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The Road to the CFB Playoffs: Part 2

Who is poised to make some noise? Ranking the contenders of the Non-Power 5.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Best of the Non-Power 5

1. Boise State

Key OOC Games: Washington, @BYU, @Virginia

Key Conference Game: Air Force

Projected SOS: 104

Analysis: The Broncos are likely to run the conference table and will have to win at least 2 of their three key OOC games to be a viable pick. It is difficult to argue against them, as their bowl record against the current P5 teams speaks for itself (9-4), including a 38-30 victory against No. 10 Arizona. With 18 Starters returning, plus a couple of key transfers, Boise State is set up nicely for another solid run.

2. Marshall

Key OOC Games: Purdue

Key Conference Games: @Middle Tennessee, @Western Ky.

Projected SOS: 128

Marshall will have to run the table convincingly in order to avoid the snubbing they felt they received last season. With 11 starters returning and breaking in a new QB, the Thundering Herd will have the benefit of one of the easier schedules in the FBS to allow them time to find their rhythm.

3. Cincinnati

Key OOC Games: Miami (FL), @BYU

Key Conference Games: UCF, @ECU, @Houston

Projected SOS: 96

The Bearcats have been steadily improving under Tommy Tuberville over the past 2 seasons. Cincinnati will  have to win the AAC and, at worst, only have one close loss to either BYU or Miami to be considered for the New Year’s Day bowls. 12 starters return along with their QB.

4. Air Force

Key OOC Games: @Michigan State, @Navy

Key Conference Games: Boise State

Projected SOS: 73

The Falcons will need to beat Boise State and Navy at the least to make their case. Their road trip to East Lansing will have to produce a respectable for Air Force to be in the New Year’s 6. In any event, if they can win the Mountain West, a very respectable bowl game awaits.

5. Louisiana Tech

Key OOC Games: @Kansas State, @Mississippi State, Louisiana-Lafayette

Key Conference Games: @WKU, @Rice

Projected SOS: 83

The Bulldogs will have to play solid football this season to be considered as a contender at all. With OOC road games to Kansas State and Mississippi State, they will have to win one of those and win the C-USA Championship. While they avoid Marshall this season, they have to go on the road to play Western Kentucky and Rice in conference. Win out, in their conference, go to the post season with 1 loss, and they will have a solid argument.

6. Northern Illinois

Key OOC Games: @Ohio State, @Boston College

Key Conference Games: Ohio, @Toledo

Projected SOS: 95

The MAC is the weakest overall conference in the FBS. If Northern Illinois expects to be a contender they will have to win all but the Ohio State game; but cannot allow the Buckeyes to run away from them. With 14 returning starters, including their QB, they should win the MAC outright. Their key conference tests will be the Ohio Bobcats, Thanksgiving weekend and at Toledo November 3rd.

7. Western Kentucky

Key OOC Games: @LSU, @Indiana, @Vanderbilt

Key Conference Games: Louisiana Tech, Marshall

Projected SOS: 37

Coach Jeff Brohm enters his second season with the Hilltoppers with 16 returning starters and the number one passing QB in the nation. They have a tough enough OOC schedule with two SEC teams and one Big 10 team on the slate. If they find some improvement on defense, they can possibly win at Indiana and Vanderbilt, and possibly give LSU a scare. Home games with Louisiana Tech and Marshall give them the head-to-head edge in conference. Given their projected strngth of schedule, a scenario of an undefeated conference and only one loss to LSU would easily make a case for them to unseat Boise State as the top contender for one of the New Year’s Day Bowls.

Others: Georgia Southern, Memphis, Louisiana-Lafayette, Central Florida, Navy, East Carolina, Bowling Green, Ohio.

Part 3 will look at the playoff chances for each of the P5 and Non-P5 teams.

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