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Which non-Power Five CFB team has best shot at top-tier bowl?


With every fan eagerly awaiting the first batch of top 25 rankings from the College Football Playoff selection committee (the rankings will be unveiled Tuesday), it's a good time to remind folks that a non-Power Five school is guaranteed a spot in one of the so-called "playoff bowls."

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The selection committee is responsible for choosing the four playoff teams; it also has been tasked with selecting the eight teams that will be involved in the four other bowls associated with the playoff. This season, the semifinals are in the Rose and Sugar bowls, meaning the committee also will pick the matchups in the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange and Peach bowls. While there are 12 teams involved in the six games, it's not necessarily the 12 highest-ranked teams by the committee; instead, the highest-ranked team from outside of the Power Five is guaranteed a slot in one of the games, even if that team falls outside the top 12.

Currently, East Carolina -- which beat Connecticut 31-21 on Thursday in a game that was closer than the final score would indicate -- is the only non-Power Five team ranked in the media polls. Still, no one knows what the committee thinks of the Pirates, and four other non-Power Five teams would seem to be in the running for the guaranteed slot.

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Marshall is one of those teams. It's one of just four remaining unbeaten teams nationally; the other three -- Florida State, Mississippi and Mississippi State -- make up the top three in this week's media polls. Marshall is a member of Conference USA, and the league is using a PR firm to promote the Thundering Herd. A mass e-mail went out to football writers Thursday extolling Marshall's virtues. One fact: Marshall leads the nation in margin of victory at 30.8 points per game.

Here's a look at the five non-Power Five teams that appear to be in the best shape to nab the automatic bid. The teams are listed in order of the likelihood of getting the bid.

1. East Carolina

Record: 6-1
Best win: Sept. 13 -- 28-21 at Virginia Tech, or Sept. 20 -- 70-41 vs. North Carolina.
Loss: Sept. 6 -- 33-23 at South Carolina.
Remaining games: Saturday, Nov. 1 -- at Temple; Thursday, Nov. 13 -- at Cincinnati; Saturday, Nov. 22 -- vs. Tulane; Friday, Nov. 28 -- at Tulsa; Thursday, Dec. 4 -- vs. UCF
The skinny: This seems to be the current non-Power Five front-runner, though the win over Virginia Tech that initially got the Pirates into the top 25 is looking weaker by the day. ECU has a powerful offense headed by QB Shane Carden and WR Justin Hardy; both are seniors, and Hardy should leave as the NCAA's career leader in receptions. ECU's running game is solid, but the secondary can be exploited. That makes the trip to pass-happy Cincinnati an interesting one; at the same time, Cincy's defense is a sieve, so Carden should have a huge day. ECU should be able to roll past Temple, Tulane and Tulsa. This season's AAC title seems likely to come down to the Dec. 4 visit from UCF. ECU is better offensively, UCF better defensively. ECU has looked beatable the past two weeks against AAC bottom-dwellers USF and UConn, but the Pirates pulled both games out; in addition, UCF had a handful of close calls last season on the way to the AAC title -- and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.

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2. Colorado State

Record: 6-1
Best win: Aug. 29 -- 31-17 vs. Colorado, or Sept. 27 -- 24-21 at Boston College
Loss: Sept. 6 -- 37-24 at Boise State
Remaining games: Saturday -- vs. Wyoming; Saturday, Nov. 1 -- at San Jose State; Saturday, Nov. 8 -- vs. Hawaii; Saturday, Nov. 22 -- vs. New Mexico; Friday, Nov. 28 -- at Air Force; potential Mountain West championship game, Dec. 6.
The skinny: The Rams have snuck up on some people. The season-opening win over Colorado was followed the next week by the loss to Boise State, and the Rams were forgotten. But the win over Boston College -- which ran all over USC -- re-opened some eyes, and when you look closely at Colorado State, you see a well-coached team with a star quarterback (Garrett Grayson), a star tailback (Alabama transfer Dee Hart), a star left tackle (Ty Sambrailo) and a star wide receiver (Rashard Higgins, who is second in the nation with 963 receiving yards and 10 TD catches). The defense is far from dominant, but the offense has been able to overcome that. The schedule is an absolute breeze until the season-ender against rival Air Force. The Rams are tied for the lead in the Mountain West Mountain Division, but because they lost to division foe Boise State, they need some help. One positive: If CSU makes it to the league title game, the West Division winner shouldn't pose a threat. An interesting question: Would a one-loss Colorado State team that didn't play for the league title intrigue the committee? The answer should be "yes."

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3. Marshall

Record: 7-0
Best win: Oct. 11 -- 49-24 vs. Middle Tennessee State
Loss: None
Remaining games: Saturday -- vs. Florida Atlantic; Saturday, Nov. 8 -- at Southern Miss; Saturday, Nov. 15 -- vs. Rice; Saturday, Nov. 22 -- at UAB; Friday, Nov. 28 -- vs. Western Kentucky; potential C-USA championship game, Dec. 6.
The skinny: The schedule is going to impress no one: The non-conference portion featured three MAC teams and a FCS opponent (the Herd originally was scheduled to play Louisville, but the Cardinals' move to the ACC meant that game had to be cancelled), and Conference USA is down this season. If the Herd finish unbeaten, they have a legitimate shot at the bid; a one-loss Marshall team has zero chance. QB Rakeem Cato heads a potent offense that has scored at least 42 points in each game, and the offensive balance is incredible (284.7 rushing yards per game, 290.1 passing yards per game). The road trip to UAB looms as the most dangerous game. New coach Bill Clark has the Blazers playing much better than in the recent past, and UAB might be the third-best team in the conference. If Marshall makes it to the C-USA title game, the West Division participant should pose little threat. Marshall obviously must keep winning, but the Herd also wouldn't mind if every other non-Power Five team had at least two losses.

4. UCF

Record: 4-2
Best win: Oct. 9 -- 31-24 vs. BYU (OT)
Losses: Aug. 30 -- 26-24 vs. Penn State; Sept. 13 -- 38-10 at Missouri
Remaining games: Saturday -- vs. Temple; Saturday, Nov. 1 -- at Connecticut; Friday, Nov. 14 -- vs. Tulsa; Saturday, Nov. 22 -- vs. SMU; Friday, Nov. 28 -- at USF; Thursday, Dec. 4 -- at East Carolina
The skinny: The Knights won the AAC last season, and they capped off their season with an upset of Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. But that team was led by Blake Bortles and he's now the Jacksonville Jaguars' starting quarterback. UCF also lost some key offensive linemen, and the offense is a far cry from what it was last season. The defense remains relatively stout, though, and the rest of the schedule -- with the exception of one game -- is extremely navigable. That one exception, of course, is the season-ending trip to East Carolina. The AAC title seems likely to be on the line, and the "playoff bowl" bid could be there for the taking, too.

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5. Boise State

Record: 5-2
Best win: Sept. 6 -- 37-24 vs. Colorado State
Losses: Aug. 28 -- 35-13 vs. Mississippi; Sept. 27 -- 28-14 at Air Force
Remaining games: Friday -- vs. BYU; Saturday, Nov. 8 -- at New Mexico; Saturday, Nov. 15 -- vs. San Diego State; Saturday, Nov. 22 -- at Wyoming; Saturday, Nov. 29 -- vs. Utah State; potential Mountain West championship game, Dec. 6.
The skinny: Boise isn't on here because the Broncos must be on lists like these; instead, the Broncos are here because their Week 2 win over Colorado State gives them a potential advantage in the Mountain West Mountain Division race. RB Jay Ajayi is a legitimate star and a potential second-day pick in the NFL draft, but QB Grant Hedrick is inconsistent and the defense isn't as good as it usually is. There also are tough remaining games against BYU, San Diego State and Utah State. But each of those contests is at home and a 10-2 finish is possible -- and maybe even probable. And a 10-2 finish would mean the division title. The schedule has been a good one, which potentially could give them an advantage over two-loss ECU and UCF teams.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.



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