by Travis Normand
In this the 7th season of the College Football Playoff, I am predicting that a team from the Group of Five Conferences (“G5”) will finally be awarded one of the four semifinalists spots. The only question that remains is “which” team will it be?
With only three Power-5 conferences playing this 2020-2021 season (and Notre Dame playing as part of the ACC), the committee can select one SEC team, one ACC team, and one Big 12 team; and they will then still have one spot remaining. This final spot can be given to an at-large Power-5 school or a G5 school.
Considering all that is going on with college football during this COVID-19 season, if the final spot is given to a Power-5 school (thus including every Power-5 conference and one of them getting two bids), you will hear an intensified argument about how the College Football Playoff is actually designed to exclude the G5 schools.
After all, some have argued that a G5 school will only make the playoff under a special set of circumstances. If dropping from five to three Power-5 conferences doesn’t create the necessary special set of circumstances, I will be hard-pressed to think of what might actually constitute the right, or special, set of circumstances under which a G5 might get included (as we have already seen that going 13-0, or 12-0 in back-to-back seasons wasn’t good enough).
With all three of the Power-5 conferences happy to have received a seat at the table, the committee will be free to reach into the G5 bag without upsetting the Power-5. After all, unlike the previous six seasons where at least one Power-5 conference was always left out of the playoff, this season they can all be included while also inviting a G5 school.
I believe the committee will do everything in their power to justify the inclusion of a G5 school so that they can move forward with the playoff and squelch some of the arguments about how the College Football Playoff will never include a G5 team.
Obviously, a G5 school will first have to qualify for playoff selection; but so long as one of them qualifies and we don’t end up with a situation where a Power-5 school is clearly being over-looked in favor of including a G5, then I think the committee will finally select a G5 school.
Possible situations where the committee would feel obligated to include four Power-5 schools, and no G5 team:
(1) Clemson goes 11-0 while Notre Dame goes 10-1 (with the one-loss being a close one to Clemson); however, the two meet in the ACC Championship game with Notre Dame pulling-off the victory (ACC composite schedule).
(2) Similar to the ACC example above, we could see Alabama go 10-0 while Georgia goes 9-1 (with the one-loss being a close one to Alabama on October 17); however, if these two meet in the SEC Championship game and Alabama wins, we could see both of these teams make a semifinal.
Let’s also take a look at some likely G5 candidates that could make a run at the playoff in 2020-2021.
I should add that, not only have two of the three Power-5 conferences opted out of playing a fall 2020 season (the Big 10 and Pac 12), two of the three G5 conferences have also opted out as well (the MAC and the Mountain West). While understandable, if not for this decision, I would have probably included both Boise State and Western Michigan on this list of likely candidates.
(1) South Florida (USF): USF is likely the best candidate to make the playoff as they are one of the few G5 teams that has managed to pick-up a Power-5 opponent (Notre Dame). If USF loses to Notre Dame, but can find a way to keep it close, USF could redeem itself via the rest of its schedule which includes Navy, UCF, Houston, Memphis, and Cincinnati.
(2) Cincinnati is also a strong candidate as they play a similar schedule as USF (and they replace Navy with Army). The one thing that Cincinnati is missing, that USF has, is a game against a Power-5 school like Notre Dame. However, if USF loses a close game to Notre Dame, and Cincinnati can find a way to soundly defeat USF, that might be enough to bridge the gap.
(3) Central Florida (UCF): UCF makes this list for a lot of the same reasons as USF and Cincinnati. Further, UCF has a game against Georgia Tech; and a victory over the Yellow Jackets will go a long way if UCF can run the table.
Final note: BYU is an independent but is not treated as a G5 for playoff purposes (unless that rule changed recently and I missed it). Therefore, the one “monkey wrench” to the G5 making a semifinal appearance is BYU (although I don’t see this as being a real threat).
There is a strong possibility that BYU will go undefeated this season and soundly defeat every team they play. In fact, I would not be shocked to see BYU defeat each opponent by 50+ points. However, BYU is only scheduled to play a total of eight games. These eight games include Navy (who they beat 55-3 on September 7), Army, and Houston; but not much else. In the event BYU were go to 8-0, I would think the committee would have a hard time selling the Cougars as a legitimate selection over a 11-1 USF or a 11-0 Cincinnati.