Last year provided the first glimpse of what a new future of increased access for mid-major programs might look like. No longer was an undefeated season and praying for a high ranking a prerequisite for selection to a major bowl game for the schools of the Mountain West, AAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA, and MAC.
The hierarchy still exists, though. Now, these teams aren’t measured against the mark of excellence set by the entrenched stalwarts at the top of the polls — the Alabamas, Ohio States, Florida States, and USCs of the college football world — but rather the other small-conference schools that are now relegated into a second rating system.
Of course, we also didn’t witness an undefeated team among the Group of Five conference champions. If a team like Boise State was to go undefeated this season, though, we would likely see the Broncos (or some of the other teams we will discuss soon) force the College Football Playoff committee to put them into their weekly rankings in a way that Marshall could never legitimately break last year.
Until that happens, and we see a reprisal of the time when teams like Boise State and TCU and Utah were pushing the establishment regularly (before the latter two were integrated into the establishment of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 respectively), this two-tiered system of rating will remain a reality of the game. If one of the eventual champions of a smaller-stature conference can make a sustained run in the top 15 or top 10 of the weekly CFP poll this year, it could go a long way toward further expanding access and leveling the playing field further.
Will this be the year that it all comes together for a Cinderella run that reshapes history? If it is going to occur in 2015, it will most likely that one of the following teams will be effecting this change. As the successor to the BCS Buster Power Rankings, this year’s preseason rankings focus on five key areas to sort out the contenders from the pretenders:
- Conference affiliation, which encompasses both conference reputation and the likelihood of winning said conference
- Talent of the current team, accounting both for returning talent and historical recruiting patterns
- Recent performance, looking both at the 2014 record normalized for schedule strength as well as at recent F/+ trends
- The head coach and his historical record
- The key games of the 2015 season and the possibility for creating meaningful statements
Utilizing this combination of quantifiable and subjective data, I have parsed through the five mid-major conferences to determine which 20 teams have the best shot at reaching the Access Bowl. Each team will be previewed over the next week, and you can find each preview by clicking on the teams below:
- Boise State Broncos (MWC)
- Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (C-USA)
- Western Michigan Broncos (MAC)
- Memphis Tigers (AAC)
- Cincinnati Bearcats (AAC)
- UCF Knights (AAC)
- Georgia Southern Eagles (Sun Belt)
- San Diego State Aztecs (MWC)
- Utah State Aggies (MWC)
- Northern Illinois Huskies (MAC)
- Arkansas State Red Wolves (Sun Belt)
- Marshall Thundering Herd (C-USA)
- Bowling Green Falcons (MAC)
- Colorado State Rams (MWC)
- Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (C-USA)
- Houston Cougars (AAC)
- Toledo Rockets (MAC)
- East Carolina Pirates (AAC)
- Appalachian State Mountaineers (Sun Belt)
- Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (Sun Belt)
For more analytical breakdown, be sure to also check out the new Football Power Index.