While it's extremely difficult, here's why it's not impossible for a Group of 5 team to make the Playoff
Before you even start, UCF fans, let me preface what I’m about to say with something you’ll appreciate.
It was a joke how the Playoff selection committee handled the Knights in 2017.
Putting UCF at No. 12 after a 12-0 season was the lazy way out. The selection committee was so stumped by how to handle UCF’s undefeated résumé that instead of figuring out a way to evaluate it properly, it simply put it on the back burner.
You see, UCF created the perfect storm to break the system. Well, Hurricane Irma was the storm that helped break the system. Because of the canceled game vs. Georgia Tech, the Knights obviously only had one Power 5 win, and it was against 4-8 Maryland. Many interpreted that as the selection committee’s way of saying “sorry, Group of 5 team. You have no shot in this system.”
While I agree that UCF wasn’t treated properly, I actually disagree with the notion that Group of 5 teams have “no shot” to make the Playoff.
Now I know what you’re thinking.
“How can you say that? Didn’t you watch last year?”
Yes, I did. I would counter that by saying I also remember what happened the year before. No, I’m not talking about 13-0 Western Michigan, which didn’t face a Top 25 team and whose best wins were against Illinois and Northwestern.
How quickly we forget that 2016 Houston was actually following the perfect path for a Group of 5 team to earn a Playoff berth. Tom Herman’s squad opened the season by beating No. 3 Oklahoma on a neutral site. After Week 1, Houston was already up to No. 6 in the Associated Press poll.
You mean to tell me that if the Cougars won out, they weren’t going to be able to climb 2 spots in the final 14 weeks? Nonsense. I think an undefeated Houston team, with that kind of nonconference win, would have been a lock for the Playoff. We never got to see how that played out because the Cougars had 2 losses before the first Playoff poll came out.
The key with Houston was that not only did it get that big-time marquee win vs. a traditional power — I realize that it’s a challenge for certain Group of 5 schools to land matchups like that — it also started the year as a Top 25 team. UCF wasn’t on anyone’s radar before the season.
This is worth addressing because we could revisit this situation with a certain team in South Florida. Yes, I’m talking about Lane Kiffin and the Owls. FAU has the desired path to become the first Group of 5 team to make the Playoff.
Stop it right there. I didn’t say FAU will become the first Group of 5 team to make the Playoff, but there’s not a brick wall as some might believe.
Why? Just like Houston a couple years ago, FAU could open the season as a Top 25 team. If Kiffin’s squad doesn’t start in the Top 25, it’ll certainly be very close to it given what it did to finish 2017. And also like 2016 Houston, FAU opens the season against Oklahoma. The entire college football world would be all aboard the Lane Train if the Owls somehow pulled out a win in Norman.
Just in case that wasn’t intriguing enough, something tells me the nation will have a close eye on FAU when it travels to Orlando to take on UCF a few weeks later.
I’m not saying that FAU will win both or any of those games, but do you really believe the selection committee would put a 13-0 Kiffin-coached squad — with a win at Oklahoma — on the back burner like it did to UCF? I don’t. At least assuming that Oklahoma doesn’t collapse in the first year of the post-Baker Mayfield era.
It would be fascinating to watch because unlike last year, the selection committee would have an unprecedented scenario on its hands. Maybe a team like Boise State, which will likely start as a Top 25 team with a matchup at Oklahoma State, could follow the Group of 5 path to a Playoff berth.
The point is, there’s a path. Given what happened to UCF, it might not seem like there is. It probably fired up UCF fans to see what CFP executive director Bill Hancock said the other day about why the Knights didn’t make the cut last year.
“Well, of course, they were (in consideration),” Hancock said, according to Mark Heim of AL.com. “The committee members did address it. We met about April 1 over a 2-day period. We reviewed everything about how we operate. We did talk about Central Florida. The fact is when the committee is considering teams and considering their resume for the entire season, it is absolutely imperative that who they play will be a factor that is discussed. …
“The schedule is a consideration. It has to be and will continue to be.”
In other words, if you’re a Group of 5 team, beat a ranked Power 5 team. That’s a rule for all Playoff hopefuls, not just Group of 5 teams. The difference is obviously that Group of 5 teams don’t have a loss to give.
Is it a system that’s better suited for Power 5 teams? Considering 16 of the 16 Playoff teams were from Power 5 conferences, that’s a fair thing to say at this point.
But is there some brick wall blocking every Group of 5 team from a Playoff berth? I say no. There just hasn’t been a Group of 5 team that’s followed the uphill path to the finish yet.
Maybe that changes this year. If Kiffin leads FAU to a 13-0 season and the selection committee still doesn’t acknowledge it, well then I don’t know anymore.
Just get your popcorn ready.