Eventually, a small conference team is going to end up in the College Football Playoff. It never would’ve happened if left to the BCS computers, but adding in a human element has put in an opportunity for decision making that can be exploited. It’s only a matter of time, and good football.
Four things have to happen in order for this to work. First, no Power 5 conference team can be undefeated. It needs to be a year of upsets and insanity, with everyone riding extremely high highs and swampworthy lows through Thanksgiving. Second, two or more Group of Five teams must be undefeated. Preferably the American Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference champs. Third, BYU has to be good. Finally, the Power 5 has to have multiple conference champions with 1-2 losses.
I get that this is like finding a Sasquatch riding a Unicorn and getting them to pose for Instagram, but hear me out. Crazier things have happened in this stupid sport (see 2007).
Let’s say that in 2018, UNLV figures out how football works and manages to blast through their Mountain West Schedule and win the conference championship. Over in the MAC, Toledo has rocketed past their competition and hasn’t dropped a game. These two teams going undefeated won’t be enough to get them in the playoff because they’re not starting the season in the Top 25. For a G5 team, bias and brand strength come into play even more. It’s not about the team on the field at the time. It’s about how dominant they’ve been in the recent past. So, say, Boise State and UCF push their usual shenanigans to a higher level and both manage to end up ranked in the Top 10 at 12-0. Well, that suddenly becomes more interesting. Especially if a strongly scheduled, indy BYU manages to win 8+ games. What difference does that make? Everybody east of Denver seems to lose their minds over the Cougars showing any signs of life and having them win some of those B1G and Pac 12 games on the schedule will lend validity to the idea of thinking outside of the box.
But it’s not just about head-to-heads and rankings for the G5, there has to be a total clusterf*ck in the Power 5 to go alongside.
Two-loss conference champions would be the easiest route. If the SEC West is somehow a dumpster fire of low scoring games where the better team manages to lose a few times, and the B1G and Big 12 do B1G and Big 12 things and beat the hell out of each other until everyone thinks they suck, then there’s a real nasty and public discussion to be had about rewarding winning over mediocrity.
G5 teams with the best shot to go undefeated in 2018:
UCF – Your 2017 Not Really National Champs have a new coach but a high capacity QB and didn’t lose much… well except Shaquem Griffin.
Memphis – These guys have an offense like an overloaded firework with a short fuse. It’s going to ignite and take off someone’s fingers, while being truly beautiful when it happens.
Boise – Senior QB. Pretty good depth. That thing where the offense is really fun to watch late on Friday night, but you realize in October sometime that the defense is absolutely rolling dudes. Watch them do it again.
FAU – Turns out, Lane Kiffin is still a helluva coach. However, he’s also learning how to delegate. The Owls may not be able to replicate their success last season, but it’s gonna be great to watch ’em try. I mean, Kiffin is still gonna be out here in a visor in 2018.
Fresno – Will the Bulldogs be overshadowed in their own hometown by all things Stanford and Cal, again, for the 30th year in a row? Absolutely. But they are capable of winning a whole lot of football games. Maybe even all of them.
How likely is this?
G5 teams winning every game on their schedule is the only way to get it through the thick skulls of bowl execs and the playoff committee that people would rather watch a scrappy but talented G5 play a solid P5 team in a bowl game and get a shot at it all than two 8-2 teams coming to a 14-10 finish, only to result in the winner getting blown out in the championship.
2018 probably won’t be the year that a G5 team sneaks into the playoff, statistically. However, with sufficient chaos, a little football magic, and a reminder of the unfairness of beating every opponent and never getting a chance to be a champion, one of them will do it eventually. Maybe its 2020 instead. But when G5 teams win them all, it makes a better case than anything else about the injustice of how we figure out who played this dumb game the best.
It’s not likely, but it is possible for someone to break through.
(Please, football gods, let it be Boise. Amen.)
(Edit: Only one Griffin. Our bad, UCF fans.)