College football has two FBS teams still without a loss two weekends to November. One of them is Alabama. The other, after a chaotic day around the country, is Western Michigan. The dream of Western Michigan reaching the College Football Playoff may in fact be just that, a dream, but the Broncos remain in solid position to reach a New Years Six bowl game as they hit the final stretch of the season.
At 10-0, Western Michigan has outscored their opponents 444-195 this season. P.J. Fleck and his program can wrap up the MAC West Division title with a win and a Toledo loss, which likely means the regular season finale will determine the division. Toledo is the last great hurdle standing between Western Michigan and a trip to perhaps the Cotton Bowl. Toledo is 8-2, so it is nothing to shrug off, although Western Michigan will get Toledo on their home turf. The way Western Michigan has been playing, the Broncos are the clear leader in the Group of Five race to a New Years Six bowl game, but things just got a bit more interesting in the Mountain West Conference last night with Wyoming losing a triple overtime shootout at UNLV.
San Diego State (9-1) is already locked in to play in the MWC Championship Game at the end of the year and is now playing for home-field advantage. This week they will play on the road against Wyoming, who now must win games just to stay in front of Boise State. Wyoming owns a head-to-head tiebreaker with Boise State, but these Broncos (9-1) can reclaim the top spot in the Mountain Division with a win at home against UNLV this week and a San Diego State victory in Laramie. Then, if Boise State can win at Air Force in the regular season finale, the Broncos would meet the Aztecs in the championship game.
Does a one-loss Mountain West Conference champion have enough to back up an argument to move ahead of an undefeated Western Michigan? Maybe, if it is Boise State that comes out on top. The big card Boise State can play is having a win over Washington State, who sits atop the Pac-12 North entering this week all by themselves. WMU has a pair of road wins against Big Ten teams, Northwestern and Illinois, but the Broncos could potentially have two wins against top 25 teams to bring to the table, and it is arguably true the Mountain West Conference is a stronger conference than the MAC. San Diego State would still have a case to be made too should they end the year with one loss and the MWC crown, although with just one win against a top 25 team (Boise State) and a bad loss at South Alabama.
Boise State is very much alive in this conversation, folks.
But what about the American Athletic Conference?
The AAC may be the best all-around Group of Five conference, but it may have picked itself apart this season with little time remaining without some help from the MAC and MWC (which is not out of the question entirely). The AAC has a handful of teams that may be favored against Western Michigan and perhaps more than capable of giving Boise State and San Diego State a good battle, but the conference is guaranteed to have a conference champion with no fewer than two losses with USF (8-2), Temple (7-3), Navy (7-2), Houston (8-2) and even Tulsa (7-3) still in the running. These are some really good teams we are talking about here in the AAC, and it shows the AAC has more depth than any other Group of Five conference, but can any come out on top in the end and make a case against an undefeated Western Michigan or a one-loss MWC champ?
I’ll entertain the arguments, but I fail to see how it becomes enough to sway the selection committee when it comes time to ranking the teams and setting the New Years Six table.
So, as we hit mid-November, here is how I have the Group of Five pecking order lined up. This is now more of a ranking of likeliness to play in the New Years Six rather than a specific power ranking, so please keep that in mind. Also, as a reminder, BYU and Army are not included in this exercise.
1. Western Michigan (10-0)
Win out and there is no denying Western Michigan a spot in the New Years Six. Row the boat to the Cotton Bowl if they reach 13-0. 12-1 may sink the boat.
2. San Diego State (9-1)
San Diego state can pretty much wrap up a home game for the MWC championship game with a win at Wyoming. This is far from a given, but if the Aztecs beat the Cowboys this week, San Diego State is the favorite to win the MWC and may end up doing so with just one loss that will be hard to ignore.
3. Boise State (9-1)
Boise State is back in this as a legitimate candidate if San Diego State helps them out this weekend, but Boise State cannot look past their two remaining regular season games. UNLV just showed how dangerous they can be, and Air Force on the road is no easy game for the Broncos. Plus, they may have to win in San Diego at the end of the year.
4. AAC Champion
Take your pick really, because it is pretty wide open, but it looks as though we are going to have a conference championship game between Navy and Temple or South Florida. Navy is in a favorable position to wrap up the West Division while USF continues to keep the pressure on Temple to win. Temple wins the East with two wins vs. Tulane and East Carolina or one win and one USF loss against either SMU or UCF. Temple has the odds in their favor here, but it is too close to call.
Whoever comes out of this conference will still need some help elsewhere. But it could still happen!
5. Troy (8-1)
There is not enough chaos in the world to throw Troy into the New Years Six but I wanted to make sure we pay respect to what they are doing in the Sun Belt Conference after edging Appalachian State this weekend. Troy’s only loss this season was on the road in Week 2 against Clemson, a 30-24 setback. That’s not too shabby at all for the Trojans. Since then, Troy has rattled off seven straight wins and gone 5-0 in the Sun Belt, putting them in a tie for first place with Arkansas State. That puts the top spot in the Sun Belt on the line this Thursday night when Troy hosts Arkansas State.