Now that we’re about the halfway point of the season it’s time to start thinking about which team from the “Group of Five” will represent in the New Year’s bowl game. For those not quite in the know, the New Year’s Six bowl game is one of the big ones (Rose, Peach, Fiesta, Sugar, Cotton, and Orange) that will pit the best team out of the Group of Five versus … well, someone.
At this point in the season there are quite a few teams who could be the at-large candidate that represents. Will one of them come from the Mountain West? Eh… maybe. Boise State sure didn’t do themselves any favors by dropping a conference game to Utah State which just might eliminate them from the Mountain West championship game.
So who have the most realistic chance? Well, let’s take a look and see.
Temple Owls, American Athletic Conference
The Temple Owls are the current leaders of the AAC East division and ranked #22 in the country. They are 7-0, 4-0 in conference. They’ve scored 202 points and had 88 scored on them. Their signature wins this season have come over Penn State in the opener. On their schedule they still have a date with Notre Dame at home and a matchup with Memphis near the end of the season. Seems like a win over Notre Dame and finishing out the season would probably get them into that New Years bowl. However, can they beat the Irish at home? That’s a tough task for this team. They are currently 45th in total offense and 13th in total defense. That’s a pretty good resume for this team, but a couple of big hurdles left on their schedule.
Houston Cougars, American Athletic Conference
The Houston Cougars are the current leaders of the AAC West division and ranked #21 in the country. They are 6-0, 3-0 in conference. They’ve scored 274 points and had 128 points scored on them. As Tom Herman very proudly tweeted out earlier this week there are 12 FBS teams in the state of Texas and the Houston Cougars have the top defense in Texas. Houston’s signature win thus far has been against Louisville which doesn’t look all that impressive right now. Houston is 5th in total offense and 56th in total defense. Their record says they are good, their wins vs opponents are not as good so far. Their upcoming schedule gets considerably tougher with dates against Memphis and Navy coming up.
Memphis Tigers, American Athletic Conference
The Memphis Tigers are the current co-leaders of the AAC West division and are ranked #18 in the country. They are 6-0, 2-0 in conference. They have scored 276 points and had 158 scored on them. The Tigers resume isn’t too bad. They have two wins vs. Power 5 conference teams. Their win over Ole Miss is definitely impressive, winning that game handily. To finish the season unbeaten they will need to beat Houston, Navy, and Temple. That’s a tall task for this team, but if they can do that they should absolutely be the Group of 5 choice for a bowl game. You can bet that after the season Justin Fuente will be a hot commodity in the coaching world for the job he has done with this team. The Tigers are 10th in total offense and 105th in total defense. They’re going to want to fix that if they want to keep from getting embarrassed late in the season.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Conference USA
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are the current leaders of the Conference USA East division. They are 6-1, 4-0 in conference. They have scored 308 points and had 168 scored on them. Western Kentucky hasn’t played a particularly difficult schedule. Their only loss has come to Indiana. Their schedule will get really hard this coming weekend as they play LSU on the road. If they can somehow win this game then they should be in the conversation of a New Years bowl if they finish undefeated. Right now I don’t know if that’s in the cards for the Hilltoppers. Western Kentucky ranks 9th in total offense and 104th in total defense. Again, they’re gonna wanna fix that, probably in a hurry since they’ll be playing Leonard Fournette this weekend in Death Valley.
Marshall Thundering Herd, Conference USA
The Marshall Thundering Herd are the co-leaders of the Conference USA East division. They are 6-1, 3-0 in conference. They’ve scored 223 points and had 122 scored on them. Marshall is much like their conference counterpart in that they don’t have a particularly tough schedule and don’t really have a signature win so far. And really, their schedule isn’t too tough until the last game of the season when they play Western Kentucky in what will probably be the de-facto conference championship. Marshall is 93rd in total offense and 43rd in total defense. I just don’t think this team has the resume to play with the big boys right now.
Toledo Rockets, #MACtion
The Toledo Rockets are the leaders of the MAC West division and are ranked #19 in the country. They are 6-0, 3-0 in conference. They have scored 208 points and had 79 scored on them. The Rockets had their first game of the season cancelled, then came out with a win vs Arkansas. They also own a win over another Power 5 team in Iowa State. They’ve also defeated a good Arkansas State team. Their schedule really only has one big challenge left and that’s a date with Northern Illinois. If they can get past that then move their way to the MAC championship they should face (more than likely) Bowling Green who will be looking for an upset. Toledo boasts a resume suggesting they could represent the Group of Five in a New Years bowl but they need to win out. Toledo is 37th in total offense, and 45th in total defense. Good resume for this team, in my opinion.
Utah State Aggies, Mountain West
The Utah State Aggies are the leaders of the Mountain West Conference Mountain division. They are 4-2, 3-0 in conference. They have scored 184 points and have had 122 scored on them. I don’t think the Mountain West will be representing in the Group of Five bowl game, however, I have to do my due diligence here in case college football does something stupid (it probably will). The Aggies best win here is against Boise State. They’ve lost games to Utah and Washington and barely squeaked out a win over FCS Southern Utah (who is near the top of the Big Sky right now). The Aggies don’t have a great resume and their toughest game left on the schedule is a home contest with BYU. They need to win out to even be remotely considered. With no Chuckie Keeton healthy the Aggies are suffering on offense. They are 97th in total offense and 20th in total defense. Good defense, need to improve offense.
Boise State, Broncos Mountain West
The Boise State Broncos are the second place team in the Mountain West Conference Mountain division. They are 5-2, 2-1 in conference play. They have scored 270 points and have had 124 scored on them. The Broncos don’t really have a signature win, their best one so far being against Washington. They are starting a true freshman at QB in Brett Rypien. Boise didn’t look like a team who is making a case for a New Year’s bowl after committing eight turnovers to Utah State. The toughest game left on the Broncos’ schedule is a matchup with Air Force at home. The Broncos are 27th in total offense and 5th in total defense. That’s pretty amazing for a two loss team. I still don’t think their resume is good enough to leap Memphis, Toledo, or Houston to go any further, and they may not even play for the Mountain West championship.
Georgia Southern Eagles, Sun Belt Conference
The Georgia Southern Eagles are the current third place team of the Sun Belt Conference. They are 5-2, 3-1 in conference. They have scored 255 points and have given up 182 points. The Eagles don’t really own a real good signature win and have a loss to Appalachian State and West Virginia (by 44 points). Their toughest game left on the schedule is Georgia, who should make a great matchup for the Eagles. Their loss to Appalachian State probably sealed their fate for a Group of Five slot. However, crazier things have happened, this is the Fun Belt we’re talking about here. The Eagles are 24th in total offense and 49th in total defense. They need a lot of help to go much further. At least they can go bowling this year!
Appalachian State Mountaineers, Sun Belt Conference
The Appalachian State Mountaineers are the third place team in the Sun Belt Conference. They are 6-1, 3-0 in conference. They have scored 266 points and have had 84 points scored on them. Currently Appalachian State owns the tie-breaker over Georgia Southern in case they finish the regular season with a tie. The Mountaineers don’t have a signature win on their schedule and their only loss came to Clemson (by 31 points). Their toughest game left on the schedule is a date with Arkansas State. The Mountaineers would need a lot of chips to fall into place to find themselves in a Group of Five bowl. The Mountaineers are 17th in total offense and 9th in total defense. Pretty good stats, but aside from their game against Clemson their schedule hasn’t been too tough.
So my thoughts on who will represent the Group of Five if you put a gun to my head right now (please don’t)? I think it’s a toss-up between Toledo and Memphis. Both are solid teams with good resumes. Memphis had a terrific win vs Ole Miss and that will carry them a long ways with people who decide bowl games. Toledo has some work to do but if they win out they should very much be considered.
Toledo will need to take care of business against Bowling Green, always a very tough team to beat. On a neutral field that could be an absolute dog fight. I think a game between Memphis and Toledo would be a terrific football game itself, though I think Toledo would abuse that defense. Matt Campbell is doing a terrific job with this team thus far.
There ya have it. Feel free to disagree and call me an a-hole then tell me why I’m wrong (I’m not).
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