The College Football Playoff debate is the centerpiece of the 2014 season, but the Gang Of Five drama owns more prominence and centrality this week after Boise State and Marshall both cracked the top 25 in the College Football Playoff rankings. With Boise State sitting just one spot ahead of Marshall, this Saturday’s late game (10:15 p.m. Eastern time) between the Broncos and the Utah State Aggies will carry a lot of weight.
The Student Section editors discuss the emerging contours of the Boise State-Marshall debate… and add a few insights on this Saturday’s crucial contest for the Broncos against a supremely resilient Utah State squad.
How would you assess this Saturday’s Utah State-Boise State game, and if Boise State wins, would you rate the Broncos — as Mountain West Mountain Division champions — ahead of unbeaten Marshall in the race for the Gang Of Five access bowl berth?
On Twitter @SectionTPJ
Judging by the new College Football Playoff Standings, Boise State would earn the “Gang of Five” bid if the season ended today.
I don’t think I’ve ever said this before, but the Selection Committee is correct on this one. Despite losing a couple of contests, the Broncos should get the nod over the Thundering Herd.
That’s not to say that I don’t think Marshall is a solid football team. After all, the Herd has one of the most explosive offense in the nation, ranking second nationally in yards per game (562.5), third in yards per carry (7.05) and fourth in scoring offense (44.9). The defense is equally solid allowing just 322 yards per game (14th nationally) and 16.5 points per contest.
While it’s tough to argue with those results, it’s hard to validate them considering how weak Marshall’s schedule is. According to the Sagarin ratings, the Thundering Herd’s strength of schedule is the 137th toughest in the land, meaning than at least nine FCS schools have faced a stronger schedule at this point in the season.
Sorry, Marshall fans, but if the Selection Committee is going to factor in strength of schedule, it cannot reward the Thundering Herd with a major bowl. Doing so would not only send the wrong message — it would encourage every other “mid-major” to play a soft non-conference schedule.
What happens between Utah State and Boise State won’t change what I said above. Should the Aggies pull the upset, it would merely elevate Colorado State into the top spot for the Gang of Five, provided that the Rams beat Air Force on Friday. With wins against both Colorado and Boston College, CSU would have a much better body of work than the Thundering Herd despite losing to Boise early in the year.
On Twitter: @SectionMZ
Saturday, you will likely focus on two “Bowl” games — Egg and Iron. If you can stay up late, however, do try to catch this game in Boise on ESPN2. It’s a test and revealer for Boise State, which has a chance to make the big bowl game some of the great Kellen Moore teams were unfairly barred from. (Not that it would be right, but that’s another story, and we have to wait and see if it even comes to pass in the coming weeks.)
The great virtue of Utah State’s recent teams under coach Matt Wells is that they have played resourcefully without star quarterback Chuckie Keeton. How many other programs would have been able to do what the Aggies have done the past two seasons, with Keeton usually watching from the sidelines?
Boise State is the more skilled team, but USU owns some rugged survivalists in the trenches. If Utah State can control the line of scrimmage, it can control the game. Let’s recall that Boise State fell behind San Diego State, 20-0, in its most recent home game. If Utah State can commandeer the point of attack in the first 25 minutes and build a similar advantage, the Broncos can’t expect to mount another comeback. Boise State needs to at least draw even in this first half, allowing its talent to take over after halftime. If Utah State leads by 10 or more at the intermission, Boise State will be in big trouble.
As for the Gang Of Five, I go back to two principles on this issue:
First, comparisons between unbeaten teams and teams that have lost are different from comparisons between one-loss and two-loss teams. That point goes to Marshall over Boise State, especially since there is a gap of two losses, not just one, between the teams.
Second — I’m said this earlier in the season, and I’m certainly going to re-emphasize it now — the Gang Of Five should implement a one-game playoff next year. If these teams met on a neutral field, I would not hesitate to pick Boise State, and yes, strength of schedule ought to matter as well, but with that having been said, seeing 13-0 Marshall not even get a chance to play 11-2 Boise State and being left out of the access bowl would raise questions.
If an unbeaten Conference USA team can’t get selected over a two-loss champion of a noticeably average Mountain West (the MWC has a strong Mountain Division but a very, very weak West Division, and basically has four quality teams plus eight that are mediocre or worse), the three lower-tier G-5 conferences — C-USA, the MAC, and the Sun Belt — have to wonder if the deck is going to be permanently stacked against them in the future. The easy solution to this problem is a one-game Gang Of Five playoff. We’ll see how the Marshall-Boise State drama unfolds on the field in the coming weeks… and then off the field in the offseason.
On Twitter: @TheCoachBart
There’s always a line, a ceiling, and a floor. “Yeah, she’s pretty … but” always has rope depending on beauty and the severity of the personal character flaw. So there’s a certain “beauty” in the statement “they just beat who they play,” but at some point the line gets crossed between “yeah, she’s pretty so I deal with it” and “yeah, she’s pretty, but I’m sort of tired of her not working, spending all of my money, and I swear she put bleach in my coffee this morning.”
Marshall’s schedule is the bleach in the coffee. This is the great Satan of the playoff system and the Gang of Five thing. There is literally no incentive to schedule Gang of Five teams at this point, let alone ones you can lose to.
On a neutral field, I’d pick Boise State simply because I know Boise State can hang with the big fellas for the most part, and I can’t say that with certainty about Marshall.
BSU football is unique in its own right in a sense, because it’s probably the one Gang of Five program capable of individually driving ratings. If the Broncos are on television, they get eyeballs. My view is that we’re only a matter of time before they move up and further wedge the divide between the Power 5 and the Gang of Five.
We know BSU can hang with Ole Miss, as it did for half of the game before things just got hairy in week one. Of the Gang of Five leagues, the Mountain West is the upper-crust one that seems to get a fair share of measuring-stick Power 5 contests.
I also like how Boise has evolved over the years from this wide-open, video-game offense to one that can hang with you because its defense is legit. Look at the NFL draft every year for the last five years, and you notice all levels of the defense getting snared in the NFL from Boise.
So it’s not meant to be a slight against Marshall, but pole-axing the bottom end of college football doesn’t tell me an immense amount. Surely, the Herd could win head-to-head, but I just know more about Boise at this point, and I like what I see.