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November 19, 2008

Rivals.com bowl bubble watch

More: Rivals.com updated 2008 bowl projections

In the span of a month, Rutgers has gone from one of the nation's most disappointing teams to one of the season's biggest surprises.

After dropping five of their first six games, the Scarlet Knights have reeled off four consecutive victories and are one win away from bowl eligibility.

Rutgers isn't the only team hoping a late surge results in an unexpected postseason appearance. The struggles of preseason ACC favorite Clemson resulted in former coach Tommy Bowden's departure, but the Tigers revived their bowl hopes by winning two of their past three games. Clemson (5-5) can become bowl eligible by winning its last two games.

Here's an alphabetical list of teams with five wins this season. We'll update the list each week.

Rivals.com Bowl Bubble Watch
AKRON (5-5)
Remaining schedule: Saturday at Ohio, Nov. 28 at Temple
Why they will make it: Akron has a red-hot running back in Dennis Kennedy, who has rushed for at least 142 yards in four consecutive games. Although Akron's last three games are away from home, the Zips already have won on the road four times this season.
Why they won't: Akron needs Kennedy to control the clock because the Zips can't stop anyone. Akron is 100th in the nation in total defense and has given up at least 30 points in four consecutive games.
AUBURN (5-6)
Remaining schedule: Nov. 29 at Alabama
Why they will make it: Auburn seemed like a team ready to mail it in a few weeks ago, but the Tigers have shown much more toughness in their past six quarters of play. Auburn scored the last 17 points in a 37-20 victory over Tennessee-Martin and gave Georgia all it could handle before falling 17-13 last weekend. Auburn has beaten Alabama six times in a row and could have a psychological edge if the Iron Bowl remains close in the fourth quarter.
Why they won't: Auburn hasn't beaten a quality opponent this season. It's hard to imagine the Tigers pulling an upset against an Alabama team that will be motivated to keep its national title hopes alive and end its recent history of frustration in this rivalry.
Remaining schedule: Friday vs. Buffalo, Nov. 28 at Toledo
Why they will make it: Bowling Green's favorable schedule should result in at least one more win. The Falcons get Buffalo at home before traveling to Toledo, which has lost six of its past seven games.
Why they won't: The Falcons should beat Toledo, but the MAC might end up with more bowl-eligible teams than bowl tie-ins. If that happens, Bowling Green could get left out of the postseason even if it finishes 6-6.
Clemson (5-5)
Remaining schedule: Saturday at Virginia, Nov. 29 vs. South Carolina
Why they will make it: Clemson's offense finally is starting to play the way most people expected it would perform all season. The Tigers scored 27 points in back-to-back games against Boston College and Florida State both ranked among the top eight in the nation in total defense and gained 466 yards last week in a 31-7 rout of Duke.
Why they won't: Because two of its wins came against Football Championship Subdivision teams, Clemson needs seven wins to qualify for a bowl and therefore can't afford any more losses. Both of Clemson's remaining opponents have plenty of motivation. Virginia is one win away from becoming bowl eligible, while South Carolina probably needs to beat Clemson to reach a New Year's Day bowl.
Remaining schedule: Nov. 28 at Nebraska
Why they will make it: Quarterback Cody Hawkins regained his starting job and has broken out of his season-long slump. Hawkins has thrown five touchdown passes with no interceptions in his past two games, and he came off the bench two weeks ago and rallied the Buffaloes to a come-from-behind victory over Iowa State.
Why they won't: Colorado seems unlikely to win at Nebraska, which has won four of its past five games - with the only loss coming to Oklahoma. Nebraska's defense will be particularly eager for revenge after getting embarrassed in a 65-51 loss to Colorado last season.
Remaining schedule: Saturday at Wyoming
Why they will make it: A defense that has struggled all season finally showed signs of life last week in a 20-6 victory over New Mexico. Running back Gartrell Johnson has rushed for at least 100 yards in three of his past four games.
Why they won't: Johnson may have trouble finding running room against a Wyoming defense that has allowed less than 3.5 yards per carry in each of its past five games. Wyoming also could be motivated by the plight of beleaguered coach Joe Glenn.
Remaining schedule: Saturday at Arkansas State, Nov. 29 vs. Florida International
Why they will make it: FAU has won four in a row and is playing better than any team in the Sun Belt. The Owls scored more than 17 points in just one of their first six games, but they've averaged 34.8 points per game during the winning streak and broke the 40-point mark in each of the past two games.
Why they won't: Arkansas State and Florida International still have postseason hopes of their own. FIU should be particularly motivated after losing to the Owls by at least 31 points each of the past two seasons.
HAWAII (5-5)
Remaining schedule: Saturday vs. Idaho, Nov. 29 vs. Washington State, Dec. 6 vs. Cincinnati
Why they will make it: Hawaii benefits from having its last three games at home, where it owns an 18-2 record the past three seasons. Two of those games are against Idaho and Washington State, which are a combined 3-19.
Why they won't: Because it plays a 13-game schedule, Hawaii actually has to win two more to become bowl eligible. Hawaii probably needs to win its next two games because the Warriors might not have enough firepower to keep up with Cincinnati.
Remaining schedule: Saturday at Northwestern
Why they will make it: Although Northwestern has a better record than Illinois, the Illini have a good chance of beating the injury-riddled Wildcats. Illinois whipped Northwestern 41-22 last season.
Why they won't: Illinois quarterback Juice Williams has thrown eight interceptions in his past four games. If he doesn't take better care of the ball, his team will stay home for the holidays.
Remaining schedule: Saturday at Troy, Dec. 3 vs. Middle Tennessee
Why they will make it: Troy might be due for a letdown after blowing a 28-point lead against LSU last week. Tyrell Fenroy could run wild against a Middle Tennessee defense allowing 4.1 yards per carry.
Why they won't: Louisiana-Lafayette has lost two in a row and must face the Sun Belt leader (Troy) and a Middle Tennessee team on a two-game winning streak. Quarterback Michael Desormeaux has thrown five interceptions during the Ragin' Cajuns' two-game skid.
Remaining schedule: vs. Cincinnati, vs. West Virginia, at Rutgers
Why they will make it: The Cardinals' eighth-ranked run defense makes them better equipped than most teams to handle West Virginia's high-powered rushing attack.
Why they won't: West Virginia and Rutgers are playing better than Louisville right now. Both also have plenty of motivation. West Virginia still has a chance to win the Big East and Rutgers has played its way into bowl contention.
Remaining schedule: Nov. 22 vs. UCF, Nov. 29 vs. Tulane
Why they will make it: Memphis has won two in a row and stays at home the next two weeks to face teams with a combined record of 5-15.
Why they won't: MemphisMemphis' defense gives its offense little margin for error against anyone. The Tigers have allowed at least 26 points in five consecutive games.
Remaining schedule: Saturday vs. Army, Dec. 4 vs. Louisville
Why they will make it: Rutgers is one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Scarlet Knights have won four consecutive games, against Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and USF. They've won their past three games by an average margin of 23.7 points. And their next game is against a struggling Army team.
Why they won't: Rutgers ranks seventh in the Big East in run defense and could have a tough time containing Army's Collin Mooney, the nation's 11th-leading rusher. Rutgers also needs to make sure quarterback Mike Teel doesn't revert to his early season form. Teel has 12 touchdown passes and five interceptions during this winning streak, but he had seven interceptions and three touchdown passes beforehand.
Remaining schedule: Nov. 29 at SMU
Why they will make it: The Golden Eagles are playing their best football of the season and carry a three-game winning streak into the game at SMU, which hasn't beaten a FBS (i.e., Division I-A) team all season. Running back Damion Fletcher should have a field day against an SMU defense that ranks 118th in the nation against the run.
Why they won't: Rice quarterback Chase Clement threw for 444 yards and six touchdowns against Southern Miss earlier this season, so the Golden Eagles might struggle against SMU coach June Jones' pass-oriented attack. Still, it's really hard to imagine how Southern Miss could fail to earn its sixth win.
Remaining schedule: Saturday at California
Why they will make it: Stanford led Oregon until the final minute two weeks ago and was tied with USC at halftime last week. If the Cardinal play equally well against California, they have a decent shot to beat their archrivals for a second consecutive season.
Why they won't: Stanford doesn't have much offense beyond star running back Toby Gerhart. If Cal takes an early lead and forces the Cardinal to rely on their passing attack, Stanford may as well start packing its gear.
UNLV (5-6)
Remaining schedule: Saturday at San Diego State
Why they will make it: UNLV has won two in a row and is facing a San Diego State team that has dropped seven in a row by an average margin of 32.7 points.
Why they won't: UNLV shouldn't have much problem winning at San Diego State, but the Mountain West Conference's relative paucity of bowl tie-ins prevents UNLV from being assured of a postseason invitation with a 6-6 record. If Colorado State and UNLV both finish 6-6, one of those teams will be left out of the mix.
UTEP (5-6)
Remaining schedule: Saturday at Houston, Nov. 28 at East Carolina
Why they will make it: UTEP has won two consecutive games and has scored at least 35 points in each of its past four contests. Trevor Vittatoe has thrown 22 touchdown passes and only two interceptions over his past six games.
Why they won't: The Miners close the season on the road against Houston and East Carolina, teams leading their respective divisions in Conference USA. East Carolina's defense may be good enough to slow Vittatoe, and UTEP's defense probably isn't strong enough to contain Houston quarterback Case Keenum, who ranks second in the nation in total offense.
Remaining schedule: Nov. 22 vs. Clemson, Nov. 29 at Virginia Tech
Why they will make it: The winner of the Clemson-Virginia game likely earns the ACC's last bowl bid. Virginia benefits from being at home, and its talented linebacker corps could give Clemson's inconsistent offense plenty of problems.
Why they won't: Virginia has endured a roller-coaster season. The Cavaliers lost four of their first five games before winning four in a row. Now that they've lost back-to-back games, against Miami and Wake Forest, the Cavaliers appear back on a down cycle.

Teams that became bowl eligible last week: Buffalo, Fresno State, Houston, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin.

Steve Megargee is a national college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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