The Battle of I-75 between the Toledo Rockets and Bowling Green Falcons kicks off in less than 48 hours. It's the best rivalry in the MAC and, in most years, carries a lot of importance in who will be the eventual MAC champion. This year's edition of the the Battle is one of the most important in recent memory.
Toledo could lose and still get to the MAC Championship game for the first time since 2004, but they would need Northern Illinois to lose at home to Ohio for that to happen. So, let's just call this a must-win for the Rockets. BGSU has already clinched a spot in Detroit, but they haven't beaten Toledo since 2009. The Falcons are amped for this game.
However, this game could mean much more to both teams. It could mean a spot in either the Peach Bowl (New Year's Eve) or the Fiesta Bowl (New Year's Day) as the Group of Five representative in the New Year's Six bowls.
That representative will be selected by the playoff committee from the five champions of the Group of Five conferences. No other teams will be considered -- so it will be the champ of the Sun Belt plus the championship game winners of the other four leagues.
The list of teams realistically in contention for this spot is rather short, but both the Falcons and Rockets could still claim it. The favorite remains whichever team wins the American, but a lot of football remains to be played over the next three weeks.
Let's examine the contenders, their resumes, remaining schedules, and which teams could possibly play spoiler.
Toledo Rockets (8-1) and Bowling Green Falcons (8-2).
Bowling Green remains perfect in MAC play and owns two wins over Power 5 teams (Purdue and Maryland). They did lose to Memphis, but the Falcons led most of that game and fell by only three. Their remaining games are against Toledo (home) and at Ball State.
Toledo's only blemish was a five-point home loss to Northern Illinois last week. Like BGSU, the Rockets have two wins over Power 5 teams, as they have defeated Arkansas and Iowa State. Toledo's run to a NY6 bowl runs through Bowling Green and then a home game with Western Michigan.
Mid-American Conference to play in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
The Poinsettia Bowl will be the sixth bowl tie that the Mid-American Conference holds in 2015.
Unfortunately for the MAC, it is exceedingly unlikely both teams could appear in the MAC championship game and both still be in contention for the NY6 berth. If BGSU beats Toledo on Tuesday, that all but eliminates the Rockets from the West race and essentially ends their run for the Peach or Fiesta Bowls. However, if Toledo beats BGSU, it would be the Falcons' third loss and would likely end their hopes.
So, for the MAC champion to have any hope for bid, Tuesday's winner will also have to win their final regular season game and the championship game in Detroit. Possible spoilers include Ball State (3-7, host BGSU), Western Michigan (6-4, at Toledo or MAC CG) and Northern Illinois (7-3, MAC CG).
AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Houston Cougars (10-0), Navy Midshipmen (8-1), Temple Owls (8-2)
The American has generally been viewed as the best Group of 5 conference all year, and the College Football Playoff rankings have borne that view out. Barring an upset, the Group of 5's rep in the New Year's Six bowls will be one of these three teams.
Unbeaten Houston has wins over Louisville, Vanderbilt and Memphis, but they still have to play Navy. The Midshipmen has beaten Air Force and Memphis, and they played well against Notre Dame. Temple's best win was the 27-10 victory over Penn State, but they lost to South Florida on Saturday. The Owls host Memphis this week. Memphis can no longer get to the AAC championship game, so they're out.
Navy plays at Houston in the final regular season game, and the winner goes to the AAC title game. UConn, Tulsa and SMU could all play spoiler here, but the only real hope for the MAC is for Memphis to win at Temple this week, then for either Temple or South Florida to win the AAC championship over Houston or Navy.
It's unlikely, but you never know.
Marshall Thundering Herd (9-2), Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (8-2)
Marshall started 8-1 with their only loss against Ohio. Figure that one out. However, they've since lost to Middle Tennessee State. Their best victory is a season-opening win over Purdue. Meanwhile, WKU beat Vanderbilt and the Miami RedHawks but also lost to Indiana and LSU. This week, Marshall is off while WKU plays Florida International. Then, those two face each other in the final regular season game. The winner will go to the CUSA championship game, where they'll play the winner of the Southern Mississippi versus Louisiana Tech game, also in the final week of the season.
The MAC needs to hope that either Southern Miss or Louisiana Tech can beat the WKU/Marshall winner. If not, the Herd or Hilltoppers would likely be next in line if the American champ is not acceptable.
MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE
After Boise State lost at home to New Mexico last night, the Mountain West has no more teams with fewer than three losses. Given the league's out-of-conference record and lack of big-name victories, it is unlikely that the MWC champ will get any real consideration for the NY6 bid.
SUN BELT CONFERENCE
The Sun Belt has a pair of two-loss teams (Appalachian State, Georgia Southern), but neither appears likely to make a dent in this race. ASU's best non-conference wins are against Old Dominion and Wyoming, and they were blown out by Clemson. GSU did beat Western Michigan, but they have no other notable wins and lost to West Virginia 44-0.