Group of Five Playoff: Ranking the new top four after Boise State's win over Utah State
The College Football Playoff may not respect many of these teams, but we believe they are deserving of more
With the regular season now complete and only conference title games left to be played, we are almost near college football's version of Selection Sunday when the official field for the 2019 College Football Playoff will be determined. But let's face it: We already have a good idea of the teams with a legitimate opportunity to play for this year's national championship.
There's always talk this time of year about expanding the CFP field -- generally from four to six or eight -- with the idea that a Group of Five team would be guaranteed an opportunity to play for the national championship, particularly in the eight-team concept. But with that four-team field not changing anytime soon, it's time for Group of Five programs to understand once and for all that if they do not set themselves up with a strong enough schedule -- including at least a pair of ranked Power Five teams --no matter how well they play in a given season.
The idea was floated a few years ago about the Group of Five creating their own version of the CFP; it was dismissed at the time, but that idea actually has merit. If Group of Five teams are not going to compete for the CFP National Championship, why not make one of their own -- and not simply rely on claiming a "national championship" that many outside the teams' own fan bases will mock. Earn it on the field and make some money in the process.
It is with that in mind that we here at CBS Sports set out to determine what such a playoff would look like with two weeks left in the season. Our self-appointed 11-person selection committee rated and ranked the top Group of Five teams -- plus non-Notre Dame independents -- just like the CFP Selection Committee. We followed the protocol of evaluating teams individually and relying on these four criteria when discussing comparable teams: championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition (if applicable) and comparative outcomes of common opponents (not including margin of victory). The only difference: After compiling our field of eligible teams by each voter ranking their top six, we filled the spots one-by-one rather than in in groups of three.
With that, we present to you the third edition of our Group of Five playoff rankings, which will surely change as the season comes to a close. Oh, and we also show our work below. All rankings utilize the weekly CBS Sports 129.
1. UCF Knights
Record: 11-0 | S&P SOS: 95 | Sagarin SOS: 94
Best wins: Cincinnati (26), Pitt (34), Temple (35) | Losses: None
The Knights might still be the top Group of Five team, but they're not the same with the season-ending injury to star quarterback McKenzie Milton. The committee does take injuries into account, but it's too early to tell what kind of long-term impact Milton's absence will have on the Group of Five's lone undefeated team. We'll find out in the AAC Championship Game when UCF takes on Memphis in a rematch of a thrilling, come-from-behind 31-30 win in October. It'll be the fourth time these two teams have played in the past two seasons. In defense of backup quarterback Darriel Mack Jr., he's done well enough in an understudy role. UCF was able to win comfortably vs. East Carolina and South Florida without Milton. If UCF wins, it should retain its No. 1 spot. A loss, however, coupled with Milton's injury, and UCF will be a far different discussion. (Last week: 1) -- Ben Kercheval
2. Boise State Broncos
Record: 10-2 | S&P SOS: 64 | Sagarin SOS: 73
Best wins: Fresno State (19), Utah State (21) | Losses: Oklahoma State (49), San Diego State (66)
The win over Utah State last week to clinch a spot in the Mountain West Championship Game counts as a quality win, and the 36-point win at Troy to open the season is nothing to scoff at. Add in the regular season win over Fresno State, and the Broncos have one of the better resumes in the Group of Five, despite the absence of a win over a Power Five program. The combination of a high-octane offense led by quarterback Brett Rypien and a solid defense makes the Broncos one of the better teams in the Group of Five. (Last week: 3) -- Barrett Sallee
3. Fresno State Bulldogs
Record: 10-2 | S&P SOS: 113 | Sagarin SOS: 92
Best wins: San Diego State (66) | Losses: Boise State (17), Minnesota (62)
Fresno State had a relatively easy time winning its division in the Mountain West. In fact, the Bulldogs won their 10 games by an average of almost 29 points per contest. Only seven-point losses at Minnesota and Boise State blemish an otherwise outstanding season. That loss to the Gophers looks better as they surged to bowl eligibility late, and it came before Minnesota was decimated with injuries on offense. The Bulldogs will get another shot at Boise State for the Mountain West title and a spot in a New Year's Six game if UCF falters. (Last week: 4) -- Jerry Palm
4. Army West Point Black Knights
Record: 9-2 | S&P SOS: 93 | Sagarin SOS: 100
Best wins: Buffalo (39) | Losses: Oklahoma (5), Duke (48)
The Black Knights are within another win over Navy of second consecutive 10-win seasons. Roll that around in your mind for a minute. The only other 10-win season in the program's history came 22 years ago. While we're at it, can we just go ahead and say coach Jeff Monken runs the most lethal option offense in the country? Navy is down. Yes, I know Georgia Tech leads the country in rushing but the Jackets were also 7-5. Running backs Connor Slomka, Darnell Woolfolk and quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. are averaging a combined 180 yards per game for the No. 2 rushing attack. I think we've seen enough from Army that it could carve its way through this bracket with an offense that throws less than eight times per game. (Last week: 5) -- Dennis Dodd
5. Utah State Aggies
Record: 10-2 | S&P SOS: 128 | Sagarin SOS: 113
Best wins: BYU (68) | Losses: Boise State (17), Michigan State (38)
Utah State finds itself on the outside looking in following its 33-24 loss to Boise State. The good news for the Aggies is that their playoff chances aren't done just yet. With the Boise State loss, they're still 10-2 on the season and 7-1 in Mountain West play. Both Boise State and Fresno State will square off in the Mountain West title game, and the loser of that game will have three losses. There's also a chance that Army could lose to Navy and add a third loss. Considering Utah State has a loss to Boise, it's best bet is probably rooting for the Broncos this weekend as a three-loss Fresno is more likely to slide beneath it in the rankings than a three-loss Boise team that's beaten it. (Last week: 2) -- Tom Fornelli
6. Appalachian State
Record: 9-2 | S&P SOS: 112 | Sagarin SOS: 131
Best wins: Troy (47) | Losses: Penn State (15), Georgia Southern (40)
The committee takes injuries into consideration, and therefore you have to take a deeper look at Appalachian State's lone conference loss, a 34-14 loss to Georgia Southern. Starting quarterback Zac Thomas was knocked out of that game early in the first half, and the offense never found its rhythm after his absence. The only other loss on Appalachian State's resume is the one-touchdown defeat to Penn State in Happy Valley. As the Mountaineers host the Sun Bet title game this weekend in Boone, they're going to be looking to put a bow on the argument as one of the best Group of Five teams in the country. (Last week: NR) -- Chip Patterson
Also received votes: Cincinnati (last week: 6), Buffalo
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