Tight race to make New Year’s Day date

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In the chase for the Group of Five’s spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game three teams appear to be best positioned.

Cincinnati, Memphis and Boise State were all 9-1 ahead of the CFP committee’s rankings released on Tuesday.

The No. 17 Bearcats entered Saturday with the advantage, sitting one spot ahead of the Tigers and four in front of the Broncos.

Boise State finishes the season with trips to Utah State and Colorado State, with a win over the Aggies guaranteeing the Broncos a spot in the Mountain West title game.

But they need help jumping the other two.

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Cincinnati hosts Temple, and Memphis plays at South Florida on Saturday before the Bearcats and Tigers square off in a Nov. 29 showdown in Memphis.

Cincinnati needs just one win in its final two games to clinch a berth in the American Athletic Conference championship game. But a Memphis loss in the next two weeks could open the door for with Navy or SMU.

The Midshipmen’s New Year’s Six hopes went overboard with their blowout loss to Notre Dame on Saturday. SMU, however, would be 11-1 if it beats Navy and Tulane to finish the season.

Appalachian State could also get to 11-1. But the Mountaineers, who face Texas State and Troy the next two weeks, tumbled down the rankings after a loss to Georgia Southern three weeks ago.

The loss column will likely be the deciding factor for the committee.

Cincinnati’s only loss this season came against Ohio State. If it added another one, would that be enough for a one-loss Memphis or Appalachian State to leapfrog the Bearcats?

The committee will likely place an emphasis on conference championships.

If neither Cincinnati nor Memphis emerges from the AAC with one loss, Boise State is the most-likely benefactor. If the Broncos can navigate their two road games, they could face San Diego State and its No. 8 defense.

A win over the Aztecs, who would likely crack the CFP Top 25 if they beat Hawaii and BYU the next two weeks, would be Boise State’s best of the year.

While the heavyweights jostle for position in the CFP, the little guys still have plenty to sort out.

Saturday

Illinois at Iowa -15.5: Lovie Smith’s Illini are heading in the right direction.

In 2017, Illinois lost its last 10 games. A season ago, there was a small improvement to 4-8. This year, Smith got a signature victory — 24-23 over then-No. 6 Wisconsin — that began a four-game win streak and propelled the Illini to bowl eligibility for the first time in five years.

Iowa got its own signature win last week, knocking Minnesota out of the Top 10, but the defensive-minded Hawkeyes generally don’t score enough to cover big spreads. ILLINOIS

Boston College at Notre Dame -19: Since the Irish’s blowout loss to Michigan and near disaster against Virginia Tech, quarterback Ian Book has thrown nine touchdown passes in two wins.

In a 52-20 rout of Navy, Book threw for five scores for the third time this season. Now he and the rest of the Irish get Boston College and its 128th-ranked defense. NOTRE DAME

Texas A&M at Georgia, Total 45: Since what seemed at the time a potential season-killing loss to unranked South Carolina, the Bulldogs have climbed back into the CFP race.

And they’ve done it with defense.

Georgia has allowed 31 total points in it past four games. The under is 8-2 in Georgia’s games, including five in a row.

The Bulldogs led Auburn 21-0 in the fourth quarter on Saturday before surrendering two late touchdowns and held the Tigers to 84 yards on the ground. ­UNDER

Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech -4: Since a 45-10 loss to Duke, the Hokies have quietly gone 5-1, with the only blemish a one-point loss to Notre Dame.

They’re 5-1 ATS during that stretch.

The Panthers also enter this at 7-3, having won six of seven, but Virginia Tech has the better offense and gets the nod playing at home. VIRGINIA TECH

Last week: 2-2

Season: 18-26-1

About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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