For some teams, a bowl game is a given at the start of the season. The Ohio States, Floridas, and USCs of this world only have to care about which bowl and for how much.
For others, there are no guarantees. The prospect of a bowl game is won or lost, dimmed or illuminated, by the way the team plays every Saturday.
These 12 teams are caught precariously between two worlds—the world where football ends during the regular season, and where it continues on in the glorious tradition of the bowl game.
Some of them have surprised us with close victories and are right on the verge of a sixth win.
Some have deeply disappointed us by starting out strong and regressing as the year wears on, and have a lot of work still to do.
Either way, I've examined their schedules and assessed the chances they have of seeing more playing time come December.
Take a look.
The 2008 year for the Wyoming Cowboys was dismal.
They posted only one Mountain West victory over San Diego State. That cost coach Joe Glenn his job. Usually that's not a recipe for a great year.
Instead, the Wyoming Cowboys appeared to have bounced back earlier this season, going 4-3 overall and 2-1 in conference, and posting two MWC victories over New Mexico and UNLV and a close loss to Air Force.
But they've now lost three straight and fallen under .500, including a 52-0 loss to BYU. They need to take care of business against San Diego State and Colorado State in order to stay in the top five of the MWC, and that won't be easy now that all momentum has stopped.
Short of a monumental upset of TCU, the Cowboys are looking at a 6-6 year and a 3-5 in the conference, which ought to be enough to tie up a bid in either the Armed Forces Bowl, New Mexico Bowl, or Humanitarian Bowl.
With new head coach Dan Christiansen and a newly hot, competitive conference, that will still certainly be a huge accomplishment for the Cowboys.
Nobody expected Purdue to do much in Danny Hope's first year.
But after enduring a five-game losing streak, including a failed two-point conversion against Oregon, a painful breakdown in the last minute to Notre Dame, and an egg-laying in the second half of the Northwestern game, Purdue upset Ohio State and dominated Illinois for back-to-back Big Ten wins.
Then came a drubbing at the hands of Wisconsin, 34-0. All appeared lost.
But Purdue rebounded to beat Michigan at Michigan Stadium for the first time since 1966. At 4-6 and 2-3 in conference, the Boilermakers are still two victories away from bowl eligibility.
The next two weeks, Purdue faces Michigan State at home and then the annual battle for the Old Oaken Bucket in the Indiana rivalry game.
Purdue's Joey Elliott has shown he can lead this team to victories, and he'll need to step up big against the tight MSU secondary.
A win against the Spartans would be terrific, and is somewhat plausible. The Spartans have played well, but are 1-2 in road games, and might have trouble running the ball against Purdue's terrific front four.
There's a great chance Purdue is motivated enough to best rival Indiana, secure the bucket, and maybe head to the Insight or Little Caesar's Bowl to make a triumphant return to the postseason.
We'll see if they're up to the challenge.
Sitting at 5-5 and 2-4 in the conference, Iowa State has now put its bowl aspirations in doubt.
Two straight losses to Big 12 foes Texas A&M and Oklahoma State have taken the wind out of Paul Rhoads' young team.
The Cyclones still need one more game to lock up bowl eligibility. The Big 12 conference has eight bowl tie-ins, so they're guaranteed a bid if they can win one more.
But it'll still be tough sledding. The two remaining games are against the Colorado Buffs, and at Missouri.
The Cyclones' best bet for the win is to catch a Colorado program that has played up and down all year. This weekend will determine a lot, and hopefully Rhoads will have his team ready.
Missouri's Blaine Gabbert has resumed his prolific ways, so I wouldn't count on keeping close with Missouri at Faurot Field.
One more win, and the Cyclones are back in the postseason for the first time since 2005, with no hard feelings about the ignominous departure of Gene Chizik.
UCLA (4-5, 1-5) pulled out of their five-game Pac-10 conference nose dive with a win over Washington this weekend.
That leaves two more wins necessary for the Bruins to go bowling, a possibility given their remaining schedule.
Washington State should be no trouble even for the Bruins, as they are last in the conference in rushing and scoring offense and play old maid on the sidelines instead of defense.
That leaves Arizona State and USC.
UCLA can make it a lot easier on themselves if they can just beat the Sun Devils, but ASU has shown some prowess on defense, holding USC to one offensive touchdown in last weekend's 14-9 loss.
The Devils are third best in the conference overall, and should prevent UCLA from generating any easy points. It'll be a defensive battle that the Bruins have to hope ends in their favor.
If not, the 5-6 Bruins come into the USC game needing a win to become bowl-eligible. There's a chance USC will be in the national title hunt. You've seen this once before.
Hey, one ex-USC offensive coordinator has already beaten the Trojans this year, so why shouldn't another?
I'm looking right at you, Norm Chow.
Duke (5-4, 3-2 in conference) has had one of those seasons where a bowl game would be the icing on the cake.
The Blue Devils played competitively in their loss to Virginia Tech, 34-26, putting up 359 passing yards behind the emerging talent of Thaddeus Lewis, and have secured great wins over Army and NC State and a reeling Maryland team.
Two more wins are all the Blue Devils need to reach the postseason, though it may come down to the final game.
They split the series against Virginia and UNC, as expected.
They now face No. 11 Georgia Tech, a probable loss, and No. 19 Miami on the road. Miami has played inconsistently but should prove too much of a threat through the air for the Blue Devils secondary.
That leaves the final game, a home tilt against Wake Forest. If they can best the Demon Deacons at home, they'll be at .500.
I expect they'll hit up either the Emerald, Music City, or Meineke Car Care Bowl, which decide between the fifth, sixth, and seventh ACC teams.
But truly, any bowl is going to boost exposure for the Blue Devils, and be a monumental accomplishment for a team that's had trouble sniffing a single conference win the past five seasons.
Hoosier fans will wryly note that Indiana could already be bowl eligible if it not for the heroics of Tate Forcier in the closing minutes of the Michigan game and the collapse of the Indiana defense at Northwestern this past weekend.
Change the outcome of this game, and the Hoosiers are 6-2, 3-1 in the Big Ten, and...competitive for the title?
Unfortunately, the breaks didn't go their way, and now the Hoosiers (4-6, 1-3 in conference) need a miracle to capture bowl eligibility for the first time since Terry Hoeppner's passing in 2007.
They came damn close against Wisconsin this weekend, losing by a field goal, 28-31.
They now face Penn State on the road before challenging Purdue for the Old Oaken Bucket in the year's final game.
If they can come up with a win against the reeling Nittany Lions, who are still looking for answers after the 28-7 loss to the Buckeyes, they'd need an act of God.
To do that, wide receiver Tandon Doss and Darius Willis have to have monster games and quarterback Ben Chappell will have to make good decisions on the option read and play a mistake-free game out of the pistol.
If they lose to the Nittany Lions, its curtains.
Marshall hasn't reached a bowl since 2004. In that span, Mark Snyder is 16-31 as head coach. And for the winningest program in Division 1-A in the '90s, that drought has been extremely agonizing.
The good news is, this year the Thundering Herd are 5-4, 3-2 in Conference USA play, and have posted good wins over Southern Illinois and Memphis, and a close loss to C-USA conference leader East Carolina.
Losses against a good Southern Miss team and a resilient UTEP team are probable, but victory is not out of the question. Running back Darius Marshall leads C-USA in rushing in yards and touchdowns and could contend for C-USA player of the year if Marshall can post a better than .500 record.
Regardless, they should beat the teams they ought to beat the rest of the year, and the one necessary win to bowl eligibility shouldn't elude them.
They lost to UCF on the road a week ago, and now face a retooled Southern Miss team and 3-4 SMU in two weeks. A win in either of those games ties it up for good, but it won't come easy. Darius Marshall has to pound out a win on the ground for the Thundering Herd.
A bowl game will go a long way to continuing Snyder's tenure, for good or ill.
The Temple Owls have not had a winning season since 1990, and haven't been competitive in the MAC conference since joining in 2007.
Now, they've shown unbelievable improvement over their 0-11, 1-11, 4-8, and 5-7 seasons the past four years, and now lead the MAC East division at 4-0, 7-3 overall.
Besides the close loss to Villanova and the closer-than-it-looks 31-6 loss at Penn State, Temple is now bowl eligible and could contend for the MAC title under fourth year coach Al Golden, the former defensive coordinator at Virginia under Al Groh.
The Temple Owls beat Navy, the same Navy team that just beat Notre Dame, on the strength of that 15th ranked rush defense.
Temple can now refocus its energy on winning against the remaining MAC schedule.
They won a close game against Miami (OH) and will be favored against Akron, Kent State, and Ohio, as long as breakout sensation Bernard Pierce keeps rolling up yards. The Temple freshman leads the conference in yards and touchdowns and was instrumental in Temple's victory over Toledo last week.
Success in the MAC championship would put Temple in the Little Caesar's Bowl, the cream of the MAC bids, which is a great accomplishment after almost a twenty year drought and would cement Golden's spot as coach for the foreseeable future.
Anyone ready to close the door on the Greg Paulus experiment at Syracuse is hereby encouraged to wait one more week.
That's because Syracuse is just, just, on the verge of breaking even and capturing one of the six Big East bowl bids.
This would be a huge accomplishment for the men of Orange, who didn't even sniff the postseason in all four years under head coach Greg Robinson.
At 3-6 and 0-4 in conference, that overtime loss to Minnesota suddenly smarts a little bit more. Because now, it will definitely take some work to get to .500.
They've got an away game at Louisville, a home game against Rutgers and the final away game at UConn left.
Louisville is the worst team in the Big East and possibly the country, so that game is a must-win for the Orange.
That leaves Rutgers and UConn, both teams that have shown flashes of brilliance on defense and offense.
Syracuse must take care of Louisville, Rutgers, and UConn in order for the Orangemen to reach the postseason in Doug Marrone's first year. If not, the Greg Paulus Experiment will die a grisly death.
Anyone paying attention to the preseason meltdown that was the Kansas State athletic department was just holding their breath for the impending collapse that was going to transpire on the football field.
Administrators were getting fired for embezzlement, Ron Prince was demanding buyout money from his contract, and it appeared as though Bill Snyder had inherited a dysfunctional grandson that was going to put him into an early grave.
I mean, really, when was the last time a coach came back out of retirement to head the same football program he retired from, a program coming off back-to-back sub-.500 seasons, that had seen neither hide nor hair of the postseason since 2006 and was, for all intents and purposes, dead on arrival?
Instead, the steadying influence of Snyder has Kansas State leading the Big 12 North at 4-2, 6-4 overall, with a win over the Kansas Jayhawks tipping the Wildcats into bowlland.
They could finish at 9-3, 6-6, 5-7...who knows? What matters is, they're in. Now it's up to them which bowl.
Time was the Stanford Cardinal were in a position to compete for their first Pac-10 conference title in ten years. Toby Gerhart was rolling over opponents and the Cardinal were undefeated and tied for the best overall record in the Pac-10, despite the bad loss to Wake Forest on the road.
Then came a loss to Oregon State, their first in the Pac-10. OK, excusable. Then another Pac-10 loss, to Arizona, by five points. Upsetting.
Now, after the upset win over Oregon, Stanford (6-3, 5-2) has reached bowl eligibility in Jim Harbaugh's third year.
They could bake an even prettier cake with wins over USC, Cal or Notre Dame.
Toby Gerhart needs to remain healthy, and quarterback Andrew Luck needs to continue building on his success so far to sweeten whatever bowl pluckings they receive.
Congrats, Coach Harbaugh. I tip my Michigan hat to you (even if you hate our program now).
At 5-5, I still have faith my Wolverines will make the postseason in some capacity.
But it's blind, dumb, ill-informed, miracle-expecting faith that requires defying every statistical trend to date.
The Wolverines have been outgained in every Big Ten game they've played to date, and recently, they've been outcoached as well.
The offense has regressed since the Notre Dame game, and with the lack of a resounding win in Big Ten play, I'm not certain our sixth win is possible.
The Wolverines, 0-3 in road games on the year, are off to Madison, Wisconsin, where the Badgers will run wild on Michigan's undersized D-line and linebackers and O'Brien Schofield will reconcuss Tate Forcier on an ill-advised scramble. The Wolverines haven't won in Madison since 2001.
That leaves Ohio State. The one game that will make all of the bad stuff go away. All the firing talk, the losing streak, the recruiting advantage. Everything.
We can do it. God, I hope we can.