The College Football Playoff era has plenty of uncertainties, but here is one thing we can say for sure: East Carolina has the inside track on claiming a major bowl game.
The BCS busters are a thing of the past, which is just fine for East Carolina.
In the past, a team outside of the power conference would have to go undefeated to find its way to a major bowl game. Not anymore.
The Pirates just have to be the best-looking team outside of the Power 5, and East Carolina is putting on a convincing show.
The Pirates of the American Athletic Conference demolished North Carolina 70-41 for their second consecutive win over an ACC team. East Carolina defeated Virginia Tech 28-21 a week ago and suffered its only loss by 10 at South Carolina on Sept. 6.
The Playoff selection committee’s top-ranked team from the Group of 5 is guaranteed a berth in the Orange, Cotton, Peach or Fiesta Bowl.
East Carolina is the only team from the so-called Group of 5 (the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt) with a pair of wins over teams from power conferences.
These weren’t gimmes, either. Other teams in contention for the New Year's Six bowl slot will have trouble matching East Carolina's pair of wins against ACC Coastal contenders, one of which is two weeks removed from a win at Ohio State.
Against North Carolina, East Carolina put on offensive showcase. Former Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil has brought the Air Raid to his alma mater with help from 31-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, another Lubbock import.
The offense was at its best Saturday as veteran Shane Carden completed 30-of-48 passes for 438 yards for four touchdowns and an interception against the Tar Heels. Only one scoring drive — a fourth-quarter TD drive in 4:14 — exceeded three minutes.
Mind you, East Carolina’s quick strike offense was missing leading receiver Cam Worthy, who was suspended for two games for violating the school’s code of student conduct.
This comes a week after East Carolina had a rare 400-yard passing game against Virginia Tech as Carden went 23-of-47 for 427 yards with three touchdowns against the Hokies.
Numbers like that may make a decision easy on the committee determining the New Year’s Six games. Not only does East Carolina have the best case for one of those big-time bowls, the Pirates don’t have many true rivals for the spot.
BYU is ranked and outside of the Power 5 structure, but independence means the Cougars have no such guarantees in the postseason outside of the Miami Beach Bowl.
At the end of the day Saturday, only Marshall and Cincinnati likely will be the only undefeated teams in the Group of 5. East Carolina will face Cincinnati on Nov. 13. Marshall could flirt with an undefeated season given a weaker schedule and no games against the Power 5. It’s also worth noting Conference USA is 11-1 against the American, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt.
Perhaps East Carolina will be tripped up in a conference schedule that includes Cincinnati and UCF (but not Houston). A year ago, East Carolina lost in an upset to Tulane and then to Marshall to lose a spot in the C-USA title game.
For now, though, East Carolina is poised for its best season in school history.
Group of 5 wins over Power 5
AMERICANEast Carolina 28, Virginia Tech 21East Carolina 70, North Carolina 41Temple 37, Vanderbilt 7
MACBowling Green 45, Indiana 42Northern Illinois 23, Northwestern 15Central Michigan 38, Purdue 17
MOUNTAIN WESTUtah State 36, Wake Forest 34Colorado State 31, Colorado 17Nevada 24, Washington State 13
SUN BELTULM 17, Wake Forest 10