Group of Five Playoff: Ranking the new top four after UCF's bludgeoning of Cincinnati
The College Football Playoff may not respect many of these teams, but we believe they are deserving of more
With just one week left in the regular season -- plus conference title games still 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.
When the idea was floated a few years ago about the Group of Five creating their own version of the CFP, it was discussed a bit but largely dismissed. Well, 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 second edition of our Group of Five playoff rankings, which will surely change over the next few weeks as things get sorted out with the regular season coming to a close. Oh, and we also show our work below. All rankings utilize the weekly CBS Sports 129.
1. UCF Knights
Record: 10-0 | S&P SOS: 102 | Sagarin SOS: 95
Best wins: Cincinnati (26), Pitt (23), Temple (40) | Losses: None
UCF moved from "cute little story" to legitimate threat last week with a dominating, primetime, nationally-televised win over Cincinnati. The reason is simple -- this team is, by far, the deepest and most athletic team in the Group of Five. McKenzie Milton's 318 yards of total offense per game is 10th nationally, and the running back corps is loaded with playmakers who not only excel in different areas but get plenty of touches thanks to coach Josh Heupel's creativity. But the big story has been the defense, which hasn't given up 374 and 379 yards in its last two games to Navy and Cincinnati, respectively. It's the most complete team in the Group of Five, and it's not close at this point. (Last week: 1) -- Barrett Sallee
2. Utah State Aggies
Record: 10-1 | S&P SOS: 130 | Sagarin SOS: 125
Best wins: BYU (63) | Losses: Michigan State (38)
Utah State is dominating its competition unlike anyone in college football not named Alabama or Clemson. Its 23.8 point margin of victory is better than even UCF. It's fifth in the country in turnover margin, 10th in offensive efficiency per S&P+ and third in points per play. The schedule is bad, but the Aggies have dominated a bad schedule like they should. Their only loss came on the road in Week 1 to Michigan State in the closing minutes. This week, Utah State gets another resume opportunity at Boise State. Beat this week's No. 3 team, and your reward is what is likely to be next week's No. 3 team in Fresno State. At that point, all doubters will have been silenced, and we'd be looking at a very worthy UCF title contender. (Last week: 2) -- Barton Simmons
3. Boise State Broncos
Record: 9-2 | S&P SOS: 72 | Sagarin SOS: 75
Best wins: Fresno State (20), Troy (49) | Losses: Oklahoma State (45), San Diego State (56)
Boise State moves up in our rankings this week and up to No. 23 in the CFP Rankings largely because of Cincinnati's loss to UCF last week. The Broncos had an easy time with New Mexico last Friday, as expected. The showdown with Utah State for a berth in the Mountain West Championship Game on the blue turf is next, and the Broncos are a slight favorite against No. 21 Utah State. -- Jerry Palm (Last week: 5)
4. Fresno State Bulldogs
Record: 9-2 | S&P SOS: 109 | Sagarin SOS: 85
Best wins: Nevada (69) | Losses: Boise State (21), Minnesota (74)
My fellow committee members finally saw the light and bumped Fresno State up to No. 4 this week. While I had the Bulldogs higher in my own rankings last week, the No. 4 spot is the right place for them this week due to their head-to-head loss against Boise State. Still, with San Jose State up this week, Marcus McMaryion, KeeSean Johnson should cruise into the Mountain West title game against the winner of Utah State and Boise State. (Last week: 6) -- Tom Fornelli
5. Army West Point Black Knights
Record: 9-2 | S&P SOS: 92 | Sagarin SOS: 101
Best wins: Buffalo (46) | Losses: Oklahoma (7), Duke (39)
There has been a concerted effort to mimic the actual CFP Selection Committee with the this exercise, and it was again following the committee's own actions and explanations that resolved consternation around the placement of Army in our rankings. The committee claims to wipe the board each week, starting from No. 1 and voting its way down the rankings to fill the rest of the spots. Army, at 9-2, didn't "drop" after its 28-14 win against FCS Colgate as much as it passed by Boise State and Fresno State, both also 9-2 and winners against conference opponents last week. (Last week: 4) -- Chip Patterson
6. Cincinnati Bearcats
Record: 9-2 | S&P SOS: 91 | Sagarin SOS: 84
Best wins: South Florida (68) | Losses: UCF (8) Temple (40)
Cincinnati deserves the No. 3 spot. It has the No. 1 defense in the country according to S&P+ in marginal efficiency. It has knocked off two good MAC teams and an admittedly down UCLA. Its only loss was on the road in overtime against a very respectable Temple team. Offensively, Desmond Ridder is a very capable dual-threat quarterback, and Michael Warren is one of the best running backs in the Group of Five ranks. This weekend, Cincinnati will get a chance to state its case for the No. 1 spot with a visit to UCF. (Last week: 3) -- Barton Simmons
Also received votes: Appalachian State, Troy
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