At the outset of each college football season, every team has the lofty dream of winning it all, imagining hoisting the College Football Playoff trophy, standing atop the college football world.
Of course, after a few weeks and a couple losses, most teams will readjust their goals, maybe setting their sights on a division or conference championship, which is still within reach.
Following a couple more losses that make a national or conference championship an improbability, teams will embark on a mission to reach the six-win total needed to become bowl eligible, and play in the postseason.
And then there's Rutgers.
A season that looked to have so much promise went off the rails quickly, and now the Scarlet Knights sit at 3-6 with just three games remaining. So does that mean Rutgers has to win out to reach their tenth bowl in 11 years?
There are 40 games on the bowl slate, meaning a total of 80 teams will play in a bowl this year. So far, only 51 have qualified with six wins. While there are 19 teams that are one win away from gaining bowl eligibility, even if all of them win again this season, that still wouldn't reach 80 teams. With just 3-4 games left on most teams' schedules, it's a real possibility there won't be enough six-win teams to fill the bowl slate.
If that's the case and Rutgers finishes its regular season at 5-7, they'll be one of the first teams in line for a bowl berth.
Why is that? Because Rutgers is smart!
That might be a little hard to believe, given several players' off-the-field behavior earlier this year demonstrated a shocking lack of common sense and displayed a total disregard for their safety, the safety of those around them and the state of the football program, but most of the players' performance in the classroom more than makes up for a few bad apples.
If there aren't 80 six-win teams to fill the bowls, the NCAA will fill the remaining openings with five-win teams, in order of APR.
APR, or Academic Progress Rate, is essentially a score assigned to a program based on the academic performance of its student-athletes. And Rutgers has historically excelled when it comes to the APR.
Back in May it was announced Rutgers football's APR score ranked 12th in the nation. This is the eighth straight year Rutgers football has ranked in the top ten percent nationally in APR.
If the NCAA starts awarding bowl berths to five win teams, Rutgers would be near the top of the list for one.
Rutgers has to win out to be bowl eligible at 6-6. If 80 bowl slots aren't full a 5-7 team with a Top 5 APR is selected which is good for RU
— Matt Sugam (@MattSugam) November 9, 2015
So, yes. A 5-7 Rutgers team could conceivably make a bowl game. I know this is a pretty unprecedented possibility, so let's sort through what that scenario would look like, and what it would mean.
Is five wins a realistic goal?
I know it feels easy to completely give up on this team after the way they've played over the past three weeks. While the poor play and inability to even be competitive is inexcusable, it was against the true gauntlet of the Big Ten schedule. Things get a little easier from here on out.
Rutgers opens as a 9.5-point underdog against Nebraska on Saturday, but it's still a much more winnable game than the Scarlet Knights' contests against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan were. In each of those games, Rutgers was a 20+ point underdog.
But this isn't the same Nebraska team that beat Rutgers 42-24 last year in Memorial Stadium. While they pulled off the controversial upset over Michigan State last week, these Cornhuskers still sit at 4-6 with losses to perennial bottom-feeders Purdue and Illinois on their resume.
If Rutgers comes out fighting at home on Saturday, they have a good chance to earn win No. 4. But even if they don't, their last two games are a couple of the least intimidating on their schedule this year.
Next week, a trip to West Point to face Army is on tap. And with all due respect to our servicemen (side note: don't forget to thank a veteran on Wednesday), their football team has been less than stellar this year, as they sit at 2-7, with their only wins coming against Eastern Michigan and Bucknell. That's a game Rutgers should win.
Finally, Rutgers concludes its season by coming home to take on Maryland, who is also 2-7, and is currently riding a six-game losing streak. Another winnable game.
In short, yes. Five wins is definitely realistic. Six wins would certainly be nicer, but even if Rutgers falls to Nebraska on Saturday, all hope is not lost.
Do we want to watch a 5-7 Rutgers team in a bowl?
As a Rutgers fan who takes any chance he can get to watch his team compete, my answer is unequivocally yes.
In addition to seeing our favorite college football team play one more game before they go away until next fall, Rutgers gets a chance to improve the optics on what has been a nightmarish season.
Think back to last December, when Rutgers wrapped up a 7-5 regular season. Despite a thrilling comeback win over Maryland in the finale, many Rutgers fans were left unsatisfied. Rutgers was not competitive in any of its games against elite Big Ten teams, and some fans felt the season was still a letdown.
Not as many fans were saying that after a dominating win over North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl.
I'm not saying a big win in a bowl game would flip the script in the same way for a Rutgers team that goes 5-7 in the regular season, but it would certainly help.
Not to mention, Rutgers always boasts its ability to make bowl games to fans and, more importantly, recruits, so reaching its tenth bowl in 11 years would be beneficial in that sense, no matter how the bowl is reached.
While there is the possibility Rutgers could be blown out again in the bowl game, or you could be someone who doesn't think the players on a 5-7 team deserve a bowl trip, I think the positive outweighs the negative.
And, finally, the question on everyone's mind.
How would it impact Kyle Flood's status?
It really depends on how Julie Hermann & Co. feel about Flood at regular season's end.
Yes, a five-win bowl berth would allow Flood to boast Rutgers reaching its tenth bowl in 11 years, and a third bowl in his three years as coach, but I don't think a bowl berth at 5-7 is going to save Flood's job if the decision has already been made to let him go at season's end. Firing a coach before a bowl game isn't unprecedented.
Heck, we saw it last year in the Big Ten. Bo Pelini was fired at the end of Nebraska's regular season, leaving assistant Barney Cotton to coach the Holiday Bowl against USC.
If a 5-7 regular season is enough for Julie Hermann & Co. to let Flood go, I highly doubt a bowl berth awarded on what amounts to a technicality to be enough to save his job.
On the other hand, if Hermann doesn't make her decision immediately after the regular season, she could allow Flood to coach the potential bowl game. If he is able to use the few weeks before the bowl to get his team on track, and the Scarlet Knights play extremely well in the bowl, it could be enough to sway Hermann to stick with Flood for another season.
With three weeks left, a lot can still change for Rutgers and the college football landscape as a whole, but the possibility of a five-win bowl is, at the very least, intriguing. Of course, Rutgers needs to do its part and go at least 2-1 over these next three weeks, or the time I spent writing this will have been wasted. Don't let me down, Rutgers.
What do you think? Can we get to five wins? Should we go to a bowl if we do? Sound off in the comments below!