The chase for a spot in one of the access bowls under the College Football Playoff format is starting to really heat up, but East Carolina still seems to hold enough of a lead over the rest of the field. Marshall has the best chance to stay undefeated, but Colorado State is making some serious noise right now as well.
Here is how I would rate the top five contenders in the Group of Five (American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt Conference) right now.
1. East Carolina (5-1)
The Pirates have tow victories over ACC schools, Virgina Tech and North Carolina. Both of those schools could be going to a bowl game this season. East Carolina would probably love to have another crack at South Carolina. The Gamecocks handed ECU its only loss of the season in week two, but have stumbled since then. Throw ECU in the best one-loss team category if you wish, but it should be access bowl or bust the rest of the way.
2. Colorado State (6-1)
After winning a defensive battle against Utah State, the Rams are now eligible for postseason play and have won five straight games. Like East Carolina, Colorado State also owns two victories over power conference teams, Colorado from the Pac-12 and Boston College from the ACC. Both of these wins came on the road, or at least away from home (Colorado was on a neutral field in Denver). The only loss came at Boise State, but the Rams are in a good spot now to win the Mountain Division if Boise State stumbles.
3. Marshall (7-0)
Yes, the Thundering Herd are undefeated but they lack any real signature victories. Rakeem Cato is a record-setting quarterback and will continue to rack up huge numbers to keep Marshall in the hunt, but the Conference USA favorites will probably need some help in order to get by East Carolina or Colorado State even with a perfect record.
4. Boise State (5-2)/Air Force (5-2)
Feel free to take your pick here. Air Force owns a head-to-head victory over the Broncos, but Boise State has defeated Colorado State and now a loss to Ole Miss on a neutral field isn’t looking too terrible. Boise State has also just beaten Nevada and Fresno State in cross-division match-ups. The Falcons, on the other hand, need one more win to become bowl eligible and should easily be able to pick that up with a somewhat favorable schedule remaining. They even get Colorado State at home in the final week of the season, and now that game could be pretty significant.
5. Georgia Southern* (5-2)
Yes, the newest member of the Sun Belt Conference deserves some praise. Off to a 4-0 start in its new FBS conference home, Georgia Southern has made it clear to the rest of the Sun Belt they intend to compete right away. Georgia Southern’s two losses have come on the road against ACC opponents, but the Eagles gave North Carolina State and Georgia Tech all they could handle and lost by a combined five points in those games. Still some work to do, but Georgia Southern may be playing the best football in this conference.
* It should be noted Georgia Southern is not eligible to participate in the postseason as a first-year FBS school. Georgia Southern is eligible to win the Sun Belt Conference championship, but it will be prohibited form playing ina postseason bowl game until 2015.