If the Boise State football team wins its final three Mountain West games and the conference championship game — a stretch that would include at least three bowl-bound teams — the Broncos would finish 11-2 with a nine-game winning streak.
That’s almost exactly what they did in 2014, when they won their final eight games to finish 11-2 and were invited to the Fiesta Bowl.
So if the Broncos’ hot streak continues, a debate is coming. Does Boise State have a case for the spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game reserved for the highest-ranked champion of a Group of Five conference?
Right now, the Broncos are on the fringe of the conversation. UCF is 8-0 and ranked No. 18 by the College Football Playoff selection committee. Memphis is 8-1 and ranked No. 22. The two American conference teams could meet in the conference championship game with the winner likely getting the New Year’s Six bid. And then there’s 8-1 South Florida, which is ranked No. 22 in the AP poll but unranked by the CFP and still gets a shot at UCF.
No other Group of Five teams are in the CFP Top 25, but based on the AP and coaches polls, Toledo, Boise State and San Diego State are the next Group of Five teams in line.
Here’s a comparison of the teams’ resumes:
Vs. Top 30
San Diego State
A few things to note:
▪ UCF, which has played a bad schedule worsened by the hurricane-related cancellation of a game against Georgia Tech, is being propped up in the CFP by Memphis — a team that appears overrated by the committee. If Memphis beats SMU next week, the Tigers clinch a spot in the American championship game and likely will be 10-1. That means UCF could finish the year with its two best wins coming against the same Memphis team that Sagarin places at No. 39. But in the CFP’s eyes, that’d be two wins against a Top 25 team.
UCF’s schedule already has become a concern for the committee.
“A talented team,” said Kirby Hocutt, chairman of the CFP selection committee. “Offensively been very impressive to the committee. Again, their strength of schedule is just going to continue to be a challenge in positioning them higher.”
▪ USF likely could clinch the NY6 berth by beating Tulsa, UCF and likely Memphis in the American championship game. The latter two games would provide just enough meat on an otherwise-ridiculous resume. USF, which lost to Houston, doesn’t have a win against anyone in the top 90 yet.
▪ Toledo, which lost to Miami (Fla.), is a good team that isn’t getting enough help from its conference rivals to challenge a one-loss American champ or probably even a two-loss Mountain West champ.
▪ San Diego State blew a golden opportunity. If the Aztecs, who have wins over Stanford and Arizona State, hadn’t pulled a no-show against Fresno State, they could have avenged their loss to Boise State in the Mountain West title game. That potentially would have given them two to three wins better than UCF’s best.
What does all this mean to Boise State? The Broncos are going to regret that 42-23 home loss to Virginia (6-3 — with three ugly losses) for as long as they keep winning. If their only loss was in triple overtime to Washington State (CFP No. 19) on the road with a backup quarterback, you could make a decent argument for Boise State over anyone else — particularly if UCF picks up a loss. But that 19-point home loss is an anchor.
“Just garbage when we played Virginia,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin told The Athletic. “I don’t mean that as a negative toward Virginia, they’ve done a really good job. I just didn’t see our football team go out there and give an effort we’re capable of giving.”
The only way the Broncos can overcome that is for chaos to break out in the American. Something like this: SMU beats Memphis and whoever wins the American’s West Division takes the title game. The champion would have at least two losses in that scenario.
Boise State would have a strong case head to head with Toledo (MAC) and finish ahead of the Conference USA champ (perhaps 6-3 Florida Atlantic) and the Sun Belt champ (perhaps 7-2 Troy, a team the Broncos beat).
But the American forms a roadblock that will be difficult to avoid. Some will bemoan the American leaders’ weak non-conference schedules, and for good reason.
But those teams’ trump card is this: Boise State lost to a slightly above-average team at home by 19 points. UCF and Memphis haven’t done anything close to that bad. And if USF is the American champ, well, the Bulls likely will have gone through UCF and Memphis — two wins better than any the Broncos could have.
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 208-377-6398 or @chaddcripe on Twitter.