Row The Boat, H-Town or Blue Turf? Who’s In The Cotton Bowl Driver’s Seat?

Before we delve into this subject, the below sentence is very important.

We won’t know anything til the first CFB Playoff rankings on November 1st.

The CFB Playoff rankings are the law when it comes to which Group of 5 teams gets the Access Bowl spot, which will be in the Cotton Bowl this year. Why the Cotton Bowl? With the semifinal games being the Fiesta and Peach Bowls this season, the other three non semi-final games, the Rose, Orange and Sugar Bowls, all have contractual tie-ins with the major conferences. Thus, the Cotton Bowl will have two at-large teams and one of those will be the G5 Access Bowl recipient.

Right now, the race to the Cotton Bowl has three teams. the 7-0 Western Michigan Broncos, the 6-0 Boise State Broncos and the 6-1 Houston Cougars.

Let’s look at the resumes.

Houston Cougars (6-1 overall, 3-1 AAC)

S&P+ Ranking: 18th
ESPN FPI Ranking: 23rd
Best Win: Oklahoma (12th S&P+, 11th FPI)
Biggest Negative: Might not win their own division

The Navy loss really took H-Town down a peg. The Cougars struggled to put away Tulsa on a controversial play where it looked like Houston had 12 men on the field and jumped offsides. Still, that Oklahoma win is by far the best win among the three and the American Athletic is the best conference among the three.

The Cougars’ road is quite simple. They need Navy to lose to Memphis or twice to other AAC opponents, then don’t lose another AAC game just to make the AAC Championship game. Oh and there’s that Louisville home game in November. A loss doesn’t eliminate the Cougars from the Cotton Bowl race automatically, but a win puts them right back in it, provided they win the AAC. It’s all for naught if Navy doesn’t slip up and yes, Access Bowl rules are that you must win your own conference.

Remaining Schedule
Saturday, October 22nd at SMU, 7:00 PM on ESPN2
Saturday, October 29th vs UCF, TBD
Saturday, November 12th vs Tulane, TBD
Thursday, November 17th vs Louisville 8:00 PM on ESPN
Friday, November 25th at Memphis, TBD
Saturday, December 3rd, AAC Championship Game at TBD (if AAC West Division Champs), Noon on ABC/ESPN

Western Michigan Broncos (7-0 overall, 3-0 MAC)

S&P+ Ranking: 28th
ESPN FPI Ranking: 21st
Best Win: Northwestern (60th S&P+, 49th FPI)
Biggest Negative: Weakest of the three conferences

Western Michigan has rowed its way into the hearts of America, claiming two Big Ten scalps along the way. Now 7-0 after a 41-0 road dismantling of MAC East favorite Akron, the road to 12-0 lays open. Eastern Michigan is improved, but the Rowing Broncos are in a different class. The two Tuesday MACtion games are against lesser teams, but still are on the road. Toledo in the final might be the toughest challenge for WMU and that includes the MAC Championship game.

Western will need help, even at 13-0, to get to the Cotton Bowl. They need Boise to slip up and the American Athletic to beat each other up some more. They don’t have the clout of being a previous Access Bowl winner like the other two and while that’s harsh to say, the selection process is an entirely human element with inherited biases. The MAC has a lot of dead weight in 2016 and the Broncos will have to get all the help they can get, otherwise you could see a 13-0 team in the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, Alabama two days before Christmas.

Remaining Schedule
Saturday, October 22nd vs Eastern Michigan, 3:30 PM
Tuesday, November 1st at Ball State, 8:00 PM on ESPN2
Tuesday, November 8th at Kent State, 8:00 PM on CBS Sports Network
Saturday, November 19th vs Buffalo, TBD
Friday, November 25th vs Toledo, TBD
Friday, December 2nd, MAC Championship Game in Detroit, Michigan (if MAC West Division Champs), 7:00 PM, ESPN2

Boise State Broncos (6-0 overall, 3-0 Mountain West)

S&P Ranking: 22nd
ESPN FPI Ranking: 30th
Best Win: Washington State (42nd S&P+, 24th FPI)
Biggest Negative: Tough Schedule

The Broncos, the 2014 Access Bowl participant from the G5, have managed their way through a challenging September which included Pac-12 foes Washington State and Oregon State. Colorado State put a scare into Boise at the end of the game last Saturday, but BSU remains undefeated.

The schedule shows the biggest challenge going forward for the Broncos. Five days between last Saturday and this Thursday against BYU in a rivalry game. Then alternating between Saturday and Friday for most of November including a short week that begins with the long trip to Honolulu against an improving Hawai’i side. That’s the price of success in the G5 and being out west where national TV coverage is minimal.

A 13-0 Boise State team would be hard to ignore and likely would get chosen over a 13-0 Western Michigan team. The road to get there is filled with land mines and a potential MWC Championship game meeting with San Diego State would be a huge game. Get through this, and it’s tough to deny the Blue Turf Broncos against any one-loss American Athletic side.

Remaining Schedule
Thursday, October 20th vs BYU, 10:15 PM on ESPN
Saturday, October 29th at Wyoming, 7:00 PM on CBS Sports Network
Friday, November 4th vs San Jose State, 10:15 PM on ESPN2
Saturday, November 12th at Hawai’i, 7:00 PM on CBS Sports Network
Friday, November 18th vs UNLV, 9:00 PM on ESPN2
Friday, November 25th at Air Force, 3:30 PM on CBS Sports Network
Saturday, December 3rd, Mountain West Championship Game at TBD (if MWC Mountain Division Champs, 7:30/7:45 PM, ESPN/2

How do you rank the these three teams right now?

  1. Boise State
  2. Houston
  3. Western Michigan

While having a loss takes Houston out of the top spot, they’re still ahead of Western Michigan due to their win over Oklahoma.

Can anyone else make it in?

South Florida (21st S&P+, 28th FPI) could beat Houston in the AAC Championship game and sneak in, but that’s likely only if Boise and WMU slip up. Memphis (47th S&P+, 47th FPI) also has a slight outside chance as they play both USF and Houston. Navy (69th S&P+, 65th FPI) also only has one loss plus the win over Houston, but isn’t liked by the computer polls as you can see.

Everyone in Conference USA has at least two losses, so they’re out. Toledo (35th S&P+, 53rd FPI) is 5-1, but their non-conference isn’t helping them. Beating WMU on Thanksgiving weekend and winning the MAC Championship at 12-1 would have them in the conversation at worst. San Diego State (31st S&P+, 59th FPI) is still highly ranked, but losing to South Alabama will be the albatross that prevents them from being up there. Troy (43rd S&P+, 59th FPI) has the disadvantage of not having a conference championship game, so 11-1 is their ceiling and the Sun Belt doesn’t help them, even with a close loss at Clemson.

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