CFP committee rocks the boat for Western Michigan by moving up Boise State

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The team that made “Row The Boat” part of college football’s lexicon this season had its boat rocked on Tuesday night.

Western Michigan, one of two remaining undefeated teams in the FBS along with Alabama, was passed by 9-1 Boise State in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. The Broncos from Kalamazoo remained No. 21 while the Broncos from Boise moved up to No. 20.

That’s despite Western Michigan’s 10-0 record, including two wins against Big Ten opponents (Northwestern and Illinois).

That’s despite Western Michigan leading Boise State in the two previous CFP rankings.

That’s despite Boise State’s loss — against Wyoming, which lost to Eastern Michigan, which lost to Western Michigan.

So what happened?

CFP committee chair Kirby Hocutt cited Boise State’s 31-28 victory against Washington State in Week 2. After an 0-2 start, including a 45-42 loss to Eastern Washington, the Cougars have won eight consecutive games and are 7-0 in the Pac-12.

“The committee continues to place high value on that quality win and believes Boise State deserved to jump over Western Michigan into that 20 spot this week,” he said on a media conference call. “Western Michigan at this point has one win against an FBS team that has a winning record, and that’s against a 6-4 team.”

But that 6-4 team is Eastern Michigan — again, which beat Wyoming, which beat Boise State.

Also, Wyoming beat Boise State seven weeks after Boise State beat Washington State.

It rocked a lot of boats.

At stake is the Group of Five’s berth in the New Year’s Six, which includes the two playoff semifinals. The Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2 is this season’s destination for the CFP’s highest-ranked team from the G-5 — The American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt conferences.

Western Michigan leads Boise State in the Associated Press media poll (Nos. 14 and 22 respectively) and Amway coaches poll (Nos. 21 and 23 respectively), but only the CFP rankings matter.

“Just RTB – row the boat,” said Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, repeating his mantra since taking over as head coach in 2013. “We’re not even there yet. We’re getting there. This is part of the journey, man.”

While both teams need to win out, Boise State also needs Wyoming to lose one of its final two games — Saturday against San Diego State or Nov. 26 at New Mexico — and win the Mountain West Championship game against San Diego State (9-1) to be eligible.

Western Michigan, off to the best start in the program’s 108-year history, has won 12 consecutive games — the third-longest streak in FBS behind Alabama (22) — and 17 of 19.

The Broncos can make it 13 in a row and 18 of 20 with a victory Saturday against Buffalo (2-8 overall, 1-5 MAC). Then they play Toledo on Nov. 25 for a spot in the MAC Championship game on Dec. 2 in Detroit.

The Cotton Bowl would be a big payoff for Western Michigan and the MAC, and not only in prestige. According to the CFP’s  projected revenue, the MAC would receive $4 million and the Broncos $2.16 million, to cover expenses, from a Cotton Bowl appearance.

For now, Fleck and the Broncos will continue to row the boat merrily down the stretch.

“We’re a long way away from our goal,” he said. “We just want to continue to change our best every single day, look at games through a one-game perspective and how can we be better today than we were yesterday.”


Photo courtesy Western Michigan Athletics

Mike Bambach

Mike Bambach is senior web producer for ASN.