Entering the 2014 college football season, it would have been wise to suggest Cincinnati and Boise State would play a key role in the new Group of Five hunt for the automatic access bowl spot under the new structure. As Friday came and went, the Bearcats and Broncos still hold some cards in the chase for a spot in the access bowl line-up, though perhaps not quite as initially expected.
As a general reminder, one spot in the College Football Playoff New Years Bowl line-up will be reserved for the highest-ranked champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or Sun Belt Conference. That ranking will be determined by the College Football Playoff selection committee (te committee begins releasing its top 25 ranking on Tuesday night). This new structure figures to be one that should see programs like Cincinnati and Boise State in the big bowl conversation on a somewhat regular basis. However, both teams have seemed to take a bit of a step back for other potential candidates this season.
East Carolina still looks to be the frontrunner on the strength of victories over a pair of ACC schools (Virginia Tech, North Carolina), but that ground is a little less stable than it was a month ago. Virginia Tech was tanked at home by Miami and is now in slight danger of not making a bowl game. UNC also has an uphill battle to become bowl-eligible. Marshall is waiting for some help as they look to run through an undefeated, 13-0 season (13-0 with a Conference USA championship game victory). Marshall likely needs East Carolina to lose a second game this season to move past the Pirates. The way East Carolina played Thursday night against UConn and the way Cincinnati performed against USF should prove to most that Cincinnati is East Carolina’s biggest threat to a New Years bowl trip.
Mike Boone rushed for 212 yards to lead Cincinnati past USF Friday night, 34-17. The preseason media favorite in the American put up nearly 600 yards of offense in the game and went three-for-three on fourth-down conversion attempts. Gunner Kiel has played well as the team’s starting quarterback, but Cincinnati already has three losses on the year. With those losses, Cincinnati may need a lot of help even to sniff a New Years access bowl. But they still pose a serious threat to ECU.
A third contender appears to be Colorado State, but the Rams have a Boise State problem. Boise State won a head-to-head match-up with the Rams earlier this season, which means Boise State would have to lose once more while Colorado State wins out in order for the Rams to compete in the Mountain West Conference championship game. Without a conference championship, Colorado State will not qualify for the Group of Five access bowl consideration under the selection committee’s guidelines. Boise state blew away a sinking BYU program Friday night in non-conference action. Boise State still has games against New Mexico, San Diego State, Wyoming and Utah State. Colorado State still has five more conference games to play through, including tonight’s home game against Wyoming.
Boise State has lost twice, including a non-conference neutral site game against Ole Miss. The Broncos have some catching up to do to make a push for a New Years bowl game, but maybe Boise State is hitting its stride at just the right time. Could a 2-loss Boise State edge an undefeated Marshall? Possibly, although probably not very likely. A 1-loss East Carolina? Not likely. But a three-loss Cincinnati? Absolutely.
This is going to be fun.