College Football Playoff Rankings: Can Fresno State Crack the Initial Top 25?
The Bulldogs are a longshot for a New Year’s Six bowl bid, but have they done enough to carve out a place in the playoff committee’s conversation?
It’s about how you finish, but a good start won’t hurt.
Mountain West football has turned the corner into November and, in addition to the ongoing race for the conference championship, some attention must be paid to one of the unveiling of 2021’s first College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday.
You might be tempted to ignore this outright, especially considering that the Cincinnati Bearcats are firmly in the driver’s seat for the Group of 5’s New Year’s Six bowl slot if they don’t land in the top four, but stranger things have happened: East Carolina began 2014 as the G5 frontrunner and promptly lost two straight to fall out of the rankings. 2015 Memphis lost three straight after starting in the driver’s seat, too, and 2018 Fresno State didn’t give itself much of a chance to chase down UCF by losing to Boise State two weeks after debuting in the top 25.
If things stay chaotic, then, fortunes for the contenders in the Mountain West could change quickly. Here’s how each current contender stacks up:
Utah State Aggies (6-2)
The case for the Aggies: Margin of victory doesn’t apply to the committee’s deliberations, so Utah State can feel alright about taking a step back to examine their conquests: Washington State has been better than most prognosticators thought they’d be in spite of the Nick Rolovich ouster, and Air Force is hot on the Aggies’ tail in the Mountain division. If Colorado State and Hawaii can steal wins down the stretch, it makes for a solid, if not spectacular, resume.
The case against the Aggies: Oh, what might have been: The frustrating losses to Boise State and BYU undercut what has been a decent strength of schedule.
Air Force Falcons (6-2)
SP+ rank: 71 | FEI rank: 28 | Sagarin rank: 51 | Strength-of-schedule rank: 97/89
The case for the Falcons: When things have clicked, the Falcons have looked dominant for long stretches. Only one team has scored more than 20 points against the Air Force defense and they’ve handled business against the teams on their schedule they should beat handily.
The case against the Falcons: Put simply, Air Force has already lost games to arguably the two best teams they’ve faced and the rest of the resume isn’t up to par. 5-3 Florida Atlantic is the only team Air Force has beaten which currently has a winning record, so this one is pretty cut and dry.
Nevada Wolf Pack (6-2)
SP+ rank: 62 | FEI rank: 64 | Sagarin rank: 42 | Strength-of-schedule rank: 92/106
The case for the Wolf Pack: The offense gets most of the spotlight, but defensive improvement has been the bigger key behind some of Nevada’s best performances. Only Fresno State has a better point differential and the Bulldogs have played one more game.
The case against the Wolf Pack: Nevada’s problem is the same as Air Force’s in that the wins just don’t add up. If they’d beaten one of Kansas State or Fresno State, it could be a much different story, but 3-5 Cal, 4-4 Boise State and 4-5 Hawaii just aren’t enough.
San Diego State Aztecs (7-1)
SP+ rank: 42 | FEI rank: 54 | Sagarin rank: 58 | Strength-of-schedule rank: 108/118
The case for the Aztecs: For starters, they’re the team with the best overall winning percentage in the Mountain West. They beat a Utah team that has managed to claw its way to the top of the Pac-12 South division for now and an Air Force team that’s already bowl eligible.
The case against the Aztecs: The rest of those seven wins, which include blowouts against the worst Power 5 team (Arizona) and maybe the worst FBS team period (New Mexico State) just won’t move the needle.
Fresno State Bulldogs (7-2)
SP+ rank: 44 | FEI rank: 63 | Sagarin rank: 43 | Strength-of-schedule rank: 88/103
The case for the Bulldogs: Being ranked in the AP poll doesn’t always equate to being ranked in the CFP standings, but it can’t hurt. The Bulldogs easily have the best wins of any team in the Mountain West, too, because even if UCLA and San Diego State aren’t ranked they are both pretty solidly top-40 caliber victories.
The case against the Bulldogs: How much will the ‘Dogs get dinged for their loss to Hawaii? There are some considerations to be made for the impact of injuries on game results, but Jake Haener just didn’t play well against the Warriors and that could bite them at the onset.
How do these Mountain West teams stack up against everyone else in the hunt? Read on to learn more.