RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
While No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 4 Alabama meet in a monster matchup with playoff implications, elsewhere around the nation plenty of teams are trying to attain more modest goals.
There are 38 bowl games, including two playoff games, in need of 76 eligible teams. Fifty-two teams are already bowl-eligible, including Georgia Southern, which is transitioning to FBS and has restrictions on whether it will be allowed to play in the postseason.
Things to watch this weekend in the bowl-eligibility chase:
Texas (5-5) at Oklahoma State (5-4)
For UT to get to the postseason in Charlie Strong’s first season as coach, the Longhorns will need to win this game in Stillwater or beat No. 5 TCU on Thanksgiving night in Austin.
The Longhorns have shown some improvement on offense and the defense is pretty good, led by linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive tackle Malcolm Brown, both All-America candidates. But they probably don’t want to hang their postseason hopes on beating the Horned Frogs.
Oklahoma State hasn’t missed a bowl game since 2005 and finishes the season at No. 6 Baylor and at Oklahoma. The showdown with Texas represents the Cowboys best shot to get in.
Temple (5-4) at Penn State (5-4).
The Nittany Lions got early parole from NCAA postseason prison in September, knocking two years off the bowl ban the program received after the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal. The Lions opened the season with four straight victories and seemed to be cruising to the required six. Then they hit a four-game losing streak, snapped last week with a home win against Indiana. This looks like Penn State’s best chance to get that sixth win, with a road trip to Illinois and a finale at home against No. 12 Michigan State remaining on the schedule.
Temple has progressed nicely in year two under coach and former Penn State linebacker Matt Rhule after winning only two games last season. If the Owls can’t break a 30-game losing streak to Penn State – the longest current streak between two FBS teams – win No. 6 will have to come against Cincinnati at home or Tulane on the road.
BALL COACH ON THE BRINK
South Carolina (4-5) at Florida (5-3)
The Gamecocks have been to six straight bowl games and Steve Spurrier hasn’t had a losing season as a college head coach since 1988 – his first season as a college head coach with Duke.
South Carolina needs two wins in its last three games. In between Saturday’s matchup with Florida and the season-finale against rival Clemson is what should be an easy win against South Alabama.
So the Ball Coach is going to need to pull off one pretty big upset to get the Gamecocks into a bowl.
As for Florida, the Gators get a late-season break with Eastern Kentucky before closing with No. 2 Florida State, so bowl-eligibility figures to be a lock. Coach Will Muschamp might need more than that to hold on to his job.
MORE SEC EAST INTRIGUE
Kentucky (5-5) at Tennessee (4-5)
Two rebuilding SEC East programs that could use a bowl game to help develop inexperienced rosters and give their fans some hope for better days.
Hard to believe, but the Volunteers haven’t played in the postseason since 2010. That was also the last time Kentucky played in a bowl.
Butch Jones’ Volunteers close with Vanderbilt, but before they face the Commodores they’ll play the Wildcats and Missouri.
Mark Stoops’ Wildcats need just one win, but it won’t get any easier if they can’t get it done against in Neyland Stadium, where they haven’t won since 1984. Kentucky closes the season at rival Louisville.