Winners of seven straight, the Colorado State Rams (8-1, 4-1) are becoming a dominating force in the Mountain West Conference and are beginning to make some noise for a potential invitation to an access bowl this postseason.
However, thanks to an early season road loss to Mountain Division rival Boise State (6-2, 3-1) in Week 2 (37-24), Colorado State will need the Broncos to lose one of their four remaining games to be considered for one of the New Year’s Six bowls.
It’s the highest-rated champion from the Group of Five conferences—the AAC, C-USA, MWC, Sun Belt, and MAC—that receives an automatic berth in one of the six access bowls.
W/ that thought, is it Marshall or Boise that gets in? @KellyLyell: I don’t think Boise State will lose again so CSU won’t be in the mix.
— Tyler Waddell (@Tyler_Waddell) November 5, 2014
RT @Tyler_Waddell. Unbeaten Marshall would beat out two-loss Boise State. One-loss Colorado State might top Marshall.
— Kelly Lyell (@KellyLyell) November 5, 2014
Though Boise State lost to Air Force a few weeks ago, it still holds the tiebreaker over Colorado State and, at least for now, looks to be in the driver’s seat to make an appearance in the conference championship game and ultimately win the MWC.
With East Carolina’s surprising loss to Temple last weekend, there are currently no Group of Five teams ranked inside the College Football Playoff selection committee’s Top 25—not even undefeated Marshall is on their radar.
But according to CBS Sports’ weekly college football rankings, the Group of Five Top 10 is as follows:
18. Marshall (8-0, 4-0 C-USA)
25. Colorado State (8-1, 4-1 MWC)
34. Boise State (6-2, 3-1 MWC)
35. East Carolina (6-2, 3-1 AAC)
40. Air Force (6-2, 2-2 MWC)
41. Northern Illinois (7-2, 4-1 MAC)
42. Utah State Aggies (6-3, 3-1 MWC)
43. Nevada (6-3, 3-2 MWC)
46. Georgia Southern (7-2, 6-0 Sun Belt)
55. Houston (5-3, 3-1 AAC)
By that logic, Colorado State needs to worry about itself and pray that Boise State stumbles along the way—if the Broncos give out against one of their next four opponents (New Mexico, San Diego State, Wyoming, Utah State) and CSU takes care of its own business, the Rams are a sure-fire pick for the Peach Bowl on December 31.
This is because of one accentuated factor: strength of schedule—an area where Marshall can compete with no one.
At the beginning of the season, Phil Steele ranked Marshall’s schedule as the No. 125 (out of 128) “toughest” in the country, with Colorado State sitting not much better at No. 113. Now 10 weeks in, Jeff Sagarin ranks the Thundering Herd’s schedule No. 150 (you do the math), and the Rams’ No. 85.
That’s a difference of 65 and should not go unnoticed by the selection committee.
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Marshall has the 94th-ranked remaining schedule with teams that combine for a 16-18 record. Colorado State’s isn’t any better (No. 110), but that is weighted down by Hawaii and New Mexico.
If Air Force—the Rams’ last opponent on the regular season schedule—wins its next three games (at UNLV, vs. Nevada, at San Diego State), then CSU’s strength of schedule will skyrocket. You then add in the potential Mountain West Conference Championship Game—which will clearly mean something, according to CBS’ rankings—and there will be enough evidence for the Rams to jump an undefeated Marshall.
“In theory, a 12-1 Colorado State team would have every bit as strong an argument to play in a New Years bowl as East Carolina,” wrote Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk. “What’s more, the argument for Colorado State could also become stronger if East Carolina’s biggest wins (Virginia Tech and North Carolina) struggle down the stretch. If strength of schedule is an important factor in the rankings, and the evidence suggests it is, Colorado State could be on par with East Carolina. This should add a little more intrigue to this week’s ACC contest between Boston College and Virginia Tech.
“Bottom line, Colorado State is still in the running. The Rams need some help along the way, and Boise State does appear to have a tougher final stretch than Colorado State, so there is hope.”
Of course, all of this can be omitted if Boise State doesn’t lose another game, or if Colorado State does the deed itself and the Rams fall graciously out of contention with a loss of their own.
It will be exciting to watch how the selection committee reacts to the way this particular situation plays out over the next few weeks.