The likelihood of the 35 bowl games not having enough .500-or-better teams to choose from lessened in Saturday’s early slate of games. Week 13 began with 61 bowl eligible teams, and 16 teams with work to do to reach six wins. Central Michigan won on Friday to bring the bowl eligible total to 62; SMU, Purdue and Virginia Tech joined the Chippewas with wins.
Virginia Tech stumbled through an ugly defeat of in-commonwealth rival Virginia, 17-14. It may have been ugly on the offensive end, but the win was landmark: the Hokies extended their control of the Commonwealth Cup to nine years, and the program’s bowl game streak to 20.
Fittingly, the Hokie defense and special teams won this game when a late interception led to Cody Journell’s game-winning, 29-yard field goal.
Logan Thomas sputtered through another sub-par passing game, going 18-38 for all of 129 yards. He didn’t turn the ball over, though, and added 89 yards via his capable legs. That was sufficient to lead Tech, including on a crucial, 85-yard drive that culminated in the game-tying touchdown. Thomas entered the season with Heisman Trophy buzz, which quickly turned to criticism. Still, he may have gone out a winner in Tech’s rivalry series — draftnik Mel Kiper Jr. reportedly still likes Thomas’ NFL potential for 2013.
Thomas has yet to make a decision on his football career, but with today’s win he will play at the college level at least once more. The Hokies are in play for the Russell Athletic Bowl, a possibility opened when Miami self-imposed a bowl ban:
This turn of events means that Virginia Tech, if it reaches 6-6, re-enters our picture. Hokies have H2H vs. Duke and Georgia Tech.
— RussellAthleticBowl (@RussellAthBowl) November 19, 2012
Purdue had a much better offensive outing in its trophy-winning, bowl-sealing outcome. Boiler head coach Danny Hope went firmly on the hot seat last month after falling to 0-4 in the Big Ten in a blowout loss to Minnesota, but his team rallied to win its final three, including today’s 56-35 drubbing of rival Indiana for the Old Oaken Bucket.
A revolving door at quarterback has exemplified the Boilers’ troubles this season, and on Saturday two saw opportunities. The two-quarterback game plan worked out just fine, though, as Rob Marve went 20-29 with four touchdowns and Rob Henry’s one completion was good for a score. Henry also tacked on a rushing touchdown.
Marve and running back Akeem Shavers connected for a pair of scores, and Shavers rushed for another. The Boilers have some nice momentum heading into the postseason.
With 13 wins in its last 16 tries against Indiana, Purdue was expected to win on Saturday. SMU’s road to bowl eligibility was much less certain. The Mustangs struggled all season, losing perplexing games to Tulane and Rice in manifestations of the friction between June Jones and the athletic department. With Tulsa sporting Conference USA’s best record, it seemed SMU’s bowl game streak would end at three.
But a torrid pace gave the Mustangs the cushion necessary to endure a 15-0 Golden Hurricane fourth quarter. Cushions were the theme of the quarter — a Tulsa Hail Mary reception on the game’s final play nearly crossed the goal, but fell just short. Tulsa is still headed to the C-USA championship game, while the SMU win guarantees the West division at least two bowl game participants. Rice will play for a third Saturday against UTEP.
Editor’s note: Tulsa will face UCF, which appealed its one-year NCAA bowl ban. The appeal the university filed earlier this year still looked iffy for the possibility of a Golden Knight bowl bid, but C-USA will indeed allow UCF to play for its league championship.
Another league leader suffered a loss that kept a conference member’s bowl hopes alive with Pitt’s domination of Rutgers. The Panthers completely blindsided Big East-leading Rutgers with a 21-point second quarter in a snowy Heinz Stadium. The Panthers have shown steady progress since a shaky start to Paul Chryst’s tenure, most notably the unappreciated evolution of Tino Sunseri.
Once wildly inconsistent, Sunseri has had a steady campaign. He went another game without throwing an interception, while tossing two Panther TDs. Pitt can reach six wins in its finale against the Big East’s last place team, USF. In an odd way, Pitt benefited from its loss to Youngstown State in Week 1. The Panthers plugged the hole West Virginia’s departure from the Big East left with Gardner-Webb — that’s two FCS opponents on the docket. Teams with two wins over FCS opponents must reach seven overall wins to gain bowl eligibility.
As it stands, Pitt would have the necessary five victories against Bowl Subdivision competition should it beat USF.
Fellow Big East member UConn will also be playing for its bowl life in the regular season finale next week. The Huskies played an outstanding three quarters of defensive football, survived both giving up 10 points in the fourth and the gutsy effort of a banged-up Teddy Bridgewater, then outlasted the Cardinals in three overtimes to extend their record to 5-6.
Since going on a four-game skid that seemingly put to bed any hope of returning to the postseason, UConn has rallied for two impressive wins. Cincinnati awaits next week.