason would definitely prove that they are at least not moving backward.

21. Michigan State Spartans

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    Michigan State suffered a severe drop-off after losing Kirk Cousins to the Washington Redskins. While the drop was expected to hurt the Spartans a bit, a 5-6 record entering rivalry weekend was not.

    In the Spartans' defense, five of those six losses were lost by a combined 13 points. That's right, the Spartans are that close to being a 10-1 team that only lost to Notre Dame.

    The question remains, is Michigan State going to make the postseason? Sparty faces off against 6-5 Minnesota Nov. 24. With a win, the season can at least last into the middle of December.

    With a loss, the Spartans can focus all of their energy on improving the offense for next season. With a win, the Spartans will prove themselves as bowl-eligible even during a rebuilding year.

20. Ole Miss Rebels

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    Ole Miss has been a huge surprise in the SEC to most people. After Hugh Freeze put Arkansas State on the map in his first year as head coach, his performance with SEC-caliber recruits shouldn't be all that shocking.

    Hugh Freeze is a ridiculously talented head coach, and he should not be underestimated in the coming years. Ole Miss will not be a punching bag much longer; LSU just found that out the hard way last week.

    Ole Miss still has a lot to prove, and making a bowl game would certainly do that as well as anything. With everything that's happened this season (including a near-win at LSU), Ole Miss has already proved a lot this year.

    That's why the Rebels appear so low on this list.

19. Missouri Tigers

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    Another team hailing from the SEC in the “something to prove” category is Missouri. Of the two SEC newcomers, Missouri was expected to fare much better than the Texas A&M Aggies (more on them later).

    Missouri has amassed a current 5-6 record, much like many teams on this list. With its last game coming against Texas A&M during rivalry weekend, the Tigers' road to a bowl game is one of the most treacherous in the land.

    After the records have clearly made Texas A&M the favorite in this game, the head-to-head match could change that answer.

    Missouri has a lot to prove if it wants to find the postseason, and a win over the Aggies would definitely do that.

18. Virginia Tech Hokies

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    What is there to say about Virginia Tech? If you are looking for a team with something to prove, here it is. Virginia Tech was No. 16 in the Preseason AP Poll. After starting the season with back-to-back wins, the Hokies found themselves at No. 13.

    That's when it happened. Virginia Tech proceeded to lose to everyone on its schedule except Bowling Green, Duke and Boston College.

    With a 5-6 record, Virginia Tech has to be at least a little happy that the scheduled opponent is Virginia. If there's a team the Hokies can beat, it's 4-7 Virginia.

    With the season's expectations already lost, the Hokies would do their fans a favor by at least making it to the postseason. That's definitely something worth proving.

17. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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    Wake Forest has not been very successful since the 2008 season ended, but last year's appearance in the Music City Bowl certainly signified that things were looking up for the Deacons. (The losing streak late in the season did give cause for suspicion, though.)

    After starting the season 3-1, the Deacons have been on the receiving end of a few butt-kickings. The Deacons have one final game to prove that things are looking up for the team as a whole. The major issue with that is the opponent.

    Wake Forest hosts Vanderbilt with everything on the line. With a victory, the Deacons can move into bowl season with a chance to prove that this year is better. (A bowl win would be better than last year's bowl loss.)

    Unfortunately, the Deacons are hosting a Commodores team that has only lost four games so far this season. Three of those losses came to top 10 teams, and two of those losses were by a combined 18 points.

    Wake Forest has a lot to prove, and the Commodores will certainly make them prove it on the field this week.

16. Baylor Bears

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    Baylor has already proved that it can hang with some of the best teams in the nation. However, between now and bowl season, the Bears take on Texas Tech and No. 21 Oklahoma State.

    Baylor did something that nobody expected it to do until at least next year: It played defense against Kansas State.

    Baylor has had offense all season long, but the defense was lacking. As a result, the Bears are 5-5 with one major victory over then-No. 1 Kansas State.

    Baylor can prove that its win over the Wildcats was not a fluke. With Texas Tech and Oklahoma State coming up, the Bears can also win their way right into the postseason.

    Two more straight victories would also put the Bears right around fifth place in the conference, which would put them in a much better bowl game than a simple six-win season would.

15. West Virginia Mountaineers

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    West Virginia falls into the exact same range as Baylor. The major difference is that West Virginia was expected to be a much bigger factor in the Big 12 race than the Bears.

    West Virginia started the season with a five-win streak that landed them at No. 5 in the AP Poll after that fifth win. After that, West Virginia decided to make a mirror image of the first half of the season by reeling off a five-game losing streak.

    With all hopes of a conference championship already lost, the Mountaineers have one thing left to prove. They can prove that they are a great fit for the Big 12 by simply taking down the remaining two teams on their schedule: Iowa State and Kansas.

    Iowa State should be a tough test, but Kansas is 1-10 on the season. If West Virginia can't roll right on by Kansas, there are a lot of people that will be in shock.

14. Pittsburgh Panthers

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    Pittsburgh got off to a rough start, but turned a corner with the upset of then-No. 13 Virginia Tech.

    Pitt went on to compete with the likes of Syracuse, Louisville and now-No. 1 Notre Dame. Pittsburgh is a good football team, but there is much still for the Panthers to prove.

    Entering Week 13 with a 4-6 record leaves no room for error. To make the postseason, Pitt must reel off back-to-back wins against No. 18 Rutgers and 3-7 South Florida.

    While the South Florida game looks highly possible, that Rutgers bout is a Big East heavyweight showdown.

13. No. 20 Louisville Cardinals

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    Louisville was once the Big East favorite not only for the conference title, but to end the season undefeated with an outside shot at the BCS title game. Granted, that "outside shot" looks much more realistic with only one eligible team currently standing undefeated.

    Louisville has only dropped one game this season, but it was a blowout loss to the Syracuse Orange. The one thing Louisville needs to prove is that it's better than Rutgers.

    If the Cardinals can do that, then a BCS at-large bid is all theirs. Louisville meets Rutgers Dec. 1 this season, and the battle will be for the Big East title.

    Louisville has a lot to prove, but it can all be settled in the final showdown of the season. Without the win over Rutgers, a BCS bowl is simply out of reach this year.

12. Connecticut Huskies

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    Connecticut is one of only two teams on this list with a 4-6 record. With so much going on at the top of the rankings, it's easy to miss the fact that there are some serious bowl-season underdogs in the Big East.

    With two games left to play, Connecticut needs to win out just to make any bowl at all. What really stinks for the Huskies is that those games are against No. 20 Louisville and Cincinnati.

    Of all the games of the season to need to win, these are among the worst. Connecticut is not mathematically eliminated from the postseason yet, but the Huskies will have to prove that they can play some serious football to get there.

11. No. 18 Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    Although these games have already been mentioned, Rutgers faces Pittsburgh and Louisville over the next two weeks.

    After a disappointing loss to the Kent State Golden Flashes, Rutgers removed itself from the BCS title conversation altogether. No, the Big East isn't exactly the country's top pick to contend for a national title, but the Scarlet Knights would absolutely have to be in the discussion at this point.

    Maybe they wouldn't be considered better than some of the BCS top five, but they would be the nation's biggest controversy right now. As it stands, there would be an all-SEC title game before Rutgers would be allowed in with one loss.

    Rutgers needs to continue to prove that the Kent State loss was just a fluke. Granted, Kent State is highly underrated, but Rutgers needs to win out to get into a BCS bowl as Big East champion.

10. Texas Longhorns

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    Texas got a major win over the Texas Tech Red Raiders, and the Longhorns also only lost to the West Virginia Mountaineers by three points back when the Mountaineers were on their winning streak.

    Texas was supposed to have a great defense this year, but it took a while coming together as a unit. Over the past three games, Texas has allowed no more than 22 points to any team.

    Texas has a lot to prove on the defensive side of the ball before bowl season rolls around. The Longhorns will get that opportunity against two great offenses over the next two weeks. Dominating TCU and Kansas State defensively will go a long way toward proving that Texas's defense is more than just inconsistently good.

9. No. 15 Oregon State Beavers

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    Oregon State has had an amazing year, especially by the Beavers' standards. Yes, the Beavers are working toward Pac-12 title contention, but the marked improvement seen in 2012 was not expected just yet.

    The Beavers may not be able to make it to the conference championship game this season due to the two losses they have accrued so far, but they still have plenty to prove.

    Oregon State's two losses came by a combined seven points to Washington and Stanford. The Washington game was easily winnable with a quarterback substitution sooner than it occurred, and the Stanford game was simply a case of the defense not locking down until Stanford had gotten out to a 14-point lead in the first quarter.

    Oregon State has a lot to prove as far as Pac-12 title contention is concerned. However, with the Civil War looming during rivalry weekend, the Beavers will have their shot at finishing second in the Pac-12 North Division.

8. No. 8 Stanford Cardinal

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    Stanford won a stunning overtime game against the Oregon Ducks in Week 12. By defeating both Oregon and USC, Stanford proved that it didn't need Andrew Luck to be successful in the Pac-12.

    In turn, Stanford proved that it still has work to do by losing to the Washington Huskies by four points in Week 5. While many might say Stanford's loss to Notre Dame proved it still had work to do, Notre Dame is No. 1 in the BCS right now.

    Stanford still has a lot to prove before bowl season. This week, the Cardinal will face the No. 17 UCLA Bruins, who are the Pac-12 South Division champions. If Stanford wins that game, it will advance to the Pac-12 title game to face the Bruins for the second week straight.

    If Stanford can pull down back-to-back wins against the Bruins, the Rose Bowl is its destination. That's a lot to prove in only two weeks' time, though.

7. No. 10 Florida State Seminoles

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    Florida State is still haunted by its heartbreaking loss to the NC State Wolfpack by one point. Without that loss, Florida State would be either No. 1 or No. 2 in the BCS right now.

    The reason that Florida State is so haunted by that loss is because the Seminoles have faced a weak schedule in the ACC. The only team they beat that meant anything was Clemson, who they beat in a shootout that left the Seminoles' defense as a giant question mark on the field.

    Other than Clemson, none of Florida State's opponents were ranked at the time they played. None of them are currently ranked, either. That's why Florida State has so much to prove before bowl season.

    Of course, with No. 4 Florida on the docket for rivalry weekend, the Seminoles will have the opportunity to prove that the NC State loss was undeniably a fluke. Right now, everyone assumes it was a fluke, but the level of competition really hasn't helped the 'Noles prove it beyond all doubt.

6. No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs

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    Georgia has proved itself throughout the season with wins over everyone on its schedule except for the South Carolina Gamecocks. The 35-7 rout by the Cocks put Georgia's potential national championship in serious question.

    Georgia turned around and defeated then-No. 2 Florida 17-9. Maybe it wasn't the best win in the world, but that really doesn't matter when you take down No. 2.

    Georgia has to prove that it's really worthy of national title contention. While Georgia Tech is in the lists this week, the real test will come against the SEC West Division champion during championship weekend.

    Whoever that may be, Georgia will have the opportunity to prove that its strength of schedule supports its appearance in the BCS title match.

5. No. 5 Oregon Ducks

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    Oregon is in one of the worst positions of any of the national title contenders. While the rest of the top three are in control of their own destinies, Oregon's potential appearance in Miami hinges on Stanford's performance against UCLA this week.

    What is in Oregon's control is its performance in the Civil War this Thanksgiving weekend. Oregon can theoretically jump over the Florida Gators if they win big enough over the Beavers. Especially if the Gators only squeak by the Florida State Seminoles.

    Oregon needs to hope that Stanford drops the UCLA game. If Oregon can prove itself against Oregon State and UCLA, the Ducks are just a few lucky breaks away from a national championship appearance.

    It all starts with the Civil War.

4. No. 6 Kansas State Wildcats

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    Kansas State has dug itself a gigantic hole that's the size of the SEC championship game. Kansas State only has the Texas Longhorns left on its schedule.

    Somehow, with only one win, the Wildcats need to prove that they are more worthy of a title game berth than Oregon, Florida, Georgia or Alabama. (Proving that they are more worthy than Notre Dame is simply not going to happen.)

    That's not likely, but losses by a few of those teams are definitely possible. In the meantime, Kansas State would do itself a huge favor by blowing the Texas Longhorns out and shutting down their offense.

    Nobody in front of the Wildcats is invincible. Kansas State needs to prove that it simply had a bad game. Kansas State is in a slightly different boat from the Oregon Ducks, but it's very similar.

    With a few key losses over the next couple of weeks, the Wildcats could get back into the game. Proving that they are worthy is a tall order, but it isn't impossible.

3. No. 4 Florida Gators

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    Florida has zero chance of being the champion of its conference. The rivalry games for both SEC East Division leaders are cross-conference. With Georgia owning the head-to-head over Florida, the Gators will be watching the conference title game on T.V.

    Florida can still get to the national championship game, but it will take some luck as well as skill. Florida must beat the Florida State Seminoles soundly to prove that the No. 4 ranking is appropriate.

    Outside of that, Notre Dame needs to lose and Oregon must perform poorly enough that it can't jump over the Florida Gators by winning the Pac-12. (That's only possible if Stanford loses to UCLA this week.)

    As much as the nation may boycott an all-SEC national championship, it's almost the only way that Florida can get in. The only other way would be if Alabama and Georgia both took losses before bowl season.

    Florida needs to prove that it is much better than Florida State to keep the human voters from putting the Gators below Oregon to keep the all-SEC title game from happening. That can only happen if Florida proves that its offense is back to performing on a championship level like its defense.

2. No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Notre Dame has already proved that it is worthy of national title consideration. A win over rival USC is the only roadblock between the Irish and the BCS title game.

    Notre Dame doesn't really have anything left to prove as far as what its team is made of. Everybody knows the defense is tight and the offense is just good enough to win every game it's been faced with so far.

    The lingering doubt in people's minds is simply whether the Pittsburgh overtime win is evidence that the Irish are about to lose to the Trojans. Notre Dame has to prove that it's capable of remaining undefeated, especially since the Trojans have bottomed out of the top 25.

    Notre Dame has earned every bit of the No. 1 ranking it currently enjoys. The only thing left to prove is that it can specifically beat USC. It's beaten everyone else on the schedule, including Stanford. (Stanford beat USC and Oregon, so that's a huge plus for the Irish.)

    Notre Dame is one game away from proving that it's worthy of playing the national championship after many years of absence. There is only one team in the nation with more riding on the next two weeks of football.

1. No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Alabama suffered a loss to one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. In the process, the Tide made sure that their entire secondary looked as weak as possible.

    Alabama let the Texas A&M Aggies get out to a 20-point lead in the first quarter, spent the rest of the game playing catch-up, and finally fell short due to some poor execution combined with some poor play-calling.

    Alabama's secondary is questionable, and the Tide haven't even clinched the SEC West Division yet. The Iron Bowl is one of the biggest rivalry games in all of college football, and it rarely plays out like the charts say it should.

    Alabama has to beat Auburn in order to make it to the SEC championship game. When the Tide get there, they have to prove that the secondary has learned from its mistakes and can shut down Aaron Murray.

    On top of that, the offense has to prove that it can get past a defense like Georgia's. While the Tide may look like they are poised for the national title game perfectly, the roadblocks in the way are some of the biggest roadblocks in the nation.

    Alabama raised a ton of questions with that Texas A&M loss, therefore the Tide have the most to prove. At least they are not dependent on anyone else's results but their own.