Utah State took control of their own conference destiny on Friday night with their 52-26 dismantling of Boise State. In the famous words of Pistachio Disguisey: "It was full of ransackery!" Much will be made of the eight turnovers USU caused in that game (which reminds me of this wonderful monument to another epic night of turnovers down in Provo...); but more important are the 35 points that USU scored off of them. They proved that they not only have an elite defense, but a capable offense to match; Boise's defense is excellent as well, and this showing demonstrated what the Aggies' offense is truly capable of.
That being said, due to early season losses to Utah and Washington, their post-season destiny is not in their own hands. In spite of gaining the inside track to the MWC Championship, the Aggies are going to need some serious help if they are going to have any chance of making it into a big-time bowl game. As has often been covered by others, there is only one spot for the Group of Five teams in the New Year's Six bowl games, and right now, there are several teams USU will have to pass in order to claim it.
In the most recent polls, USU was in 7th place among G5 teams, sitting at #36 in the AP Poll and #37 in the Coaches Poll. In the AP Poll, they trail: #18 Memphis, #19 Toledo, #21 Houston, #22 Temple, #27 BYU (although BYU doesn't qualify for the G5 spot, so this one doesn't really count), #32 Western Kentucky, and #35 Boise State. In the Coaches Poll, they trail: #17 Memphis, #20 Toledo, #22 Houston, #24 Temple, #32 (tied) BYU (again, they're not in the running), #32 (tied) Navy, and they are tied with #37 Western Kentucky.
So what chance does USU have? What would need to happen in order for the Aggies to pass these other teams? Obviously the Aggies need to win the rest of their games, including the conference championship game. But let's map out each team ahead of them and the road each has left before them this season.
Games remaining: @Tulsa, vs. Tulane, vs. Navy, @Houston, @Temple, vs. SMU
Best chance for a loss: Memphis probably has the most chances of all of these teams to get a loss. They play Navy (4-1) at home, which could be a trap game right before going on the road against two top 25 teams; then right after, they play #21 Houston (6-0) and #22 Temple. Assuming they beat all these teams, they will then have to play one of the three a second time in the conference championship game. As good as Memphis has been this year, it's very possible they could make it through this gauntlet unscathed, but here's to hoping they don't.
Games remaining: @UMass, vs. NIU, @CMU, @BGSU, vs. WMU
Best chance for a loss: Toledo probably has the best shot of going undefeated through the remainder of the season. They don't play any top 25 teams through the rest of the year, and they get NIU (4-3) at home. The best shot anyone has right now, in my opinion, is Bowling Green (5-2), who Toledo has to play on the road. Even that is a long shot, however. Toledo will also have to play the conference championship game against (likely) Bowling Green or Ohio.
Games remaining: @UCF, vs. Vanderbilt, vs. Cincinnati, vs. Memphis, @UConn, vs. Navy
Best chance for a loss: Houston is helped by an extra helping of home field magic... they only play five road games this year, and get seven games at home, including vs. #18 Memphis and vs. Navy. If they can get through those two games, however, they'll need to play Memphis again in the conference championship game.
Games remaining: @ECU, vs. Notre Dame, @SMU, @USF, vs. Memphis, vs. UConn
Best chance for a loss: Temple has tough games in #11 Notre Dame (6-1), and #18 Memphis. Fortunately, they get both games at home, which may help them. Regardless, they'll need to play either Memphis or Houston in the conference championship game.
Games remaining: vs. Wagner, @SJSU, vs. Missouri, vs. Fresno St., @USU
Best chance for a loss: Obviously, the head to head matchup in Logan will be key for USU in passing the Cougars. The hope is that BYU wins their next four games before visiting the Aggies. If they have not lost during that four game stretch, they will likely be ranked and add another prominent win to USU's résumé, which needs all the help it can get.
Games remaining: vs. USF, @Memphis, vs. SMU, @Tulsa, @Houston, vs. Army
Best chance for a loss: Road trips to both #18 Memphis and #21 Houston should be enough to ensure a loss for the Midshipmen, but if they manage to beat both, they will need to travel to #22 Temple for the conference championship game.
Games remaining: @LSU, @Old Dominion, vs. FAU, @FIU, vs. Marshall
Best chance for a loss: If Western Kentucky can beat #5 LSU on the road, they deserve the NY6 game. The likelihood of that happening is approximately 0.075%. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but Massey gives Western Kentucky a 13% chance this weekend.
Games remaining: vs. Wyoming, @UNLV, vs. UNM, vs. Air Force, @SJSU
Best chance for a loss: With USU's win over Boise State, the hope is actually that they go undefeated through the remainder of their schedule to bolster the Aggies' credentials. If USU also wins out, this game will look even better than it already does, and give USU a real shot at snatching that NY6 spot.
The AAC is looking very, very good. The good news is, the best teams have yet to play each other, and may have to do so more than once. The likelihood is good in my opinion that none of the teams from this conference remain undefeated, and losses to each other and hopefully to Notre Dame should give the Aggies the boost they need to get on even footing or perhaps even pass them. Western Kentucky and Navy have slim-to-none possibilities of winning out, and USU should pass both of them and Boise State within the next two to three weeks simply through attrition. And hopefully BYU doesn't lose until they play in Logan in the final game of the season, giving USU another win over a ranked opponent.
The odds are against them. They're going to need help. But maybe, just maybe, with a perfect storm and divine intervention, this will be the year the Aggies will have a shot at their first major bowl game in school history.