WMU has a real shot at New Year's Six bowl game

It's time to talk about that 6-0 football team in the state of Michigan.

No, not that one. The other one.

While Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines are steamrolling the competition halfway through the college football season, fourth-year coach P.J. Fleck and the Western Michigan Broncos are making some serious Cinderella noise in Kalamazoo, storming into the Top 25 polls for the first time in school history and looking like clear favorites to win their first Mid-American Conference championship since 1988.

WMU is 6-0, including two road wins against Big Ten teams: Northwestern in the season opener (22-21) and Illinois in Week 3 (34-10). It destroyed rival Central Michigan on the road, 49-10. It's outscoring opponents 269-123. Even Northern Illinois, which has won the past six MAC West championships and three of the past five MAC championships, lost to the Broncos last weekend, 45-30.

Leading the way for WMU is a lethal offense, ranking No. 7 in the nation with 44.8 points per game. Senior quarterback Zach Terrell is throwing at a 70.6% clip with 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Senior wide receiver Corey Davis is a match-up nightmare, has eight touchdowns already and is a likely first-round selection in next spring's NFL draft. And then there's Fleck who, preaching the "Row the Boat" mantra, transformed the Broncos from a 1-11 team in 2013 to possibly the best mid-majors in the nation.

So yeah, Western is pretty good. The real question is: Does Western have any real shot at a New Year's Six bowl?

The short answer: Yes.

The biggest factor in WMU's favor is its remaining strength of schedule - at Akron, vs. Eastern Michigan, at Ball State, at Kent State, vs. Buffalo and vs. Toledo. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, Western has a 44.2% chance of winning out and a remaining strength of schedule that ranks 109th in the nation. (Thank you, MAC!)

That would leave the MAC championship game which, at this point, would likely pit WMU up against either Akron or Ohio (both 4-2, including 2-0 in MAC play). Either match-up would likely be winnable.

Given how previous MAC teams have fared in the Top 25 polls when going unbeaten in regular-season play, Western could realistically end up in the top half of the rankings, maybe even the Top 12, despite the strength of schedule. Consider Ball State in 2008, under then-coach Brady Hoke (remember him?) - the Cardinals were 12-0 and ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press Top 25 entering the MAC title game. A win would've likely put Ball State in one of the Bowl Championship Series games, but it lost 42-24 to Buffalo, rendering it a moot point.

And then there was the 2012 Northern Illinois squad that, despite losing 18-17 to Iowa in the season opener in Chicago, ran the table the rest of the way and was a major surprise pick for the Orange Bowl against No. 13 Florida State. Despite a 12-1 record and No. 16 ranking, many thought the Huskies were in over their heads being matched up against the Seminoles - and they were, losing 31-10.

That brings us to this year. Now that we have a 4-team College Football Playoff - which Western has virtually no chance at even if it goes 13-0 - and a New Year's Six, there are more at-large spots available for WMU to crash the party.

The Broncos' toughest test might be Toledo in the regular season finale on Nov. 25 - the Rockets are 4-1, only losing at BYU 55-53 a couple games ago. Other than that, every game should be a victory - and WMU should be able to carry its "Row The Boat" mantra into a big New Year's Six bowl match-up.


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