When the decision was made to go to a "Final Four" in the college football playoff, many people believed that the days of the Boise States and (formerly) TCUs of the world were eliminated from any contention. To appease the fans of these schools, the playoff committee will pick one team out of the so-called "Group of 5" conferences to play in a New Year's Eve or New Year's Day bowl game not in the playoff rotation for a given year. This year, the berth will be in the Orange, Cotton, Peach, or Fiesta Bowl for the selected group of five school. The requirement is that the school must be the conference champion of their conference. Now, at the season's midpoint, there are currently 3 teams in the conversation for that bowl berth; East Carolina, Marshall, and Colorado State. Let's take a look at the resumes and remaining road ahead for these schools.
EAST CAROLINA PIRATES
Current Record: 6-1 (3-0 AAC)
Current Ranking: AP #18/Coaches #17
Record vs. "Power 5": 2-1 (Wins vs. UNC and at Virginia Tech, Loss at South Carolina)
Remaining Potential Stumbling Blocks: Nov. 1 @ Temple, Nov. 13 @ Cincinnati, Dec. 4 vs. UCF
At this moment, ECU seems to be in the driver's seat for the "Group of 5" spot with the committee. ECU has 2 wins over ACC schools, a close loss to an SEC school, and is the early leader in the American Athletic Conference race. Shane Carden is leading Ruffin McNeill's Air Raid offense to some big wins through the early part of their schedule, but some of their wins have become less impressive. ECU required a 4th quarter comeback to beat a 3-4 USF in Tampa and 10 points in the last 7 minutes to beat a hapless UConn team in Greenville 31-21. Even their more impressive wins are becoming less and less impressive as Virginia Tech continues to look worse as the Hokies have dropped ACC contests to Georgia Tech, Pitt, and a blowout loss to Miami. And ECU's other ACC victory over UNC is the only team that the Hokies have beaten in ACC play. Beyond three tough conference games late, ECU has the blessing and curse of being the only one of the three teams to not have a potential conference championship game. If ECU hopes to be the Group of 5 school to come out with a major bowl bid, not only do they need to finish out their season strong, they need VT and UNC to come out of their funk and become more competitive in the ACC.
MARSHALL THUNDERING HERD
Current Record: 7-0 (3-0 C-USA)
Current Ranking: AP #23/Coaches #22
Record vs. "Power 5": 0-0
Best Wins: Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, Akron Zips
Remaining Potential Stumbling Blocks: Nov. 15 vs. Rice, Nov. 22 @ UAB, Dec. 6 - C-USA Title Game *potential*
The most dominant of the three schools this year has been Marshall. So far this year, the Herd have defeated teams by an average score of 47-16. However, Marshall has been affected by conference realignment that some people did not realize. This year, Louisville was to play a return game in a home and home series in Huntington, but after their move to the ACC, the Cardinals asked their game be moved back to 2016. After that schedule change, the Herd has had to fight the strength of schedule argument against them this season. In every game this year, Marshall has done everything they have needed to do against their inferior competition as the only team to score 40 points in every game this year and with their smallest margin of victory being 15 points. Marshall's dominant win over Akron came only a week before Terry Bowden's Zips went on the road and defeated Pitt. Akron still has a shot to be the MAC champion, which would help out the Herd as well. MTSU has been a very good team this year, but the Herd needs the Blue Raiders to keep winning to make the win look better and better. Marshall's should be favored by 20 points plus in every game from here on out, and they have to look that impressive and get some style points for the committee.
COLORADO STATE RAMS
Current Record: 6-1 (2-1 MWC)
Current Ranking: AP - Receiving Votes/Coaches - Receiving Votes
Record vs. "Power 5": 2-0 (Wins at Boston College and neutral site vs. Colorado)
Remaining Potential Stumbling Blocks: Nov. 1 @ San Jose State, November 28 @ Air Force, Dec. 6 - Mountain West Title Game *potential*
The school that has been recently getting more attention from voters is Colorado State. Jim McElwain's team has quietly played their way to a 6-1 record with a chance of crashing the part for the Mountain West. The Rams have two wins over power 5 teams, but Colorado remains unimpressive this season with their only wins vs. UMass and Hawaii. The Rams win over BC got some attention after the Eagles victory over USC, but BC still has Louisville and Florida State ahead, which could still tarnish the resume a bit. The Rams still have some difficult road games in Mountain West play, but the biggest worry for the Rams has to still be the "conference champion" stipulation. The Rams lost an early game at Boise State, who has the inside track to the MWC's Mountain Division championship. Colorado State needs the Broncos to stumble against San Diego State to open up the race once again.
Other potential party crashers
It feels weird not having Boise State on the list, and while their opening week loss to Ole Miss looks better by the week, there doesn't appear to be another truly impressive win on their resume...yet. Unfortunately, their best win (beyond Colorado State) might be over a 4-3 UL-Lafayette team.
Outside of the AAC, Conference USA and Mountain West, the Sun Belt and MAC have not produced any dominant teams with impressive victories. Sadly for the Sun Belt, the team which might be their best one is only conditionally eligible for a bowl game. Georgia Southern is a last-second field goal by NC State and a terrible call against Georgia Tech away from being 7-0 with two power 5 victories. Once fully eligible, the Eagles could be a potential long-term Group of 5 contender if they can keep up their success.
I believe that, barring a second loss later this season, East Carolina will be the group of five representative this season and this will be a two-horse race from here on out. Boise State's schedule sets up too well as opposed to Colorado State's to give the Rams a shot at the Mountain West championship. While ECU might be the representative, I don't believe they will be the most deserving. They have struggled so far against some truly bad teams like UConn, and their "impressive" wins look worse and worse as Virginia Tech and UNC continue to struggle in the ACC. ECU's loss to South Carolina looks poorer and poorer as the Gamecocks sit in the middle of the pack in the SEC East. Marshall has been the most impressive this season, with their "worst win" being a 15-point win over Miami (OH) that was not as close as the score indicated. Punishing Marshall for their most difficult opponent backing out due to conference realignment is unfair to the athletes on the field. Somehow, Marshall has gotten the Rodney Dangerfield treatment by beating their opponents by 30 points per game and being the only team to score 40 points per game, while the national analysts make it sound like Marshall is playing in the Southern or Ohio Valley Conference, instead of playing in an FBS conference.
So, what are your predictions on how this drama will end?