The conference the Boise State football team spurned during realignment might have the best chance of preventing the Broncos from playing in another New Year’s Six bowl this winter.
The American has four undefeated teams after the first month of the season — four contenders for the lucrative bowl bid and also teams that will boost each other’s strength of schedule.
Boise State, meanwhile, has that stunning loss at BYU and a Mountain West schedule that has never looked softer.
The X-factor in the New Year’s Six competition: Toledo of the Mid-American.
Here’s a look at the race in the Group of Five conferences. The highest-ranked champion from the group receives the automatic bid to a New Year’s Six bowl, most likely the Peach (Dec. 31, Atlanta).
Contenders: Boise State (3-1), Air Force (2-1)
Rankings: Boise State received 85 combined points in AP/coaches Top 25 voting this week — the most among Group of Five teams.
Sagarin Ratings: Boise State is No. 23, Air Force is No. 63. The conference is second in the Group of Five, behind the American.
Nonconference vibe: The Mountain West lost 21 straight nonconference games against FBS competition this season, a horrific streak that might not sit well with the College Football Playoff selection committee. But Boise State has two Power Five wins: vs. Washington and at Virginia.
What’s ahead: Boise State likely will be heavily favored the rest of the season, including when Air Force visits Boise on Nov. 20 in a potential Mountain Division title showdown. Air Force plays at Navy this week in a key game for the Falcons and the conference.
Contenders: Temple (3-0), Memphis (4-0), Navy (3-0), Houston (3-0)
Rankings: Memphis received 53 points in combined Top 25 voting, Temple 35, Houston 28 and Navy 10.
Sagarin Ratings: The American is Sagarin’s best Group of Five conference but the top teams aren’t making much headway: No. 42 Houston, No. 45 Memphis, No. 53 Navy and No. 54 Temple.
Nonconference vibe: The American is 13-12 against FBS competition with five Power Five wins. Temple handed Penn State its only loss and East Carolina, which has two losses, showed the conference’s depth by beating Virginia Tech.
What’s ahead: Temple (Notre Dame), Navy (Notre Dame) and Memphis (Ole Miss) have Top 10 opponents still on the schedule. If any of those teams go undefeated, it will get the New Year’s Six spot. But even if one of those teams loses the marquee game and finishes with one loss, it likely would have a better overall resume than Boise State. Houston has the clearest path to 13-0 and gets Memphis and Navy at home.
Contenders: Toledo (3-0)
Rankings: Toledo received 83 points in combined voting and is one spot out of the AP Top 25.
Sagarin Ratings: Toledo is 39th. The MAC West, where Toledo plays, is ranked below the MW Mountain but ahead of the MW West.
Nonconference vibe: The MAC owns wins against Arkansas (Toledo), Iowa State (Toledo), Maryland (Bowling Green) and Purdue (Bowling Green). Bowling Green lost to Memphis 44-41 in a key Group of Five crossover game.
What’s ahead: The MAC’s overall weakness may sink Toledo but it also will help the Rockets in their undefeated quest. They play at rival Bowling Green on Nov. 17 — the Falcons are the only team on the schedule with a winning record all-time against the Rockets.
Rankings: No votes.
Sagarin Ratings: Both divisions are rated below the Missouri Valley, which is an FCS conference. Western Kentucky checks in at No. 57.
Nonconference vibe: Western Kentucky’s season-opening win at Vanderbilt seemed significant at the time, but the Commodores are 1-3. And the Hilltoppers squandered that momentum with a three-point loss at Indiana.
What’s ahead: Western Kentucky still could play itself into the race. All that’s required: a win Oct. 24 at LSU.
Contenders: None. Georgia Southern is 3-1, but it lost to West Virginia 44-0.
Rankings: No votes.
Sagarin Ratings: Georgia Southern is No. 70. Five of the 11 teams are ranked outside the top 140.
Nonconference vibe: The league’s most significant win might be South Alabama’s victory at San Diego State.
What’s ahead: Georgia Southern (3-1) plays at Georgia on Nov. 21.
The Broncos have scored 50-plus points in back-to-back games, but coaches still aren’t happy with the rushing attack (3.94 yards per carry, tied for 97th nationally) or third-down efficiency (37.29 percent, tied for 87th).
“I would argue this was our best offensive performance (last week vs. Virginia) and by no means are we satisfied,” offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz said. “... It still lacks consistency. We’re going to continue to push and prod till we get there.”
Boise State has allowed 14 points in two games since a series of big plays doomed the Broncos at BYU.
Coaches have used the phrase “compete and complete” to describe the effort they want.
That didn’t happen on two plays against BYU that resulted in long touchdowns.
“We haven’t been in that situation (since) and I don’t expect us to be in that situation,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “That’s not saying guys can’t make plays. Virginia did. But we weren’t out of position. We were competing. That’s the difference.”
LIFE OF A COORDINATOR
Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates used some rare free time Saturday to watch football. It wasn’t relaxing.
“I don’t sleep much, fellas,” he said. “... I’m getting sick watching all the points being scored on good defenses.”
CORREA CHARTS HIS OWN PATH
Boise State junior defensive end Kamalei Correa will play against Hawaii for the first time Saturday. He is from Honolulu, two older brothers played for the Warriors and his mom works at the university.
“I wanted to start my own path,” Correa told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Any added fuel this week, he said, is a result of the game being the conference opener. His brothers plan to attend.
“But it’s a normal week of preparation,” Correa said. “It really doesn’t matter who you play, you can get beat by any team. Hawaii is a good team.”
Correa wasn’t made available to the local media this week but did an interview with his hometown newspaper.
Chadd Cripe is in his 14th season covering Boise State football for the Idaho Statesman. He also votes in The Associated Press Top 25. He can be reached at email@example.com.