The 12th weekend of the college football season offered even more separation between the Group of Five. East Carolina’s second straight defeat left the American Athletic Conference with a slew of three-loss teams jockeying for position in a bloated field of mediocrity. Georgia Southern’s third loss of the season, at Navy, technically kept the Eagles atop the Sun Belt standings alongside Louisiana-Lafayette, though that league is also represented by a bunch of flawed pretenders. Northern Illinois clings to two-loss status, the only team in the MAC with fewer than three defeats.
The race now looks destined to come down to the Mountain West and Conference USA. Boise State survived a scare against San Diego State to remain atop the MWC Mountain Division, with a trio of teams lurking behind the Broncos waiting for a stumble. Marshall romped against last year’s C-USA champion Rice, grabbing their 10th win of a so-far-undefeated season, and they’re on a collision course with Louisiana Tech for the league title.
Barring some chaos in both MWC and C-USA play — something that is not entirely out of the realm of possibility in a season that has already had more than its fair share of upsets — the other three conferences in the Group of Five are our of the hunt for the Access Bowl bid. Memphis, Cincinnati, and UCF all have serious blemishes in the AAC. Northern Illinois and the other MAC leaders are likewise tarnished hopefuls. And neither Georgia Southern nor UL-Lafayette have the resume to make much noise in the Sun Belt.
We entered the 2014 season with plenty of question marks about the hierarchy of mid-major conferences. At least in the first season of the College Football Playoff era, we now have a better idea about how these leagues stack up against one another.
The Mountain West, which established itself as the preeminent Cinderella league during the BCS era thanks to the exploits of former members Utah and TCU, remains at the head of the pecking order. Conference USA, despite seeing many of its best teams poached by the AAC in its rebuilding project, has been bolstered by the strong play of the Thundering Herd and Bulldogs. One is dependent on a division that runs four-deep; the other is finding success from the transcendent excellence of its standard-bearer.
Like the SEC West or the Pac-12 South, the MWC Mountain has proven to be the stronger of the two divisions within its conference. By any metric, Conference USA is a two-horse race where both divisions are dominated by one team over a slew of lightweights. They’ve taken divergent paths to get to this point, but the two leagues have a quartet of contenders who likely have the greatest odds of reaching a New Year’s bowl game.
But while it might seem like a lost cause, there is still a clear hierarchy among the leaders of the other leagues. If chaos does come to pass, where do these other schools stack up against the front-runners of the Mountain West and Conference USA? 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 in this week’s CFP Mid-Major Power Rankings…