There have been 28 spots in the College Football Playoff (CFP) field in the first seven years of its existence, and all of them have been occupied by Power Five conference teams or Notre Dame. During that same period of time, a number of Group of Five teams have made great strides, including the University of Central Florida, Cincinnati, Appalachian State, and Coastal Carolina, to challenge the top teams in college football.
Changes in head coaches and the opening of the transfer portal have distributed talent throughout all of the FBS, not just at the traditional Power Five programs. Meanwhile, many of the teams that dominated the top of the rankings and national championship races are no longer in the picture.
Texas, Nebraska, Miami, Florida State, and USC are just a few of the examples of schools that have continually struggled, not just in their own conferences but also against programs that, in some cases, weren’t even playing FBS football the last time they were relevant. Texas has a new head coach, USC just fired another one, Miami is on their fourth leader since 2010, Nebraska hasn’t had a winning record since 2016, and Florida State was just beaten by FCS Jacksonville State.
Even this season, some of the teams that have dominated in recent years are already struggling, with Clemson and Ohio State taking losses in the first two weeks of the season. Even Oklahoma got a scare from Tulane in their opening game, stopping their opponent on the final drive to escape with a 40 – 35 victory.
The list of improbable outcomes goes on and on, beginning with Appalachian State’s shocking defeat of Michigan in 2007 when the Mountaineers were still playing in the FCS. Under head coach Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines haven’t won a bowl game since his first season in 2015 and have yet to win a division title in the Big Ten East.
Can it Really Happen for the Group of Five?
Realistically, it’s highly improbable that any team from outside the Power Five conferences or Notre Dame will get into the CFP until the field is expanded to 12, as was announced earlier this summer. Last year, Cincinnati actually made all the way to the sixth spot in the final rankings that determined who would play for a national championship, but winning a couple of Power Five games will not make up for playing the bulk of their schedule against Group of Five teams.
There could be some drama by the end of the season, however, especially when we take a deep dive into the state of the big conferences. Big Ten favorite Ohio State has already lost, 2020 Big 12 regular season champion Iowa State was defeated by Iowa, Pac-12 contender Utah was defeated by BYU, and the SEC West has a number of resurgent programs, highlighted by Arkansas’ victory over Texas and Mississippi State’s domination of N.C. State.
There is a high probability that no Power Five team will get through the season unscathed, and if Cincinnati runs the table, Notre Dame would also have a loss. Obviously, there is a lot of football to be played, but if a Group of Five team can get to sixth in CFP rankings, why couldn’t one inch up a couple of spots higher and crash the party?
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