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Here’s how Maryland football can make a bowl game at 5-7 if it beats Penn State

It’s a long shot, yes. But it’s not over just yet.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

So here it is. After a full summer writing about the program and nearly four months writing about injured quarterbacks, we’ve reached the last week of Maryland’s regular season. The Terps host Penn State at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

I still remember predicting on our season preview podcast that Maryland would make a bowl game, but with a 5-7 record. That was partly in jest, but I knew even then it could happen. We’ve had a couple 5-7 bowl teams seemingly each of the last few seasons, and Maryland’s APR score for 2015-16—which is how five-win teams are chosen for this year’s bowls—was tied for 11th-best in the FBS.

Five wins seemed reasonable at the time. It seemed too low after Maryland beat Texas and too high when it lost two quarterbacks to ACL tears in September. It was right in range when the Terps took a lead into the fourth quarter against Rutgers. Now, with Maryland at 4-7, the preseason pick isn’t looking great.

It’s been a crazy season in College Park. But at this point, making a bowl at 5-7 would top everything else in a landslide.

First of all, Maryland has to beat Penn State.

Which .......... don’t hold your breath.

Let’s start with the simple facts. Penn State is 9-2; Maryland is 4-7. The Nittany Lions won this matchup by 24 points last year. They have all-purpose superhuman Saquon Barkley at running back; Maryland’s run defense has allowed opponents to rush for over 200 yards five times in the last nine games. Against Michigan State, the Terps surrendered 190 yards on the ground in the first half. Saturday could be worse.

S&P+ ranks Penn State at No. 8 and Maryland at No. 109, and gives the Terps a 12 percent chance to win this game. Even that factors in a home-field advantage the Terps will have only in a literal sense, and can’t account for Maryland officially adding Josh Woods to the list of impact players out with injuries. But sure. Let’s roll with 12 percent.

Even at 5-7, there are plenty of obstacles.

There are 78 postseason spots available this year. As of now, 70 teams have reached the six-win plateau. Four more will absolutely join the list this week, as there are four matchups between 5-6 teams on the slate. Two more teams—Minnesota and Duke—have five wins, but are ahead of the Terps on the APR ladder, so if Maryland is to earn a spot somehow, those teams will as well.

So those six spots are essentially filled ahead of Maryland. That means the Terps need only one more program to punch its ticket between now and selection day.

The problem: there are still 13 teams in the way.

Here’s who can kill those bowl hopes with a win.

Team Record Opponent S&P+ chance (Vegas line)
Team Record Opponent S&P+ chance (Vegas line)
Buffalo 5-6 vs. Ohio (1:00 Fri.) 37% (+4.5)
Texas Tech 5-6 at Texas (8:00 Fri.) 43% (+11)
Georgia Tech 5-5 vs. Georgia (noon Sat.) 24% (+12.5)
Tulane 5-6 at SMU (noon Sat.) 32% (+7.5)
UNLV 5-6 at Nevada (3:00 Sat.) 54% (+3)
Vanderbilt 4-7* at Tennessee (4:00 Sat.) 51% (+1)
Temple 5-6 at Tulsa (4:00 Sat.) 58.% (-2)
Louisiana Tech 5-6 vs. UTSA (7:30 Sat.) 38% (-2)
Air Force 4-7* vs. Utah State (10:15 Sat.) 41% (-2)
* Air Force (995) and Vanderbilt (992) can surpass Maryland (984) on the five-win APR ladder.

And these teams still have two games left.

Team Record Game 1 (S&P+) Game 2 (S&P+)
Team Record Game 1 (S&P+) Game 2 (S&P+)
LA-Lafayette 5-5 vs. Georgia Southern (69%) Appalachian State (19%)
Florida State 4-6 at Florida (52%) vs. UL-Monroe (68%)
LA Monroe 4-6 vs. Arkansas State (28%) at Florida State (32%)
New Mexico State 4-6 Idaho (64%) South Alabama (65%)

So Maryland needs a group of 10 teams to go no better than 1-9 this week. It also pretty much can’t survive Florida State and UL-Monroe both winning, because those teams rescheduled their matchup after hurricanes postponed it in September.

The chances of 12 of these 13 teams losing this week? After some calculations, I’ve reached 0.3 percent. Throw in the 12 percent chance that Maryland even makes this something worth worrying about, and we’ve arrived at a 0.04 percent (1 in 2,500) odds that Maryland makes it out of Saturday with bowl hopes. And even then, it’d still need some luck next week. I’ll run through those probabilities if I ever need to.

For all intents and purposes, we can rule Maryland out of bowl consideration. But in a purely mathematical sense, the coffin isn’t sealed just yet.