The top-ranked champion of the “Group of Five” or G5 conferences earns a slot in one of the New Year Six bowls – this year the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl. For the second week in a row, the American Athletic Conference is the only G5 conference appearing in the College Football Playoff Committee top 25 rankings. With three AAC teams there, to all others’ zero, it is safe to say that the American has established itself as the cream of the G5s. While that gives the AAC champ the inside track, the other conferences have some contenders lurking, and worst-case AAC fratricide could leave the door open.
Mid American Conference
The leader amongst the lurking conferences is the MAC. When the Toledo Rockets were undefeated, they showed up in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. Even without appearing in the top 25, the Rockets still appear in some pundits’ discussions, and their case might have been strengthened by a 44-28 win over MAC East leader Bowling Green (8-3 / 6-1) Tuesday night. However, after their loss to Northern Illinois, the Rockets don’t even control their own destiny. NIU holds the tiebreaker, and came back to beat Western Michigan (6-4 / 5-1) Wednesday night; the Huskies clinch the division by beating Ohio – meaning that the strongest threat to the AAC, a one-loss Toledo team, could miss out on the conference championship game. On the East side of the MAC bracket, Bowling Green had already clinched the division before the loss to Toledo. The Falcons’ resume includes two P5 wins…but those are against 2-8 Purdue and 2-8 Maryland. Put their three losses along with a home loss to Memphis, and Bowling Green is unlikely to threaten the AAC’s NY6 Bowl chances.
In Massey’s composite of over 100 rankings, Western Kentucky (8-2 / 6-0) is the next highest ranked G5 team. The Hilltoppers lead their division and face Marshall (9-2 / 5-1) Thanksgiving weekend, probably for the conference championship game slot. Likewise, in the West, the Thanksgiving weekend matchup between Louisiana Tech and Southern Mississippi could decide the division. None of those four are likely to overtake Navy, Houston, or Temple. As a sidebar, though, Navy fans should keep an eye on La. Tech and RB Kenneth Dixon, who is pacing Keenan Reynolds’ chase for history with 70 career rushing touchdowns and 11 receiving touchdowns.
The SBC is almost certainly out of the running for the Access Bowl. There is no conference championship game in the 11-team SBC. Arkansas State (8-2 / 6-0) is in the driver’s seat, with wins over Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. A win over either UTEP or Texas State would clinch the conference for the Red Wolves, but the general weakness of the SBC has them out of the Access Bowl conversation: in Massey’s composite of rankings, they are behind ASU and GSU as well as five contenders from other conference. Wins over the Miners and Bobcats won’t move the needle in the rankings.
Mountain West Conference
No team in the Mountain West has a record better than 7-3. None of the three 7-3 teams cracks the top ten G5 in Massey’s composite rankings, with Boise State the highest-ranked but trailing teams from all of the other G5 conferences. And yet, somehow, a 10-3 MWC champ still has an outside shot of being in the Access Bowl conversation.
In the West division, San Diego State (7-3 / 6-0) clinches the division with a win at UNLV. If UNLV pulls the upset, SDSU-Nevada could decide the division championship.
In the Mountain division, Air Force (7-3 / 5-1) controls its its own destiny, but goes on the road to BOTH the other contenders, Boise State (7-3 / 4-2) and New Mexico (6-4 / 4-2). Because UNM already holds the head-to-head over BSU, if Air Force wins at Boise and UNM beats Colorado State, the USAFA-UNM game decides the West division. If Air Force wins this weekend and UNM takes a third conference loss, USAFA wins the Mountain. If Boise State beats Air Force and UNM beats CSU, BSU still needs a UNM loss against USAFA.
From all those scenarios, a 10-3 Boise is the most serious MWC threat to the AAC. Air Force’s loss to Navy should effectively take them out of any discussion, and SDSU does not have a body of work to overcome an AAC champ. Boise has some name recognition that will get the Broncos into the conversation over other G5 champs, but that isn’t enough to get the nod over an American champ with two or fewer losses.
What’s it all mean for the AAC champ?
If the AAC champ is an undefeated or one-loss Houston, the Coogs get the NY6 Bowl.
If Navy wins out, they definitely get the G5 Access Bowl bid. I honestly think that if Navy is the American champion at 11-1, then they get the NY6 Bowl bid without the Committee even waiting for the Army game. If Navy is a 10-2 AAC champion, we might have to wait another week for the Peach/Fiesta Bowl bid until after Army if the committee’s next-highest-ranked champion is 12-1 Toledo or possibly Boise State.
If Temple is the ACC champ at 11-2, the Owls are also a shoo-in for the bid. If the Owls pick up another loss, but outlast USF for the East before beating a highly ranked Houston/Navy West division champ, I think they still deserve the bid, but Boise’s name or a one-loss Toledo might make the CFP committee think about it.
If USF or Cincy wins the East at 8-4 and upsets Navy/Houston…Toledo almost definitely would get the bid, but with the AAC’s performance all year, the other MAC candidates, CUSA, or Sun Belt still lose out. Boise is a strong possibility because of their name recognition, but probably not the other MWC candidates.