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Battle of Broncos: WMU, Boise State vying for Cotton Bowl

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Kalamazoo — Shortly after P.J. Fleck was hired as Western Michigan football coach late in 2012, he sat down with athletic director Kathy Beauregard and started to sculpt the vision for the program.

Western Michigan (10-0) is No. 21 in the College Football Playoff ranking, which is a spot below No. 20 Boise State (9-1). Both schools are competing for a spot in the Cotton Bowl Jan. 2 in Arlington, Texas.

One school that came up in those talks: Boise State.

Two years earlier, Boise State had become a national darling by playing — and winning — the Fiesta Bowl, then a part of the now-defunct Bowl Championship Series.

Fleck and Beauregard used their fellow Broncos of Boise State as a model, at least in terms of the heights their mid-major program could reach.

So, it's interesting now that WMU (10-0) and Boise State (9-1) are battling for the right to play in the Cotton Bowl, a member of the prestigious New Year's Six slate.

Two weeks ago, WMU was one spot ahead of Boise State in the College Football Playoff rankings. This week, they flip-flopped, with Boise State at No. 20 and WMU at 21. The highest-ranked at season's end almost certainly will be awarded the spot in the Cotton Bowl, set for Jan. 2 in Arlington, Texas.

Now, about that flip-flop — what the what?

"Not one bit. Not one bit," Fleck said the other day, when asked if that bothered him, given the Broncos remained one of two unbeaten teams in the nation, along with Alabama. "I think it's done for a few things. I think it's done for conversation. I think it's why you're actually asking me about it. Because it really doesn't matter today, so why not do it? And let's talk about the conversation. That's OK, I'm OK with that.

"It's too early to sit there and say, 'We deserve this, we deserve that.'

"Because there's nothing being handed out for three, four weeks."

Broncos, Kalamazoo on wild ride to football glory

WMU hosts Buffalo at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, following the live broadcast of ESPN's "College GameDay" from the Kalamazoo campus from 9 a.m. to noon.

The Broncos are heavily favored in that game, and will be favored again when Toledo visits next Friday for the regular-season finale. Kickoff for that game is TBD, though there are rumblings of a 5 p.m. start.

WMU then likely has the MAC championship game, set for Dec. 2 at Ford Field.

If the Broncos run the table, it'd be hard to see them finishing behind Boise State in the final rankings.

Boise State has Nevada this week and Air Force next week before finding out if it will play in the Mountain West Conference championship game. It needs Wyoming to lose one of its final two regular-season games, either this week against San Diego State (perfect in conference play) or next week against New Mexico State, to make the conference championship game.

Interestingly, the Associated Press voters greatly favor Western Michigan, perhaps because of its two wins over Big Ten schools Northwestern and Illinois. WMU is ranked No. 14 in the AP, Boise State 22.

"Nah, nah, never, at least I don't," said WMU star wide receiver Corey Davis, when asked if he watches the weekly unveiling of the College Football Playoff rankings. "I don't know. There's still work to be done."

There is one wild card here: Houston, which is 9-2 and fresh off a demolition of Louisville, which was No. 5 in the latest playoff rankings. Houston, of the American Athletic Conference, also had a win over Oklahoma early in the season, and Oklahoma is ranked No. 9 in the playoff rankings. Houston is not in the last CFP top 25, but figures to be next week.