Group of Five Playoff: Ranking the top four as we open the field for more college football teams

With just a few weeks 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 2020 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 usually 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 -- they do not have a realistic shot of making the CFP 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 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? Earn it on the field and make some money in the process.

It is with that in mind that we here at CBS Sports, for the second straight year, will determine what such a playoff would look like. 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 our new 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 130.

1. Cincinnati

Record: 8-1 | Sagarin SOS: 64 | CBS Sports 130: 18
Best wins: UCF (30), UCLA (64) | Losses: Ohio State (2)

For the moment, Cincinnati's deal-breaker among one-loss teams is the dreaded quality loss. The Bearcats have defeated every opponent on their schedule not named Ohio State, and clearly the Buckeyes are operating at a different level than most of the country. A season-opening defeat of UCLA and a close, affirming win against UCF thrust Cincinnati into the New Year's Six conversation, and all its done since is continue to win. A regular-season finale at Memphis looms, but for now, Cincinnati is running in first among the Group of Five. -- Chip Patterson

2. Memphis

Record: 8-1 | Sagarin SOS: 69 | CBS Sports 130: 17
Best wins: SMU (19), Navy (21) | Losses: Temple (44)

The Tigers haven't missed a beat at running back thanks to freshman Kenneth Bainwell's 1,067 yards through nine games. Along with quarterback Brady White's 23 touchdown passes and only four interceptions, the offense has been one of the most explosive in the country. The defense has been bending but not breaking. The 25.8 points per game allowed rank sixth in the AAC and is more than enough to get the job done. -- Barrett Sallee

3. Boise State

Record: 8-1 | Sagarin SOS: 87 | CBS Sports 130: 20
Best wins: Air Force (27), Florida State (51) | Losses: BYU (53)

Boise State is 8-1 and on track to win another Mountain West title. The league has had an up and down year and has not provided a stiff challenger to the Broncos, so their strength of schedule comes up short when compared to the better teams in the AAC. Their lone loss is to BYU, and that also does not compare well to the other AAC teams. There is a chance the Broncos could lose out on the Group of Five spot even to a two-loss Cincinnati if the Bearcats' other loss is at Memphis to end the regular season. -- Jerry Palm

4. Appalachian State

Record: 8-1 | Sagarin SOS: 118 | CBS Sports 130: 22
Best wins: North Carolina (59), South Carolina (82) | Losses: Georgia Southern (83)

App. State has put together two Power Five wins, better than any other team in the Group of Five. Its only loss came in a game severely impacted by weather against a team extremely well suited for that type of slog. In a single-game setting, this team has shown that it can win with defense or offense and has been extremely prepared in every big game matchup. -- Barton Simmons

5. SMU

Record: 9-1 | Sagarin SOS: 82 | CBS Sports 130: 19
Best wins: Temple (44), TCU (50) | Losses: Memphis (17)

While SMU is 9-1 overall, it just doesn't have the overall resume of the other teams in this top six. The Mustangs have wins over Temple and TCU, but this season those two teams are a combined 10-8. They came up short in their game against Memphis, and right now that's what is separating the Mustangs from a spot in the top four. -- Tom Fornelli

6. Navy

Record: 7-1 | Sagarin SOS: 97 | CBS Sports 130: 21
Best wins: Air Force (27) | Losses: Memphis (17)

So much disrespect for the Midshipmen amongst this crew! Not only is Navy 7-1 on the season, but it has wins over a 7-2 Air Force as well as a 6-3 Tulane. It's lone loss came to Memphis, which my colleagues and I ranked second here. Cincinnati's best win is a 7-3 UCF. It's second-best win is ... what? UCLA? Navy has a better argument for No. 1 than Cincinnati does. -- Tom Fornelli

CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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