With Wyoming stunning Boise State late Saturday night with a game-winning safety and Navy being sunk by South Florida this past weekend, it is time to give the Group of Five a fresh start. That’s terrific news for Western Michigan, who has been laying in the weeds the past few weeks just waiting for something to happen to Boise State and in the American Athletic Conference. It’s all coming together now for the best team in the MAC.
PJ Fleck and his Western Michigan Broncos are now well on their way to playing in a New Years Six bowl game, but they still probably have to run the table in order to do so. San Diego State is suddenly right on their heels after a bit of a shakeup in the Group of Five pecking order this week. And maybe we should throw Wyoming into the conversation, while admitting they are a bit of a longshot as we get ready to hit November.
Western Michigan is the last remaining undefeated Group of Five team, so it would be easy to label them the favorite without giving it much thought, but Western Michigan is not here by default. They have earned the top spot with a smashing offense and a stifling defense.
The College Football Playoff selection committee will reserve one guaranteed spot in the New Years Six bowl line-up to the highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or the Sun Belt Conference. Independents like BYU and Army are not eligible for this automatic qualifier, so they are not in the running. Based on results and standings to date, here is how I would rank the current Group of Five contenders for the New Years Six:
1. Western Michigan (8-0)
At this point, nobody is going to pass Western Michigan unless the Broncos lose a game. Lose once, and Western Michigan may be cooked. The big game will be the final game of the regular season against Toledo (6-2), which should still decide the MAC West Division. Before then, Western Michigan takes on three teams with a combined record of 9-16. Western Michigan has outscored its opponents 355-154.Row… row… row…
2. San Diego State (7-1)
Having Donnell Pumphrey generating some possible Heisman buzz is nice, but the Aztecs are now suddenly in line to host the Mountain West Conference championship game after winning four straight conference games by double digits. Keep an eye on November 19 with San Diego State making a road trip to Wyoming. The Aztecs have allowed just 26 point sin conference play.
3. Temple (6-3)
Don’t look now, but the Temple Owls are gaining the inside track to hosting the American Athletic Conference championship game. Temple already owns a head-to-head tiebreaker with South Florida and Matt Rhule’s offense is playing well now with PJ Walker at quarterback and Jahad Thomas heating up on the ground. Temple also has the most favorable schedule on paper in the final month compared to South Florida and Navy and Tulsa.
4. South Florida (7-2)
South Florida suddenly has the best record among AAC teams, tied with Houston at 7-2, but the road loss to Temple means USF must hope the Owls lose once down the stretch while managing to keep their foot on the gas on the road against Memphis and SMU and at home against an improving UCF. The Bulls are scoring 44.1 ppg with Quinton Flowers leading the way through the air and on the ground.
5. Wyoming (6-2)
I’ll entertain the idea of having Wyoming ranked higher here after knocking off a well-respected Boise State program Saturday night. Of all the Group of Five contenders, Wyoming probably has the most challenging hurdle the rest fo the way with San Diego State (perhaps twice!), but Craig Bohl deserves all kinds of credit for what is being done with the Wyoming program. Wyoming now is the only undefeated team in the Mountain Division of the MWC and holds a decisive tiebreaker with Boise State to reach the conference title game (a road game at New Mexico is not to be overlooked in the final week of the regular season).
On The Radar: Navy, Tulsa, Toledo, Boise State, Troy, Appalachian State