The team I follow is Eastern Michigan, so this is mostly a thought exercise for me. This is one of those cases that further the cause of the conference, so it has me interested.
As we look at the current AP Rankings, Western Michigan has cracked the Top 20 but standing at 20. I’m only going to tackle the AP polls in this article as I’m pretty old school when it comes to the polls. The highest a MAC team has climbed is 10th when Miami did it in 1974 and Marshall in 1999. In recent memory, Ball State climbed to #12 in 2008 and Northern Illinois finished the season ranked 22nd in 2012 after it’s pre-BCS game ranking of #16. If Boise State can be a guide of how high a mid-major can go, they made it to 8th.
This exercise assumes that Western Michigan ends up undefeated. Based on their remaining schedule, if they end up with one loss, they fall like a rock. Especially when you consider the image of the MAC in the rest of the college football world.
There are 11 teams that are undefeated in the current AP poll. Those teams are: Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson, Washington, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Baylor, West Virginia, Boise State and Western Michigan. Because seven of those teams face each other, there will be some that drop out of the undefeated list. So that will help Western Michigan climb in the rankings.
The matchups that will eliminate an undefeated team by virtue that one of them have to lose are: Alabama versus Texas A&M, Ohio State versus Nebraska, Ohio State versus Michigan (assuming Ohio State beats Nebraska), Baylor versus West Virginia and Nebraska versus Michigan (assuming Nebraska and Michigan beat Ohio State). So that leaves Western Michigan in a group of seven undefeated teams. By that virtue, they should leap over some of the other 2 loss teams (unless one of those two loss teams happens to be a Florida State that beats Clemson).
The other determinant to some extent is who remains in the Top Four. If Nebraska beats Ohio State and Michigan, they would climb into the Top Four. Ohio State would probably end up with two losses in that scenario and Michigan would end up with one loss. If Texas A&M beats Alabama, they jump into the Top Four. If Clemson loses, I think Washington and the winner of Baylor-West Virginia climbs into the Top Four. I think these scenarios would put Western Michigan around 10 to 15 by final poll time.
So in the above scenario, Nebraska, Texas A&M, Washington and Baylor end up in the CFP. Michigan, Alabama, Clemson, WVU probably end up in two of the New Years Six. Ohio State goes to the next tier bowls (at two losses). I think this leaves and opening for Boise State and Western Michigan in one of the main bowls.
All of that said, I think the stars would have to align so that Western Michigan gets the right matchup and win thier bowl. If they win a New Years Six bowl, I see no reason why they wouldn’t crack the Top Ten. If they end up like so many mid-majors on the outside looking in but they still win their bowl, I would predict they finish in the 10 to 15 range. But all of that depends on them winning the rest of their games.