Since Fresno State has reached the status of being ranked, this week on Stats Corner we are going to look at who is in the running and how likely they are to get invited to a New Year’s Bowl. This year the ruling is the highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, or Sun Belt will earn a spot in either Fiesta, Cotton, or Chick-fil-A Peach. Assuming that the team which gets the spot will have either 0 or 1 lose and needs to be ranked, we are ranking who is the most likely by the end of the season. From the AAC Memphis and Tulane both have one loss and cannot afford another, C-USA has undefeated Liberty, MAC has Ohio, Miami Ohio, and Toledo all with one loss. The Mountain West has unbeaten Air Force and Fresno State.
Fresno State (odds on favorite)
Win out 9.3%, lose one game 36.1%
Undefeated, check. Only ranked non-power team, check. Favored in all games the rest of the season, check. The Bulldogs are in the driver’s seat for a New Year’s Day Bowl. All they have to do is win out, which as we see every year, is easier said then done. The Bulldogs did not draw Air Force this year, and with Boise State and San Diego State having relative down years, the closest game on the schedule is Wyoming at 59.8%. The Bulldogs should be cheering on the Falcons, as it is possible for the Mountain West title game to have two undefeated, ranked teams. If that is the case the winner would be guaranteed a New Year’s Day Bowl. The Bulldogs could have a slip up and still be in the running, giving them an advantage over all other teams.
Air Force (should the favorite stumble)
Win out 4.2%, lose one game 28.9%
The Falcons are similar to the Bulldogs, but there are two reason they are lower. First, they are not ranked but getting votes. It is very difficult to overtake a team in the rankings unless the top team loses. If both the Falcons and Bulldogs keep winning, the Bulldogs will stay ahead. Second, Air Force is a slight underdog to Boise State. While they are heavy favorites for all their other games, Boise State sits at 46.2%. The Falcons could lose a game and still be in the running, but they would need Fresno to lose as well.
Need to win out at 6.3%
The Green Wave started the season ranked and the favorites to grab a New Year’s Bowl. They do not have a bad loss, but did lose 37-20 to 3-1 SEC Ole Miss who is ranked 20th this week, and the Wave are still getting votes in the polls. If they can go undefeated they will be in the conversation for bowl game. The potential issue is the game at Memphis (also on this list). Currently the game is a toss-up at 49%-51%, but it is at Memphis. The Green cannot lose this game and hope to be playing on Jan 1st. They do avoid SMU in league play, but could meet them in the conference title game. The game they are most likely to lose is East Carolina at only 31.3% chance of losing. They do need help as they will have at least one loss at the end of the season and an undefeated MWC team would get the bid.
Memphis (better than average chances)
Need to win out at 2.8%
The Tigers do not have a bad loss, they lost to another set of Tigers in SEC Missouri, who are currently undefeated and ranked. They do have to play Tulane, which means within two weeks every AAC team could have two losses. They are also underdogs against SMU. They do have the fortune of playing Boise State (65.2%), Tulane (51.0%), and SMU (40.5%) at home. If they can go undefeated in that stretch they still need the teams ahead of them to lose to make it to New Year’s Day.
Liberty (easy schedule, need to be the only undefeated)
Chance to win out 16.1%
The Flames are undefeated and heavily favored in every game the rest of the season. The closest game is Jacksonville State at “only” at 67.8% of winning. They have an extremely high chance of ending the season undefeated, so why this low on the list? The old issue of “who did you play?” Currently, Bowling Green, New Mexico State, Buffalo, and FIU who combined are 6-12. If the Flames can finish the season perfect, they will be ranked, but I don’t think high enough to overtake an undefeated or one loss team above them on this list.
Toledo (Like Liberty, but with a loss)
Chance to win out 11.5%
Like many teams on this list, the Rockets do not have a bad loss, 30-28 to Illinois, but like many teams of this list, if they go 11-1 they will not have a good win either. The Rockets other wins are Texas Southern, San Jose State, and Western Michigan. They are heavily favored to win the rest of their games this season, Miami Ohio is their closest game at 56.1%. At the end of season 12-1 with a MAC title maybe enough to be ranked, but unless teams above them lose multiple games the Rockets will not be the highest ranked.
Ohio (Need some help)
Need to win out at 5.5%
Win over Iowa State, good, loss at San Diego State not bad. The Bobcats do miss Toledo in the regular season, but could meet them in the conference title game. They are underdogs against Miami, but ranked on this list ahead of them, due to Miami need to play Toledo. Miami has the slightly tougher schedule and neither team can survive another loss.
Memphis (Schedule is tougher, but could be a benefit)
Need to win out at 2.8%
The Tigers do not have a bad loss, they lost to another set of Tigers in SEC Missouri, who are currently undefeated. They do have to play Tulane, which means within two weeks every AAC team will have two losses. They are also underdogs against SMU. They do have the fortune of playing Boise State (65.2%), Tulane (51.0%), and SMU (40.5%) at home. If they can go undefeated in that stretch they still need the teams ahead of them to lose to make it to New Year’s Day.
Miami Ohio (You are saying there’s a chance)
Need to win out at 3.5%
The Redhawks were blown out by the other Miami. They do have a nice win over Cincinnati, but they cannot have another loss, and that is unlikely with both Toledo and Ohio on the schedule.
I think Liberty wins out and is undefeated but it is not enough to get them ranked. The MAC teams all have at least two losses before the conference title game. Memphis and Tulane each lose more one game, while a one loss Fresno State and one loss Air Force meet for the Mountain West Conference title with winner making it to New Year’s Day.