The BCS Bowl format for college football was used for years, focusing on matching the top two teams in the country season by season. Though many championship games brought about exciting finishes between teams filled with college football stars, complaints constantly hovered around the football landscape about which teams deserved a shot at the final. The all-SEC final and regular season rematch in the 2011-12 season – between Alabama and Louisiana State (LSU) – generated a prolonged debate from fans to experts about who deserved to be represented in the championship.
This example, among others, led to the implementation of the College Football Playoff. The CFP, a four-team playoff field introduced prior to the 2014-15 season, is organized by a selection committee which considers several factors when determining the field. The CFP committee also has received its fair share of complaints regarding the teams represented in the playoff.
One thing that has yet to be seen is a school from a non-Power Five conference – ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC – reaching the CFP. What are the chances of a non-Power Five school, also known as Group of Five, accomplishing this feat?
It’s important to first look at what the selection committee emphasizes when determining the top four, which starts – and ends – with resumé.
A huge factor of a team’s resumé is the strength of schedule. Teams in Power Five conferences often receive the benefit of the respect the conference may get or the likelihood of playing more highly-ranked RPI teams. While a Power Five school, such as Alabama, Oklahoma or Clemson, can spare one loss and still run the table to the playoff, a Group of Five school is not granted a “slip-up” game, largely in part due to strength of schedule.
There have been a few teams from smaller conferences that came closer than expected in making the playoff field, one of those teams being Houston during the 2016-17 season. Not many teams outside a Power Five conference are gifted with as much returning talent as the Cougars had during that season. After coming off a 13-1 record and top-10 final ranking the season before, Houston was projected to be a favorite for the following year’s playoff. The Cougars lived up to the hype, or at least it seemed. After defeating preseason top-5 Oklahoma and starting the season off 5-0, Houston stumbled in a few conference games, terminating any CPF hopes.
In 2017, Central Florida went 12-0 in the regular season, but were left outside the field of four. Even in a season when the AAC, UCF’s conference, had a few other teams ranked in the top-25, the Knight’s resumé didn’t compare to other Power Five schools. The Boise State teams of the late 2000s and early 2010s finished with exceptional records but may have received the same fate as other Group of Five teams had the CFP been introduced at that time.
One possibility would be to expand the CFP to eight or more teams, allowing these smaller schools a greater opportunity to finish in the playoff. This would create a chance for a Group of Five school to prove itself on the national stage. Some debate has risen for the possibility of conference championships determining which teams make the playoff. Unfortunately, schools who don’t have a championship game, such as Notre Dame, would be left out.
The best-case scenario would be to enlarge the playoff to eight teams, increasing the likelihood of a non-Power Five school making the tournament. Plus, who doesn’t love rooting for the Cinderella school?
At this stage and format of the CFP, it will be a challenge for any Group of Five school to reach the desirable four-team tournament, but there are hopes the field will be expanded in the future.
By Will Johnson, sports editor