The College Football Playoff committee has always tossed a bone to Group of Five schools. A bid into a New Year's Six Bowl meant at least the top G5 team in the country could get significant bowl exposure. But CFP expansion talk means that bone is no longer a metatarsal, but a femur.
The proposal being reviewed expands the CFP from four teams to 12 teams. All five Power Five conference champions get a slot, as does the top conference champion from the Group of Five. That seat at the table is more significant than ever.
Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger applied the new proposal to the entirety of the College Football Playoff era to see how things would have shaken out.
Here it is! How the CFP’s 12-team proposal would have played out the last 7 yrs.— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) June 10, 2021
There were 4 instances of a team ranked outside the top 12 making it:
2019: 17 Memphis
2016: 15 W. Michigan
2015: 18 Houston
2014: 20 Boise
A combined 22 teams ranked inside the top 12 missed it. pic.twitter.com/kQB7Pwh4Mc
The new model gives the top four champions a first round bye; teams 5-12 play in campus-site games awarded to the 5-8 ranked teams. In 2020, two G5 schools would have made the playoffs. Both Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina would have played; the Bearcats would have hosted Georgia in the opening round.
In actuality, Cincinnati lost to UGA in the Peach Bowl 24-21, a game played in Atlanta this past season. Switch that site to Nippert Stadium and it's not far-fetched to imagine a Bearcats' victory and date with Alabama in the CFP quarterfinals. But that's where many opponents to expansion argue that the top teams are always a cut above the rest, and this format doesn't change who wins the championship. Nobody would expect Cincinnati to beat Bama. That may very well be true. In 14 CFP semifinal games, only three have been decided by one score. But the format gives exposure and opportunity in an unprecedented way.
"The more of a factor that group of five level is, the more exposure you're going to get, the more resources you'll acquire and I think that positions you to continue to build," said Cajuns' coach Billy Napier. "That's what we need here, to continue to build and I think those scenarios do that."
The CFP semifinals averaged nearly 20 million viewers the past two seasons. While a first round game wouldn't likely produce that kind of audience, it's not hard to imagine the weight of the playoffs would have drawn more than the 8.7 million who watched that Peach Bowl between Georgia and Cincinnati, and a win would had given the Bearcats even more opportunity.
The scenarios are very real for Louisiana football, who will enter 2021 as a favorite to represent the G5 in the playoffs. The canceled Sun Belt Championship game would have essentially been a playoff play-in game had this format been around last fall.
"We don't know exactly where it's going to land from a format standpoint, probably in the month of September that'll be finalized, but we like our chances and like the opportunity," said Athletic Director Bryan Maggard. "Because now Group of Five programs will have an opportunity chance to compete for that national championship, and I can tell you our plan will be to contend to be one of those 12 year in, year out."
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