The reshuffling of the Group of Five hierarchy by East Carolina’s loss last weekend opened the door for greater introspection. At this point Conference USA and the Mountain West have the most likely tracks toward claiming the Access Bowl bid this season, with the AAC and MAC shooting themselves in their feet.
That deliberately leaves out the Sun Belt. Long considered the dregs of the FBS, the Sun Belt is starting to rise up this season. And perhaps the most interesting story in the league this year is one of its newest members.
Georgia Southern has more FCS national championships than any other school, claiming six crowns between 1985 and 2000. They tapered off somewhat in the 21st century, failing to win a national title or even reach the championship game. Yet they remained a tough out, reaching several national semifinals and upsetting Florida 26-20 last year before the transition. The Eagles would end their final FCS campaign 7-4, including that win over the Gators.
It was hardly the sort of story that Marshall had written prior to its transition, but the results after the move are starting to look eerily similar to the Herd’s first years as a MAC school. With one conference game left, against 3-6 Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia Southern is already 7-0 in league play with a game to go. The Eagles could win an outright, undefeated conference championship with a win over the Warhawks and a loss by Louisiana-Lafayette in one of its last three games.
Yet a 10-2 Sun Belt champion could theoretically be shut out of the bowl games entirely due to NCAA rules about the transition period for college football teams moving up to FBS. The Eagles are ineligible for postseason play until 2015, even though they are already technically eligible in terms of victories.
How much more chaos needs to happen, though, for the CFP selection committee to seriously consider the Eagles for the Access Bowl bid? The MAC and AAC are both already guaranteed to have a champion with two or more losses, putting them ostensibly on equal footing with Georgia Southern. If Colorado State is squeezed out of the MWC Championship Game by Boise State, that leaves just Marshall as a team with a better record.
Had Jacoby Brissett and/or Justin Thomas failed to complete go-ahead touchdown passes within the final two minutes for NC State and Georgia Tech respectively, the Eagles would be undefeated. If they knock off Navy on Saturday, they’ll have their statement win and a solid shot at their 10th victory on the last weekend of November.
There are a few teams that have an obvious inside track on the Access Bowl bid. The Mountain West and Conference USA champions will have a serious case to make, as will whichever team emerges from the AAC. But if Georgia Southern wins the Sun Belt outright, their argument won’t be entirely outlandish by comparison. Unless fewer than 78 teams qualify for bowl eligibility before the end of the season, a major bowl invitation could be the only option available for the Eagles to be rewarded in their first FBS season.
So how does Georgia Southern stack up against the other Group of Five contenders in this week’s CFP Mid-Major Power Rankings? Click ahead to read more about where the top teams rank in the race for the Access Bowl bid that will be handed out in December…