Who will it be? The highest ranked team from the Group of 5 conferences will receive a bid to appear in a New Year’s Six Bowl. At this point in the season there are three teams from the Group of 5 that are undefeated, and two other schools that have had impressive seasons, but have one loss. Both of those teams were unlucky enough to play the Fighting Irish. The Memphis Tigers, Houston Cougars and Toledo Rockets are all undefeated, and the Temple Owls and Navy Midshipmen have one loss each. Let’s take a look at which team is most likely to be the highest-ranked team at the end of the season and whether or not two teams from the Group of 5 could get bids to a New Year’s Six Bowl. We’ll also discuss if a team from the Group of 5 could make it into the College Football Playoff.
The highest ranked team as it stands now is Memphis, ranked No. 15 in the AP Poll. The Tigers have had a season to remember, with wins over Bowling Green, Cincinnati and South Florida and a signature victory over Ole Miss that may turn out to be the biggest win in school history. The Tigers offense is directed by one of the nation’s top QBs, Paxton Lynch. He is averaging 338 yards passing per game so far this season and has 17 TDs passes and a pair on the ground. In the last few weeks, the 6’7″ Junior from Deltona, Florida has become a household name and made his way into the race for the Heisman Trophy. The Tigers remaining schedule will be trying as they host Navy this weekend, and travel to face currently undefeated Houston and a tough Temple team in back-to-back weeks, potentially followed by the American Athletic Conference Championship Game. The Tigers are for real and I expect them to stay right in the thick of things in the Group of race.
Led by first-year Head Coach Tom Herman, the Houston Cougars have put together an 8-0 record so far in 2015 and have worked their way up to No. in the AP Top 25 poll. The Cougars are led by Greg Ward Jr., the best quarterback you’ve never heard of. Ward has been excellent in 2015, taking part in 27 scores so far, including an NCAA-leading 16 rushing TDs. The Cougars schedule has been a factor in them starting 8-0 as they don’t boast a win over a team with a winning record, but they have won impressively. They shut out Vanderbilt in Nashville last week, and defeated Louisville in week two. The road for this Houston team won’t be easy, as they host Cincinnati, Memphis and Navy and travel to an improving UConn, followed by a potential conference championship game.
The Toledo Rockets season took off when they defeated Arkansas from the SEC and Iowa State from the Big 12 in back-to-back games. The Rockets are 7-0 with four games remaining in the regular season, a game against Stony Brook was cancelled week one. They’ll face what may be the four best teams in the Mid-American Conference, hosting Northern Illinois, and traveling to Central Michigan and Bowling Green before finishing the season at home against Western Michigan, followed by a potential conference championship game. Win out, and the Rockets, currently ranked No. 20 in both polls, have an excellent chance at climbing the rankings.
The Temple Owls are coming off one of their biggest games in school history, and perhaps one of the most depressing defeats as well as they lost to the No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 24-20. The Owls were 7-0 going into game, and while they lost, they delivered a message that they belong among the top teams in the nation. The Owls defeated Penn State earlier in the season, and are currently ranked No. 23 in both polls. Their chances however to be the Group of Five representative didn’t take a huge fall after Saturday’s close loss to Notre Dame. For the Owls to win out, they would need to defeat Memphis in three weeks and win the conference championship game. If they do that, the Owls may find themselves in a New Year’s Six Bowl.
The Navy Midshipmen are perhaps the biggest sleepers in the Group of 5 race as it stands right now. They have posted a 6-1 record with the only loss on the road to Notre Dame. The Midshipmen’s triple-option attack is led by Senior QB Keenan Reynolds who is a rushing TD away from becoming the all time NCAA leader in rushing TDs. This team doesn’t have the big-name wins other Group of 5 teams have on their resume, but they have been dominant in their games. They can change that in the remaining weeks as they travel to Memphis and Houston, and a could potentially face Temple in a conference championship game. The Midshipmen are not currently ranked, and are a long shot, but they still have a chance to make a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Lastly, the Appalachian State Mountaineers deserve a ton of credit for being 7-1 in just their second season as an FBS team. This team has looked great all season and their only loss was at No. 3 Clemson in week two of the season. They deserve some attention for being in first place in the Sunbelt Conference, though their chances are slim at being the Group of 5 representative.
Could a Group of 5 team make the College Football Playoff? If Memphis wins out, and Ole Miss wins the SEC (the Rebels control their own destiny), it is possible. Several things would need to happen, such as Notre Dame losing to Stanford, which would need to finish with two losses. There would also need to be some chaos in the Big 12 or the ACC to keep Clemson, Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State from staking a claim on a playoff spot. But while it may be unlikely, it is possible.
Could two teams from the Group of 5 play in New Year’s Six Bowls? Yes, but it would probably take one teams to be undefeated and another to be dominant with signature wins. The only scenario where that happens is Memphis or Temple and Toledo win out. There would need to be several key upsets in the Power 5 conferences, but as we’ve seen all season, anything could happen.