The Boise State football team cracked the College Football Playoff Top 25 on Tuesday — landing at No. 25.
That, as I wrote last week, puts the Broncos (8-2) in position to contend for a New Year’s Six bowl berth despite two early-season losses. That’s the same scenario as 2014, when they won the Fiesta Bowl.
But the Broncos are going to need significant help to make a big bowl. The CFP guarantees a New Year’s Six bowl berth for the highest-ranked champion of a Group of Five conference — the American, Mountain West, Mid-American, Conference USA or Sun Belt.
The American has three teams that likely would finish ranked ahead of Boise State if they win out: No. 15 UCF (9-0), No. 21 Memphis (8-1) and unranked South Florida (8-1). If South Florida wins the conference with one loss, it almost certainly would jump Boise State because the Bulls would have to beat at least one and possibly two Top 25 teams to do that.
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Here’s the scenario that would get Boise State into position for a New Year’s Six bowl, assuming the Broncos don’t lose a game (and that’s a big assumption, given what they have left — more on that later):
▪ Option 1: A two-loss West Division champion wins the American. Memphis, which still plays woeful East Carolina, almost certainly will win the West. For the Tigers to have two losses, they need to lose at home Saturday against SMU (10 a.m., ESPNews). Memphis then would need to beat UCF or South Florida in the American championship game.
▪ Option 2: UCF loses Saturday at Temple (10 a.m., ESPNU), beats South Florida and beats a two-loss Memphis. This would create an interesting debate between Boise State and UCF, which would have a win against South Florida and two wins against Memphis but a mid-November loss to a below-average opponent. This likely only works if Memphis has two losses. Beating a Top 25 Memphis for the second time would give UCF the edge over Boise State.
▪ Option 3: South Florida loses to Tulsa on Thursday at home (5:30 p.m., ESPN) and UCF loses to Temple. South Florida beats UCF and Memphis to win the conference with two losses.
▪ Option 4: This is the least likely but would guarantee a two-loss Boise State (or two-loss San Diego State) would finish ahead of the American champ: SMU beats Memphis, Temple beats UCF, Tulsa beats South Florida and South Florida beats UCF. That guarantees the American finishes with a two-loss champion wounded by a late-season loss.
Conversely, if Memphis, UCF and South Florida win this week, Boise State’s New Year’s Six hopes are all but dashed. The only way the Broncos could sneak in at that point would involve Memphis losing to East Carolina (2-8), which has been in the conversation for worst team in the country, and winning the conference title.
All of these options are possible. But if you combine them all, I’d still say there’s well less than a 50 percent chance of one of them happening.
And that doesn’t even factor in what Boise State must do on its end: beat Air Force, a team the Broncos have lost to three years in a row; win at Fresno State, the West Division leader, in a game that could have a weird vibe; and beat either Fresno State or San Diego State in the Mountain West championship game.
And about that “weird vibe” mentioned above. If Boise State and Fresno State clinch their divisions this week, which will happen if Fresno State beats Wyoming on Saturday afternoon, they’ll play each other Nov. 25 knowing that they’ll play again Dec. 2. The second game likely would be in Boise even if the Bulldogs won the first game, unless Boise State loses to Air Force.
If Fresno State loses to Wyoming, San Diego State likely will win the West Division. The Aztecs likely would host the title game if Boise State loses one of its last two games.