A key component in rooting for a Group of 5 school is that, in addition to rooting for your school, you're also rooting for chaos. Sure, we get our shots at the Power 5 in March Madness, but oh how sweet it would be to see a G5 school get a chance to play for a football national title. In the BCS era, the Fiesta Bowl was the ceiling. Times have changed. The expansion to a four-team playoff leaves open the possibility for a G5 school to slip in to the title conversation and play spoiler.
Seven weeks in, and I believe we've found our This Year's Boise State (TYBS). The Marshall Thundering Herd have established themselves to this point as the runaway favorite in C-USA. The Herd offense is averaging 47.8 ppg - good for 2nd in the nation, and their defense is giving up an average of 17.2 ppg - good enough for 8th nationally. Not only is Marshall's O putting up numbers - but they've done so in a balanced manner - approximately 300 yards a game on the ground and in the air respectively.
So why is Marshall unranked, and on the outside looking in, as opposed to a legitimate title contender? Well, the national perception of Marshall is strongly, strongly, (strongly) influenced by the Herd's weak schedule. Marshall's non-conference opponents peak at Miami (OH) and valley at FCS Rhode Island. In true BSU fashion, there's a good chance Marshall won't play a ranked opponent until their bowl game.
Mind you, 2006 Boise State (while still in the WAC) didn't play a ranked opponent until they met Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. And we know how that turned out.
Typically it doesn't take seven weeks for TYBS to emerge. I was ready to buy a Cincinnati Bearcats shirt after Gunner Keil had himself that primetime coming out party, but that fell flat real fast. BYU emerged as our second potential darling, but as Taysom Hill went down, so did the Cougars. AAC favorite East Carolina is the most accomplished G5 team, but the loss to South Carolina grows ever more damning as the Gamecocks look like an Independence Bowl team at best.
So, we're left with Marshall. Unranked, C-USA, no-national-superstar, Marshall. Fine. The Thundering Heard are a darn good football team, and as long as they stay undefeated, the chance remains that they can earn a playoff bid. Here's how.
SEC Bid Situation
Potential playoff teams: Auburn (5-1, 2-1), Alabama (5-1, 2-1), Georgia (5-1, 3-1), Ole Miss (6-0, 3-0), Miss St (6-0, 3-0).
The SEC Champion is getting a playoff bid. No discussion there. They key for the Herd here is for the SEC to be limited to that one bid. In order for that to be so, we'll need the SEC Champion to be undefeated (either Ole Miss or MSU) and the remaining three teams in the SEC West and Georgia to finish the season with two losses. Any outcome in which two SEC teams finish the year with 1 loss does not bode well for Marshall sneaking in.
PAC12 Bid Situation
Potential Playoff teams: Oregon (5-1, 2-1)
Simply put, a loss will do in the Ducks. If Oregon wins out, 12-1 should be good enough to solidify a seat at the table. A second loss? They're toast. The schedule is no slouch either, they still have nemesis Stanford, the Civil War, and the PAC12 South representative in the conference championship game. In the event Oregon does lose, it becomes a very real possibility the PAC12 will not have a team in the playoff.
BIG XII Bid Situation
Potential Playoff teams: Baylor (6-0, 3-0), Oklahoma (5-1, 2-1) Kansas State (4-1, 2-0) Oklahoma State (5-1, 3-0)
The four teams listed above have yet to play each other. As Baylor is the only remaining undefeated team, they are the BIG XII's best bet for the playoff. A second loss for OU, K-State, or Okie State eliminates them from contention. If Baylor emerges from conference play undefeated, they're a lock for the playoff. Otherwise, I see any and all BIG XII teams crossing the finish line at 11-1 to be sitting on the bubble. It's most likely in Marshall's best interest for Baylor to go undefeated, ensuring the other three teams are eliminated from contention.
B1G Bid Situation
Potential Playoff teams: Michigan State (5-1, 2-0) Ohio State (4-1, 1-0)
Neither loss for the Bucks or Sparty looks particularly "good" at this point. That said, if either wins out, they have a good chance at the playoff. However, if the winner of OSU/MSU stumbles, their chances, as well as the B1G's chances, will be done for. A 2-loss B1G champ will surely be left out in favor of an undefeated Marshall.
Notre Dame (6-0) vs Florida State (6-0, 4-0) 10/19
Next week we see either Notre Dame or FSU take a huge hit to their playoff chances. However, as far as the Herd are concerned, FSU or Notre dame will need to lose this game and another in order for Marshall to receive the loser's payoff bid. Notre Dame has Arizona State, Louisville, and USC remaining on their schedule. The ‘Noles have Florida and the conference championship game. Not impossible.
So let's say Marshall wins out (/KNOCKS ON WOOD SO HARD) and the scenarios above play out to Marshall's favor. What will the playoff look like?
1 Seed: SEC Champ. Say, Mississippi State (13-0)
2 Seed: Baylor (12-0)
3 Seed: Florida State (12-1)
4 Seed: Marshall (13-0)
On the outside looking in will be 2 loss Notre Dame, a 2 loss Pac 12 champion, a 2 loss SEC runner up, a 2 loss SEC West runner up, and a 2 loss B1G champion. As long as Marshall continues to play at this pace (smoking everyone), I cannot see how any of the 2 loss teams have claim to the Herd's fourth seed.
At which point, come January 1, we are ALL Marshall.