The moment has actually arrived, where a mid-major school is finally guaranteed some semblance of access into the power circle of the college football postseason. On one hand it is a token handout, a way of lumping the Group of Five conferences together as a separate subdivision within the FBS and tossing them a pittance to quiet any lingering unrest from the BCS era. On the other hand, any access only sets a precedent of fairness that is likely to carry over into a bracket that will inevitably grow from four to eight someday down the line.
We’ve had various teams occupy the top spot throughout the season. UCF, coming off its victory in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, entered 2014 as the preseason favorite. After the Knights lost to Penn State in their season opener in Dublin, Temple took over the top spot when it routed woebegone Vanderbilt in Nashville. Northern Illinois jumped up into the driver’s seat the following week with a win over Northwestern. Both would recover to win conference titles (or a share of a conference title, in UCF’s case), but those victories would proved to be ephemeral to their New Year’s bowl dreams as the Commodores and Wildcats finished the season with losing records.
Midway through September, East Carolina nearly shocked the country with a close loss to South Carolina. They would come back from their close shave against SEC competition to upset Virginia Tech and North Carolina in consecutive weeks to leap to the top of the Mid-Major Power Rankings for more than a month. Then the calendar flipped into November, and interest shifted from East Carolina to Marshall as the Herd remained undefeated. There they remained until the penultimate weekend of the regular season, when Western Kentucky upset Marshall on a two-point conversion in overtime.
That opened the door for a familiar old face to rise up and remain the face of the college football Cinderella story. Boise State looked out of the picture when they lost to Ole Miss and then dropped a conference game to Air Force to fall further down the pack of contenders. But eight straight wins vaulted the Broncos to the Mountain West championship and what will likely be their third Fiesta Bowl appearance since 2006.
Boise has consistently punched above its weight class since joining the FBS in 1996. The Broncos won their first conference titles at the I-A level under Dirk Koetter when they played in the Big West. Dan Hawkins continued the pattern of excellence by guiding Boise State successfully into the WAC. Chris Petersen was the iconic leader for the team’s rise in the BCS era. And now, with Petersen moving on to Seattle to take over at Washington, Bryan Harsin has perpetuated the success in Idaho’s capital city with the team’s first outright Mountain West title.
Since joining the FBS, Boise State has gone 189 and 42, winning nearly 82 percent of its games in that span. The Broncos rolled through two undefeated seasons and finished with double digits in the win column 13 times in 19 seasons. They won a dozen conference titles in three different leagues under four different coaching staffs. At this point Boise State is the gold standard for mid-majors, the example that gives every new FBS school hope that it might blossom into a burgeoning powerhouse.
With their victory over Fresno State, Harsin’s squad will be in the mix for selection to the Peach or Cotton Bowls, though their most likely destination this postseason will once again be Glendale. Who they will play in that bowl game remains to be seen, but by winning the Mountain West the Broncos completed a stunning comeback after opening the season 3-2 and looking like an afterthought until November. Click ahead to read more about where each conference’s champion(s) ranked in the race for the Access Bowl bid that will be handed out Sunday in the final CFP Mid-Major Power Rankings of the 2014 regular season…