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Will A Group of Five Team Ever Make The College Football Playoff?

It’s an uphill battle for the “have-not” conferences.

In the brief history of the College Football Playoff, only teams from Power Five conferences have qualified. That’s 12 teams selected, and 12 Power Five Schools. Where does the Group of Five fit into this picture?

Right now: nowhere, evidently. Some of those teams were repeat entries, like Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State. Nowhere will you find the Houstons or Western Michigans of the world.

Are we any closer to seeing a team from the Group of Five in college football’s final four?

Group of Five: Closest Passes to Playoff

The below are notations of the highest-ranked Group of Five teams prior to the start of bowl season. For the prior three seasons, these were based upon the final College Football Playoff Rankings.

2016: Western Michigan, #15.

2015: Houston, #18. Note: Notre Dame, #8, is not considered a Group of Five team.

2014: Boise State, #20.

Since there was no College Football Playoff prior to 2014, we have the BCS rankings and the polls. For the purposes of this exercise, we will list both the AP Poll and the BCS rankings to deduce who would have been the closest to the playoff had it existed. Also keep in mind that this is not a perfect set of data points as the “Group of Five” as we now know it did not exist.

2013: Central Florida, #15 (AP and BCS).

2012: Northern Illinois, #16 (AP); Northern Illinois, #15 (BCS).

2011: Boise State, #8 (AP); Boise State, #7 (BCS).

Had we been in this scenario in 2011, Boise State would have made a close pass at the playoff. Still, not close enough as four teams lay in front of them. Since the inception of the playoff in 2014, the closest team was 15th. This was Western Michigan, an undefeated MAC team. Directly in front of them in the final CFP rankings: Auburn, then 8-4. Six other three-loss teams also stood in the Broncos’ way.

In 2015, one-loss Houston was not close to the final four. Also, in 2014, two-loss Boise State was far outside the mix.

All of these best Group of Five teams had multiple and various multi-loss teams from Power Five conference ahead of them. In the eyes of the committee now, and likely in the future, Power Five wins count for much more. Western Michigan was undefeated in 2016 and didn’t sniff the playoff. Had Houston not collapsed during the season, they may have had a chance, but they did collapse.

Group of Five: What Will It Take?

Never say never in sports, but it’s highly unlikely a Group of Five team will make a four-team College Football Playoff. To say they must walk a tightrope to get into the conversation is charitable. It’s more like passing through the eye of a needle.

One imagines a perfect storm must come together for it to happen. It may look something like this:

  • The Group of Five contender goes undefeated, inclusive of winning their conference championship.
  • The GO5 conference is having an overall up year. This may include another ranked team, and a number of bowl-eligible teams.
  • This contender plays a challenging non-conference schedule of mostly Power Five teams. One or more of them have to be good.
  • No FCS cupcake games, as GO5 teams don’t have the latitude that Power Five schools do in this regard.
  • Chaos at the top of the Power Five schools. This includes no undefeated teams and few, if any, one-loss Power Five teams. This could come in the form of down years for several P5 conferences.

Needless to say, this is a lot of things which have to break a certain way. Much of it is not in control of the Group of Five team that wishes to contend. None of these schools control their own destiny to make the College Football Playoff. This makes it most implausible we will see a GO5 playoff team any time soon.

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