By nearly all measures — TV ratings, fan excitement, game quality — the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff was a smashing success, and there’s no reason to believe this year’s version will be any different … for the 65 teams that make up the so-called “Power 5” conferences.
As for the other 63 teams that make up college football’s top level, it’ll be wait until next year. And the year after that. And then a few years more. Basically, it’s wait until the year in which college football’s powers-that-be wise up to the fact that an eight-team playoff would be better for everyone involved.
Until then, the so-called “Group of 5” — the teams from the American Athletic Conference, Conference-USA, Mid-American Conference, Sun Belt Conference, Mountain West Conference — will be toiling in a sort of purgatory, with 62 of those 63 teams playing for conference championships and/or a trip to some off-brand bowl game on a less-than-desirable date. (11 a.m. on the morning after Christmas in one of America’s worst stadiums? Sign me up!)
One of those 63 teams — one, the highest-ranked Group of Five team in the final CFP poll — gets a shot at a big boy, but it’s in one of the College Football Playoff bowl games that isn’t, you know, part of the actual playoff.
That is, unless that mid-major can crack the top-four in the final poll of the season, which will never happen because the College Football Playoff killed Cinderella.
“If we play a good-enough schedule and are unbeaten, the question is, ‘Can the Marshalls of the world ever get into that final four?’ ” Thundering Herd Athletic Director Mike Hamrick told The Post’s Chuck Culpepper. “And I’m not sure they will.”
Here’s everything that would need to happen for Cinderella to rise from the dead like the world’s prettiest zombie.
1.) Start the season ranked in the top 10
Teams ranked high when the first polls come out tend to get a bigger benefit of the doubt, making it easier for them to bounce back into the upper echelon in the weeks following a loss. The highest-ranked Group of 5 team in the preseason coaches’ poll this season is Boise State at No. 24.
2.) Play a tough non-conference schedule
That means no FCS teams: The CFP committee has made it fairly clear that FCS teams should not be on your schedule. But the weirdly long-term logistics of college football make this even more challenging. Because schedules are made so far in advance, it means having an impossibly good crystal ball. Hamrick told Culpepper about how he scheduled two teams — Miami of Ohio and Ohio University — soon after they both had 10-win seasons and then watched them win a combined eight games in 2014. So good luck crafting a schedule that ideally includes two good Power 5 teams — on the road, no doubt — and also one or two dice-roll mid-majors who just happen to be having good seasons.
3.) Go undefeated
Seems obvious enough, but a one-loss mid-major team is never, ever going to make the playoff, barring some sort of anomaly in which everyone has at least two losses.
4.) Very few other teams can go undefeated
This relates to No. 3 but deserves its own spot, because an undefeated mid-major team will certainly be ranked behind any undefeated power-conference team, and almost certainly will be ranked behind any one-loss conference champion.
5.) Hope the rest of your conference is on the upswing
The Mountain West had four teams with at least 10 wins last season. That’s a good look.
There’s no either/or here. Every single one of these things needs to happen. Until then — or until the eventuality of an eight-team playoff becomes reality — we’ll just have to wait until March for our Cinderellas to reveal themselves.
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