Gang Of 5

In The Gang Of Five, It’s Marshall’s Bowl Bid To Lose, But Which Team Really Deserves The Opportunity?

The only Gang Of Five team that is taking care of business — doing everything that is within its control — is Marshall. Yet, the Thundering Herd’s schedule is as strong as a piece of cotton candy. Marshall’s 2014 slate is as imposing as the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen.

This is a clear situation in that Marshall controls its fate more than anyone else at this point. However, a merit-based comparison of contending Gang Of Five teams is another matter altogether. The Gang Of Five has given college football a complicated and ultimately inadequate situation, and the editors of The Student Section are here to discuss the topic in greater depth and detail.

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In the wake of East Carolina’s loss to Temple, which Gang Of Five team should stand at the head of the list for the access bowl invite? Follow-up: If Boise State loses once and Colorado State wins the Mountain West Conference, where do the Rams stand in this discussion?

Terry Johnson:

On Twitter: @SectionTPJ

For all of the problems that the BCS had, it did get a couple of things right.

One of those things was to ensure that any “mid-major” qualified for a BCS bowl had to meet certain criteria in order to get in. In order for a non-AQ school to earn a berth in a big game, it had to finish in the Top 12 or end up higher than the lowest ranked AQ conference champion. If it didn’t meet either or those requirements, it didn’t get in.

Sadly, this rule didn’t carry over into the College Football Playoff. Every year, the Selection Committee will select the highest rated conference champion from a non-Power 5 league to play in a major bowl.

Look, I’m all for the “Gang of Five” schools getting an opportunity to play in a marquee game at the end of the season. After all, who doesn’t love a good underdog story?

However, these teams should have to actually earn their way into the field. Simply giving a bid to the “Gang of Five” for the sake of giving it to them doesn’t benefit anyone. All it does is take away a bid from a deserving Power 5 school, while creating a mismatch in a major bowl.

No one wins in that situation.

Regardless, the rules say that the Selection Committee must pick the highest ranked “Gang of Five” champion, so they’ll select one. However, who they will select is as clear as mud.

For example, does the committee take an undefeated Marshall squad? Sure, that perfect record looks nice, but the Thundering Herd’s non-conference slate consisted of Miami (OH), Rhode Island, Ohio, and Akron. Does the Selection Committee really want to reward a team with a major bowl bid even though it played a soft non-conference schedule?

Probably not, which makes the picture even less clear. With five teams tied atop the AAC with a 3-1 mark in conference play, no one knows who the league champion will be at this point. That makes it tough to project whether Boise – the favorite in the Mountain West – belongs over the AAC champion. But since the Broncos are a known commodity, they’ll almost certainly get the no in a close race.

The real wild card to watch is Colorado State. Sure, the Rams lost to Boise early in the year, but they are 8-1 right now including wins over Boston College and Colorado. Should the Broncos drop a conference game, CSU should represent the “Gang of Five” on New Year’s Day.

It’ll be fun to watch this all unfold.

East Carolina, with only one loss, had ample reason to say that it was the top Gang Of Five team in the FBS. A second loss -- not to mention an ugly and decisive one -- has clearly put Marshall in the catbird's seat. The Herd will want Boise State to win out, because that would lock a one-loss Colorado State team outside the access bowl candy store. A one-loss CSU team would own a resume which could compete with a 13-0 record for Marshall. The Rams, however, need Boise State to lose in order to become the champions of the Mountain West Conference. Without a conference title, Colorado State won't be eligible to the same extent Marshall is. Marshall would be first in line.

East Carolina, with only one loss, had ample reason to say that it was the top Gang Of Five team in the FBS. A second loss — not to mention an ugly and decisive one — has put Marshall in the catbird’s seat. The Herd will want Boise State to win out, because that would lock a one-loss Colorado State team outside the access bowl candy store. A one-loss CSU team would own a resume which could compete with a 13-0 record for Marshall. The Rams, however, need Boise State to lose in order to become the champions of the Mountain West Conference. Without a conference title, Colorado State won’t be eligible to the same extent Marshall is. Marshall would be first in line.

Matt Zemek:

On Twitter: @SectionMZ

Because this question deals with the “little guys” in college football, it’s easy to hurt a lot of feelings if one is not careful, so I’m going to be careful.

East Carolina, Marshall, and Colorado State — all the members of the Gang Of Five that contend for conference championships (plus BYU, Army and Navy, if good enough) — deserve a chance to prove themselves against power-conference teams in the regular season and the postseason. Again, it’s great that this access bowl (one of the six premier postseason events, not including the national championship game) exists. College football is better for it.

I want to see ECU, Marshall, and Colorado State get their big shot. Are we clear on this?

Here’s the more nuanced point to make, though: Having said that these teams deserve their shot, if they’re going to be given a premium New Year’s Day bowl slot, they need to earn it for reasons that go beyond conference play. Teams from the Gang Of Five have to be forced to go through a few non-conference tests and pass at least one of them in order to then be given this precious New Year’s Day bowl berth, a spot that a pretty good 10-2 or 11-1 second-place team from a major conference would certainly like to have for itself. If a smaller school is going to occupy this position on Jan. 1 (or Dec. 31), it needs to be tested beforehand, and not just in its own conference.

It has to be said that the current Gang Of Five situation is highly unpalatable. East Carolina’s win over Virginia Tech looks like a nothingburger. The Pirates’ loss at South Carolina no longer looks impressive. Colorado State has the best non-conference result of the three teams, a win at Boston College. We are left with the uncomfortable fact that the one unbeaten contender in the Gang Of Five is a Marshall team whose strength of schedule is nonexistent.

This is not Marshall’s fault — the Thundering Herd wanted to arrange a game with Louisville, and the plan fell through for reasons Marshall couldn’t control. Yet, it still remains that this team could enter a prestigious bowl game with no win of note. Rice would be the best win on Marshall’s slate if the Herd goes 13-0.

The access bowl is a great concept. Marshall deserves its chance.

I just want to see the Herd play and beat a reasonably good non-conference opponent before that happens. This particular component of the sport’s postseason needs to be tweaked in the coming offseason.

There's more than a little irony to be found in the fact that Boise State might keep the Mountain West out of the access bowl winner's circle, should it lock Colorado State out of contention. It would also be an amazing plot twist if Marshall loses and opens the door for an 11-2 Boise State team to get into the access bowl as the Mountain West Conference's champion. This Boise State team doesn't begin to compare to the 2010 and 2011 Bronco teams that deserved to play in a bowl of considerable stature. If THIS Boise State team plays in a New Year's Day bowl, the flaws of the Gang Of Five access bowl setup will be magnified to a severe extent.

There’s more than a little irony to be found in the possibility that Boise State might keep the Mountain West out of the access bowl winner’s circle, should it lock Colorado State out of contention. It would also be an amazing plot twist if Marshall loses and opens the door for an 11-2 Boise State team to get into the access bowl as the Mountain West Conference’s champion. This Boise State team doesn’t begin to compare to the 2010 and 2011 Bronco teams that deserved to play in a bowl of considerable stature, but were not given the chance to do so. If THIS Boise State team plays in a New Year’s Day bowl, the flaws of the Gang Of Five access bowl setup will be magnified to a severe extent.

Bart Doan:

On Twitter: @TheCoachBart

The “access bowl” thing is a sham in and of itself. It’s like telling a kid “sure, you can have dessert if you eat all of your dinner” and then give him/her a bowl of fruit hoping the kid hasn’t figured out the ruse you’re trying to pull.

I don’t like being “that guy” but nationally, the Gang of Five stuff has all the intrigue of a burger with nothing on it but ketchup. In years past, if nothing else, it had the storyline of “See, we can play at this level and deserve a shot every year.”

College football is getting farther and farther away from that particular situation actually happening. The best you can do if you’re a part of the Gang of Five is beat up on everyone else for a significant period of time, expand your stadium, and get consideration for when the conferences eventually expand again.

As for the question itself, I’d lean on Boise State based on its profile and “watchability” rating, and yes, that matters. The Broncos have gotten to the point where people will turn on the television to watch them and hope they run that Statue of Liberty play every other down and shock someone.

Plus, BSU played Ole Miss, and as we will further distance ourselves from seeing Power 5 teams decide to play Gang of Five teams, that has made them quasi-familiar with the general college football fan this season.

As for Colorado State, if Boise loses, toss the Rams in. They beat Colorado … which is no great feat as they rebuild … but also won at Boston College and we can all go say, “Well, Southern Cal couldn’t win there!” The Mountain West also has the luxury of being the default “best mid-major conference” going on pretty much every year running, so the impression is that winning that league means more than winning the other ones.

The Gang of Five (which sounds like a bunch of rival greasers in another The Outsiders novel) is further distancing itself from the Power Five and will never be part of their “Party of Five,” which is fine since Jennifer Love Hewitt made that stuff semi-watchable to begin with… which is basically what the Gang of Five is now. Boise is JLH, and like the show, there’s a drop-off of steep proportions afterwards.

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