CMU coach on rival WMU: 'They deserve Cotton Bowl'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
John Bonamego

In its bid to crack the New Year's Six, Western Michigan has found an ally – and a strange bedfellow, frankly – in Central Michigan coach John Bonamego.

Bonamego, who played at Central Michigan decades ago before becoming its head coach last season, made clear it's odd for him to be rushing to his chief rival's defense.

Still, Bonamego said it would be a shame if the Broncos don't get into the Cotton Bowl with an undefeated record.

"To me, it would be a sad state of affairs for Western," Bonamego said. "To do what they've done, if they can't make it into a New Year's (Six) bowl, then basically they're telling us that there's no way anybody (from the MAC) will ever make it. What more can they do? They haven't lost."

Western Michigan is 12-0 heading into Friday night's Mid-American Conference championship game against Ohio (8-4) at Ford Field.

The thought was, if the Broncos win, they'd be a shoo-in to be the "Group of Five" representative in the New Year's Six, at the Jan. 2 Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. And that still might be the case.

But WMU, despite being one of just two undefeated teams left in the country, only rose to No. 17 in the second-to-last College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday night.

And just two spots back, at No. 19, was Navy (9-2).

Navy plays in the American Athletic Conference championship game against Temple (9-3) Saturday, before playing its regular-season finale against Army (6-5) on Dec. 10.

If Navy wins its title game, things could get interesting: The committee might consider WMU and Navy too close after the final CFP rankings that are released Sunday, and thus, it could wait until after Navy’s game against Army to decide which team makes the New Year’s Six. Under that scenario, the four playoff teams and all other New Year’s Six teams would be announced Sunday — but one Cotton Bowl slot would be on hold. The 12-person CFP committee has a tentative conference call scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 10.

College Football Playoff chairman Kirby Hocutt, nor a Cotton Bowl representative, would discuss how close they have to be to delay the announcement. And Hocutt would not speculate if the Broncos would be a slam dunk if they improve to 13-0.

"As a Central guy, I can't ever really pull for Western," said Bonamego, whose Chippewas lost to the Broncos, at home, 49-10. "But I do respect ... it's like the old saying, 'It isn't bragging if you've done it.' They've gone through the MAC schedule, and a nonconference schedule that was very challenging.

"Having played them, I think they deserve to be in the Cotton Bowl. P.J. (Fleck), his staff, his players have done a great job. They've earned that."

In comparing WMU and Navy on Tuesday night, Hocutt said strength of schedule remains a concern for the Broncos. They've beaten just two Football Bowl Subdivision teams with winning records, in Toledo and Eastern Michigan (they've also beaten bowl-eligible Northwestern and Central Michigan, and defeated Illinois).

Navy has quality wins over Houston, Tulsa, Memphis, and also beat Notre Dame.