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Mountain West Conference Surging Towards Possible New Year's Six Bid

Mountain West Conference Surging Towards Possible New Year's Six Bid: Fresno State Bulldogs

Mountain West Conference Surging Towards Possible New Year's Six Bid: Fresno State Bulldogs

When it comes to the Group of 5 bid for the New Year’s Six, there’s typically only going to be two leagues that matter: the American Athletic Conference and the Mountain West Conference. While an undefeated run out of the MAC would be given consideration by the College Football Playoff selection committee, history and results have proven that the two are simply a cut above the others and will jockey each other every season for that elusive bid.

What’s been interesting to see over the past few weeks is just how the fortunes of each conference have been trending. While UCF remains in the lead this season to make it to a major bowl, the gap between the Knights and the rest of their conference — and, indeed, the rest of the country — is much smaller than it was a year ago. Heck, it’s smaller than it probably has been between the AAC and the MWC in 2018 than at any point in the last three years.

Let’s start with UCF’s wild win over Temple on Thursday night. Neither team seemed all that interested in playing defense and the resulting 52-40 score felt wildly appropriate given the way the game has played out. I’m on record that the Knights are not as good as they were last season in the absence of playmakers like Shaquem Griffin and a new coaching staff still learning the ropes. They are still a very good team with quarterback McKenzie Milton and the array of skill position talent he has at his disposal but the playoff talk emanating out of Orlando really needs to be put to a stop.

The thing is, who else in the league is all that good? The Owls have turned things around since an awful start in September and become a solid team under Geoff Collins. The jury is still probably out on Cincinnati until the next few weeks and South Florida has been playing with fire all of 2018 and are finally getting burnt. In the West division, Memphis has regressed from where they were at the past few seasons and so has Navy. SMU’s beatdown of Houston (sans Ed Oliver) on Saturday night only reinforces that the Cougars have growing pains of their own and are far from the kind of team their record suggests.

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Against this backdrop, the Mountain West has quietly been making strides to address both depth and the number of elite teams in the conference. They are 3-0 overall against the AAC in non-conference play and were much more competitive against Power 5 teams than they have been.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect is that they’re doing so with Boise State not quite being that Boise State that is stuck in all our minds from those runs of yesteryear. Utah State has played phenomenally for Matt Wells and Fresno State is getting plenty of respect from the selection committee. San Diego State has dealt with injuries to key players but is still chugging along as usual at 7-2. Even on the edges of the league, teams like Hawaii, Nevada and San Jose State have made strides over the course of the season to make up for the regression from Wyoming, Colorado State and Air Force among others.

All of which shapes up a fascinating few weeks in November. UCF still has tests ahead against Cincy and their in-state rivals. Jeff Tedford’s Bulldogs have a trip to the blue turf and a game against the Aztecs in consecutive weeks. Utah State will have the division on the line when they conclude against Boise too.

The race is certainly on for the Group of 5 bid and it’s been as close as it probably ever has.

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.

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