S&P+ rank: 9 | Resume S&P+ rank: 10 | FEI rank: 16 | Sagarin rank: 15
The case for the Bulldogs: UCF likes to make a big deal out of its winning streak and its streak of scoring 30-plus points, so Fresno State is something like the anti-UCF right now. They haven’t allowed 30 points since their back-to-back losses against Alabama and Washington last September. They’re 36th in Havoc Rate, 24th in defensive Opportunity Rate, 17th in points per trip allowed inside the 40, eighth in defensive Success Rate on third downs, seventh in defensive Success Rate overall, third in Defensive IsoPPP (preventing big plays) and opponents’ completion rate, second in opponents’ average field position and first in scoring defense. Did you get all that?
The Bulldogs have been pretty good on offense, too, owing mostly to the dramatic step forward by quarterback Marcus McMaryion, who’s mounting a serious challenge for the best season by a Fresno State quarterback ever. It may not be flashy, but it ranks in the top 40 by Offensive S&P+ and has beaten opponents by a 34.6-10.8 margin in the last five games.
Most importantly, no team ranked as highly by the above measures has failed to crack the first top 25. Fresno State’s overall performance rivals that of 2017 UCF and 2014 Clemson, which began 18th and 21st, respectively.
The case against the Bulldogs: Of the five or six teams in the conversation for a spot in the top 25, Fresno State might have the most egregious loss on their ledger. According to Bill Connelly, Minnesota still has a 43% chance at reaching bowl eligibility but, in the last three weeks, they’ve been beaten handily by Iowa, Ohio State and previously winless Nebraska.
In the larger picture, the same strength of schedule critiques that dog UCF also apply to the Bulldogs. Pantsing Idaho doesn’t move the needle, Toledo has taken a step back, and both the Gophers and UCLA will probably need to play their way above .500 to bolster Fresno State’s case in the long-term.
San Diego State
S&P+ rank: 53 | Resume S&P+ rank: 72 | FEI rank: 50 | Sagarin rank: 76
The case for the Aztecs: Maybe SDSU has led something of a charmed existence, but wins are wins, right? The Aztecs’ brand of thriving while living dangerously has given them the edge in any SOS argument: Eastern Michigan has emerged from their own bad fortune in one-score games and look like they might be a MAC West contender, Arizona State might reach a bowl, and Boise State is the biggest feather in any cap right now.
They’ve also managed to get to 6-1 without their starting quarterback and their starting running back, while their stellar defense (11th by Defensive S&P+) has led the way much like Fresno State. The degree of difficulty should play in their favor among the committee.
The case against the Aztecs: San Diego State faces the opposite problem of Fresno State in that no G5 team ranked as low by the above measures has ever cracked the first top 25. We’ve seen the Aztecs outperform midseason expectations before, however: Since finishing 72nd in S&P+ in 2014, SDSU has ranked 52nd, 33rd and 34th by season’s end in 2015-17.
If they miss the cut, it could be because they’ve played with fire for well over a month. Their average margin of victory over the past five games is just 4.6 points, so the Aztecs may need to rectify that in a way others will not.
S&P+ rank: 30 | Resume S&P+ rank: 18 | FEI rank: 44 | Sagarin rank: 44
The case for the Aggies: Of the three teams at the top of the Mountain West right now, no team’s current resume resembles UCF’s more than the Aggies. A close loss to Michigan State, who may not be a Big Ten title contender but are still on track for 8-9 wins, is no shame, and they’ve out-Knighted the Knights over the past five games with an average margin of victory of 27 points.
They also own a slight advantage over UCF in Success Rate on both sides of the ball, possess some of the best special teams in the country (16th in Special Teams S&P+) and have done everything you can ask against a schedule that, like Fresno State, has been lackluster aside from Sparty.
The case against the Aggies: If preseason narratives linger in the back of the committee’s minds, then it might be worth noting that Utah State, rightly or wrongly, has come more out of nowhere than the other teams in the conversation and might warrant some skepticism.
Playing in this year’s Mountain division may work against them, too. Wyoming hasn’t played to preseason expectations at all, while Air Force and New Mexico have been up and down. Getting back to thumping opponents by at least three touchdowns will give Utah State an edge since their climb to the championship, with no SDSU or Fresno State out of the West, will be easier and, thus, make a climb in the rankings much tougher.
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