Week 8 thinned the field even further, though ultimately it is important to remember that the selection committee’s decision will come down to just five teams — the quintet that win the conference championships in the American, Conference USA, Mountain West, MAC, and Sun Belt. Ultimately every other team will fall out of the running. Even when a team seems to have a lock on a prime-time bowl slot, they are competing against not just other elite mid-majors but also their own conference foes.
We have seen teams stumble at the last hurdle in the past, most memorably with Bowling Green’s upset of Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship last season and Houston’s stumble in the C-USA Championship against Southern Miss in 2011. Front-runners East Carolina and Marshall certainly look the part this season, but both teams still have plenty of roadblocks to surmount before they can truly be in the running for the Access Bowl bid guaranteed to the best Group of Five conference champion this season.
Only one other one-loss team remains in the hunt. Colorado State has cut things close all season long. The Rams have wins over two Power Five opponents, Colorado and Boston College, definite resume-boosters when it comes time for the 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee to sit down in December and sort out the top team from the five less-heralded leagues. They have won three games by a touchdown or less, including this weekend’s survival at home against Utah State that was decided by a last-second field goal. Now 6-1, Colorado State looks like the best chance for the Mountain West to trump the Pirates and the Thundering Herd.
But the Rams also need outside help. After losing 37-24 at Boise State in the second week of the season, Jim McElwain’s squad sits behind the Broncos in the MWC Mountain standings. And unless Boise loses again in Mountain West play, Colorado State will have no shot at even entering the discussion for the Access Bowl bid. That 13-point defeat on the Smurf Turf could prove costly at the end of the season, not just for the Rams but for the entire conference. The league that was the preeminent BCS Buster of the past 14 years has seen near-misses in the past, most notably by the Broncos themselves; if anyone besides Colorado State makes it to the MWC Championship Game, another chance could evaporate for the conference.
The crew from Fort Collins survived another squeaker, and stays in the top three for another week despite sitting just second in their own division. For the moment they still need assistance from one of the remaining teams on Boise State’s schedule. But the Rams are at least taking care of business after their early loss, and the season still looks like the most promising shot at glory since Sonny Lubick retired.
With every team among the Group of Five having played at least six games at this point, let’s dive into this week’s CFP Mid-Major Power Rankings and see where each league’s contenders stand in the pecking order midway through October…