The Boise State Broncos are the top candidate to lead the “group of five” conference teams into the “New Year’s Day Six” Bowls. Projected to sweep a 13 game schedule, Boise will teeter closely on the edge of the four team College Playoff. Winning the Mountain West Conference will not be a slam dunk, but the Broncos have all the ingredients to go undefeated. Overall, the talent is certainly there with17 returning starters (9 on offense and 8 on defense), and a proven coach. Both bode well for the Broncos. The schedule however is tricky and doesn’t set up extremely well for Boise State. Their toughest games will be played in the first two weeks of the season. The opening game against Washington is at home, but the Huskies represent the greatest threat of a loss on the Bronco schedule, not a great way to start a season. Next up is a visit to Provo. This is a dangerous game for the Broncos. Brigham Young will be good, maybe very good if Taysom Hill is completely healthy and running the Cougar offense with the same great leadership and pin point accuracy that he did in early 2014 before he broke his leg against Utah State. A 2-0 start for Boise should create enough momentum to carry this team through a tough MWC schedule, but a loss of one, or certainly both, could spell disaster before the season even unfolds. The Mountain West, Mountain division crown, will most likely be decided in back to back road games for the Broncos against Colorado State and Utah State in mid October. San Diego State and Nevada will battle for the Western Division title.
Marshall, Western Kentucky, Rice and Louisiana Tech are projected to battle for the top spot in Conference USA. Cincinnati and Houston will battle in the American, but watch out for Temple. Billingsley projects the Owls to go 9-3 with the only conference loss early in the season at Cincinnati along with non conference losses to Penn State and Notre Dame. Not bad for a team kicked out of the defunct Big East for being perceived as not good enough. Bowling Green, Toledo and Northern Illinois will duel it out in the MAC, but keep your eye on an improved Western Michigan. The Broncos early schedule is brutal with projected losses to Michigan State, Ohio State and Georgia Southern, but winning a key road contest at Ohio in mid season could turn this team around just in time for late season, back to back games at conference contenders Northern Illinois and Toledo. In a surprise, Appalachian State is picked in the Sun Belt due to the fact the schedule sets up so well. All the other contenders, Georgia Southern, La. Lafayette, and Arkansas State must travel to Boone NC.
Boise State is a safe bet for the New Year’s Six Bowl spot even with one loss, but two losses by the Broncos opens the door to a host of other possibilities. The way the schedules play out in the group of five conferences (in terms of projected wins and losses) Marshall, Western Kentucky, Rice, Cincinnati, Houston, Bowling Green, Toledo, Northern Illinois, Colorado State, Utah State, San Diego State, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern all could easily contend for that coveted bowl spot.