Western Michigan head coach PJ Fleck has his Broncos seriously thinking about rowing their boats right into a New Years Six bowl game. It may very well be time to start figuring out how they can get there, because they are forcing the conversation after yet another blowout victory. Western Michigan isn’t just winning games: they are kicking butt and chewing bubble gum, and they’re all out of gum.
Western Michigan obliterated Akron on Saturday, 41-0. It is the fourth straight game that has seen Western Michigan put at least 40 points on the scoreboard and the sixth straight double-digit victory. Western Michigan ahs won six straight games by an average of 31 points per game since edging Northwestern in the season opener in Evanston by one.
So what is holding Western Michigan back from being discussed in the New Years Six race? A lack of a true signature win? An overall weak strength of schedule? Not a shred of past success to provide a benefit of the doubt? It may be a combination of the three, through no fault of Western Michigan’s own.
The Broncos are still likely chasing teams like Boise State (a success of crashing the big bowl party), Houston (preseason favorite) and Navy (who beat Houston and carries much more history and tradition). That is unfortunate for Western Michigan, because this is a wildly fun team to watch and they are not winning games by such wide margin by accident. Western Michigan is the team to beat in the MAC, and it’s not even close. The biggest challenge likely ahead for the Broncos will be a regular season finale against Toledo, which could decide the MAC West championship. At this point, it should be expected Western Michigan will be 11-0 by the time that game comes around, but how will the selection committee evaluate Western Michigan at that time, considering some of the other options laying around?
Reminder: One spot in the New Years Six lineup is guaranteed to the highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or Sun Belt Conference. A team must have the conference championship in order to qualify. Army, BYU and UMass are not eligible for this consideration.
Here is how I would rank the Group of Five contenders through seven weeks of the college football season;
1. Boise State (6-0, 3-0 MWC)
The Broncos had to hold on for dear life late Saturday night against Colorado State, but managed to keep their perfect record going. Boise State’s biggest win of the night, however, may have come in Pullman, Washington. Boise State clipped Washington State earlier in the year with a 31-28 victory on the Smurf turf. At the time, the Cougars didn’t look so hot, but now Washington State is one of two unbeaten teams in Pac-12 play (along with Washington, coached by former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen). That is a win that begins to look stronger and stronger for Boise State each week. In fact, Boise State’s win over 4-2 Washington State may arguably be on par with Houston’s victory over 4-2 Oklahoma.
2. Navy (4-1, 3-0 AAC)
The Midshipmen were off this week after having a Thursday night game against East Carolina postponed to later in the season due to flooding in North Carolina. As a result, Navy gets a little extra time to prepare for a giant home game next week against Memphis (more on them in a moment). First place in the AAC West will be on the line, which gives Navy a decisive edge in the division should they send Memphis home with a loss. Navy still has to play at USF and host Tulsa in conference play, and neither game is going to be an easy win. For now, Navy is sitting on top of the AAC thanks to a big win over Houston.
3. Houston (6-1, 3-1 AAC)
Houston may still need some help just in order to qualify for the AAC Championship Game, but they remain very much in the thick of the hunt. Houston may still be the most talented team in the AAC, bu the past two weeks have shown they are not invincible. Navy took them out and Tulsa gave them a real good scare in Houston on Saturday. The good news for Houston is the rest of the conference schedule is a tad more manageable than what Navy has in front of them, although Houston must still play at Memphis and they also get Louisville at home. A loss to Louisville could hurt Houston’s New Years Six bid even if they do go on to win the AAC, but Houston still needs Navy (or Memphis?) to lose twice in order for that to be a possibility.
4. Western Michigan (7-0, 3-0 MAC)
See above. At some point I am going to have to strongly consider moving Western Michigan up in these rankings. Maybe next week?
5. USF (6-1, 3-0 AAC)
This last spot was up for grabs between a few candidates, but ultimately went to South Florida after pulling away for a decisive victory over UConn in Tampa this weekend. The Bulls have now won all three of their conference games by no fewer than 16 points, and this week Quinton Flowers and the Bulls have a chance to take firm control of the AAC East Division. USF heads to Philadelphia to play Temple. A win against the Owls (which they earned last year) would be huge with games against Navy and Memphis coming up after that. Going 2-1 in this stretch may be enough to put the Bulls on pace for the conference title game, especially if one of those wins comes against Temple.
On the Radar: Toledo, San Diego State, Memphis, Tulsa, Troy