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Eyes on the Nation: Which Group of Five team makes a New Year’s Six bowl?

No. 12 Central Florida and No 23 Fresno State feature in the CFP, but what about 8-1 Utah State?

NCAA Football: Temple at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

There will be no “repeat” title for Central Florida this year.

The Knights, despite 21 straight wins dating back to 2017, rank No. 12 in the College Football Playoff rankings. At 8-0, they still trail two-loss teams in LSU and Kentucky, let alone six one-loss squads.

That leaves Josh Heupel and company with another crack at proving themselves in a New Year’s Day bowl. Should they fall, is there another Group of Five team with a shot to reach the Fiesta or Peach Bowls?

NO. 12 UCF (8-0, 5-0)

Last week: defeated Temple 52-40

Power Five win: 45-14 vs. Pitt on Sep. 29

With McKenzie Milton at the helm, there’s no questioning UCF’s offense. It ranks No. 6 overall per S&P+, including top-20 marks in explosiveness and overall passing.

However, he is not the same quarterback he was last year under Scott Frost. His completion percentage is nearly 10 points lower. He’s also tossed just over half his touchdowns from 2017, and barely half his yardage.

There’s also growing issues with the defense. It allowed 36 points against Florida Atlantic, 30 versus Memphis and 40 at home against Temple.

Cincinnati, South Florida and Houston loom on the horizon, meaning these issues need to shore up to replicate last year’s perfect run.

This week against Navy (noon, ESPN2)

NO. 23 FRESNO STATE (8-1, 5-0)

Last week: defeated UNLV 48-3

Power Five win: at UCLA 38-14 on Sep. 15

Lost 21-14 at Minnesota Sept. 8

Technically, Jeff Tedford’s Bulldogs rank higher in S&P+ overall than UCF — No. 7 compared to No. 8.

That seems due to a more complete team according to analytics. Whereas UCF’s defense is the team’s boat anchor, Fresno’s is a top-10 unit. In five conference games, it’s allowed just 36 points (7.1 average).

Oregon State transfer Marcus McMaryion is also more productive as a passer than Milton, connecting on 71 percent of his attempts for 2,416 yards and 20 scores. Since bogging down in Minneapolis in early September, he’s led an offense that’s cleared 38 points five times.

The problem is the loss to the currently 4-5 Golden Gophers. It’s a loss that fades in quality when they get bombed by Illinois 55-31.

San Diego State and Boise State remain on the docket, as well as 1-8 San Jose State. They need the Knights to falter, but those two matchups are nothing to ignore.

Next week at Boise State (10:15 p.m. on Friday, ESPN2)

UTAH STATE (8-1, 5-0)

Last week: defeated Hawaii 56-17

Loss at No. 18 Michigan State 38-31

The Aggies are one last-minute drive by the Spartans on opening night from an undefeated season.

Sophomore Jordan Love compiled 319 passing yards in East Lansing, sparking a go-ahead drive with just five minutes remaining. Though the defense caved late to lose, Matt Wells’ team earned some buzz.

Destructions of Brigham Young — the same team that knocked off Pac 12 South leader Arizona and Wisconsin on the road — and most everyone else has them on a collision course with Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship.

The problem is a disparity between human/computer polls and the CFP committee. S&P+ calculates the Aggies as the No. 14 team nationally, which is pretty much in line with the AP and Coaches Polls.

Meanwhile, they don’t even crack the committee’s top-25.

Scalping the other Spartans (SJSU) and Colorado State won’t change minds. Topping the Broncos in Boise after Thanksgiving may get a small head nod.

Seizing the conference title over the Bulldogs is the only way to have a chance. Assuming UCF flounders in one of its challenging final games, the Aggies may sneak into the New Year’s Six conversation.

Next week against San Jose State (4 p.m., Stadium on Facebook)


Utah State completes an improbable journey and earns a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. UCF loses at South Florida to provide an opportunity, while the Aggies knock out the Bulldogs en route to Phoenix.

They’ll upset Kentucky to cap a wild run.