In the new age of baseball it has become silly to judge a starting pitcher based heavily on wins and losses. The College Football Playoff selection committee has already shown they look deeper beyond wins and losses in how they operate as well. This could be good for Boise State.
Going undefeated may not be enough for Marshall to be guaranteed a chance to play in one of the New Years Six Bowl Games. As this season has unfolded before our eyes, a familiar contender has stormed back at just the right time in the Group of Five race to a big bowl game. Yes folks, Boise State is the team I feel now has the best chance to play in the Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl or Peach Bowl.
A couple of weeks ago I brought the idea of Boise State being in the running on College Football Talk. At the time, East Carolina was in the drivers seat in the discussion but since then the Pirates have abandoned course with road losses at Temple and Cincinnati. Thursday night’s victory by Cincinnati was an important one for Marshall and the Mountain West Conference. Now, every team in the American Athletic Conference has at least three losses. We may not know just how the College Football Playoff selection committee is evaluating one Group of Five contender against another, but odds are pretty good an undefeated Marshall or two or one-loss Mountain West Conference champion would have a decided edge over any three-loss AAC champion. Good news for Marshall. Good news for Colorado State. Good news for Boise State.
I think Colorado State is the best team in the Group of Five pool. With one loss, the Rams are in position to end the season with a record of 11-1, including victories against the Pac-12 (Colorado on a neutral field in Denver) and the ACC (at Boston College, the Eagles are going bowling too). Of course, that lone loss was at the hands of Boise State, and that gives the Broncos a key head-to-head tiebreaker in their favor in the MWC Mountain Division. Despite a potential 11-1 record, Colorado State faces the real possibility of being locked out of the MWC Championship Game, which also locks them out of contention for a spot in the access bowls under the current College Football Playoff bowl set-up.
So how would a two-loss Boise State with a Mountain West Conference championship stack up against an undefeated Marshall? I think a very strong case could be made by the selection committee to rank Boise State ahead of Marshall. Let’s keep in mind that a two-loss Boise State would have lost on a “neutral” field to Ole Miss in the season opener and on the road against Air Force, another MWC team qualified for postseason play. The wins would include a victory at UConn of the American Athletic Conference (a terrible team, but still across the country) and at home against Louisiana-Lafayette, a team in position to win the Sun Belt Conference championship. The biggest win would also be against a Colorado State team that could end the season 11-1. As far as Group of Five schools go, Boise State’s profile starts to look a little more attractive, especially with East Carolina’s pair of ACC victories losing strength on a weekly basis.
Marshall may go 13-0, but there is no way its overall body of work would compare with what Boise State could, in theory, accomplish. Marshall’s biggest challenges will come in the next few weeks with games against Rice and Western Kentucky and then a possible Conference USA Championship Game match-up with Louisiana Tech. The best win so far this season has come against Middle Tennessee, the only opponent on Marshall’s schedule (not including upcoming games) currently with a winning record.
The selection committee has already shown a team in its rankings will not be judged solely by record. One-loss Oregon has passed undefeated Florida State. One-loss Alabama has been passed over by TCU. Overall body of work matters, and that is beginning to help Boise State’s argument.
I have been running an experimental cumulative stat this year to help compare teams and conferences and their overall production this season. Entering this weekend, Marshall (11.5 points) has a three-point edge on Boise State (8.5 points). As long as Marshall and Boise State win out, it looks like Marshall will end the year with that same lead on the Broncos. A 13-0 Marshall would likely have 15.0 points. An 11-2 Boise State could have 12.0 points. The twist in favor of Boise State is the Mountain West Conference has accumulated 12.5 more points this season than Conference USA in non-conference action. The MWC has actually racked up more points than the Big 12 this season too. No Group of Five conference has more points in the McGuire Metric this season than the MWC. This committee takes some strong consideration to conference strength. Look at the Pac-12 and Big 12 contenders compared to the Big Ten, as well as how Florida State has been evaluated.
It is impossible to logically project where we are heading here. I still believe a 13-0 Marshall team is going to have a good chance to play in the access bowl. Given the way we have seen the selection committee operate already, there is a very realistic chance they could be challenged by Boise State if the Broncos win this weekend against San Diego State. And at Wyoming next week and against Utah State in the final week of the regular season before beating Nevada (?) in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game.
So keep winning Marshall. It’s your only hope.