We Simulated A Group of Five College Football Playoff

In our recent simulation, we took a look at the results at an expanded College Football Playoff, which included a Group-of-5 bid, but who is the best small-name program out there? We simulated a CFP – Group-of-5 edition – and pitted the winner against the real CFP field, starting with the semifinal losers and progressing to the champion until they were defeated or triumphed over the field. Teams were selected by the final CFP rankings of that year, and if there were not four teams in those rankings, we went to the AP Poll, utilizing the “Also Receiving Votes” section if necessary. Here were our results:

2014

  1. Boise State
  2. Marshall
  3. Memphis
  4. Colorado State

4. Colorado State def. 1. Boise State 33-31
2. Marshall def. 3. Memphis 28-23

Championship

4. Colorado State def. 2. Marshall 31-23

Against the CFP…
Def. Florida State 34-31 (OT)
LOST to Alabama 44-28\

Summary

Led by the exploits of quarterback Garrett Grayson, Colorado State embarked on a stunning run in our initial year of the Group of 5 simulation. The Rams were 10-2 in 2014 with a bad loss in the Las Vegas Bowl, but in this simulation, they rallied over Boise State with a game-winning field goal at the buzzer, before staving off Marshall in the championship. Grayson tossed seven touchdowns and no picks between the two highly efficient performances. In a stunning effort, the Rams edged out Jameis Winston and the Seminoles, but they fell well short against Alabama, although Grayson threw for another four scores, but the Tide racked up 232 rushing yards between Derrick Henry and TJ Yeldon. Surprising stuff in Year 1, let’s see what 2015 has to offer. 

2015 

  1. Houston
  2. Navy
  3. Temple
  4. Western Kentucky


4. Western Kentucky def. 1. Houston 37-24
3. Temple def. 2. Navy 24-17

Championship

4. Western Kentucky def. 3. Temple 34-20

Against the CFP…

Def. Oklahoma 37-35
LOST to Michigan State 41-33

Summary

Two straight four-seeds? There appears to be very little difference among the top Group of 5 teams, so we’ll see if that trend continues. Western Kentucky bodyslammed both Houston and Temple by two touchdowns to claim the title. The Hilltoppers could score on virtually anyone in 2015, putting up at least 35 points on every defense except Vanderbilt and LSU. Oklahoma’s sieve-like defense posed little challenge, but the Spartans held WKU to enough field goals to edge out the upstart fourth-seed. 

2016

  1. Western Michigan
  2. Temple
  3. Navy
  4. South Florida


4. USF def. 1. Western Michigan 34-31
2. Temple def. 3. Navy 40-20

Championship

2. Temple def. 4. USF 34-30

Against the CFP…

LOST to Washington 42-23

Summary

Finally, someone took down a four-seed in this simulation, as Temple took down Navy in what is quickly developing into a virtual rivalry, and edged out South Florida in the final. However, they had zero luck against Power-5 competition, getting manhandled by fourth-seeded Washington, trailing by 29 points in the fourth quarter. Maybe the quality of play is a little worse, but you can’t deny this Playoff would be highly interesting – six of the nine games played in the Group of 5 portion of the simulation have been decided by one possession. 

2017

  1. UCF
  2. Memphis
  3. Boise State
  4. South Florida
  1. UCF def. 4. USF 45-13
  2. Memphis def. 3. Boise State 37-27

Championship

1. UCF def. 2. Memphis 41-31

Against the CFP…
LOST to Oklahoma 42-37
Summary

This simulation has produced some wild results, so to see chalk in Year 4 was actually pretty shocking. 2017 UCF can definitely stake a claim to being the best Group of 5 team in recent history, and they dominated the Playoff simulation here, taking the title in convincing fashion. However, a very strong Playoff field made it tough to advance further, as Baker Mayfield and the Sooners edged the Knights. McKenzie Milton was a joy to watch on the gridiron, so here’s to hoping he makes it back soon – college football is better when guys like him are playing. 

2018

  1. UCF
  2. Fresno State
  3. Boise State
  4. Utah State

    4. Utah State def. 1. UCF 35-23
    2. Fresno State def. 3. Boise State 35-21

Championship

4. Utah State def. 2. Fresno State 37-34 (OT)

Against the CFP…

LOST to Oklahoma 52-33

Summary

Top-seeded UCF had to play without McKenzie Milton and fell victim to Jordan Love’s rocket arm. Meanwhile, Boise State falls to 0-3 in three separate appearances, and the Aggies triumph in an overtime classic over Fresno State, tying the game on a late field goal and winning on Love’s 26-yard TD toss. Utah State clashed with Heisman winner Kyler Murray and simply did not have the firepower to stay with the Sooners. Love had a pair of TDs, but Oklahoma grabbed a 10-point halftime lead and cruised to victory. 

2019

  1. Memphis
  2. Boise State
  3. Appalachian State
  4. Cincinnati 

    1. Memphis def. 4. Cincinnati 41-28

2. Boise State def. 3. Appalachian State 37-14

Championship

2. Boise State def. 1. Memphis 35-30

Against the CFP…

LOST to Oklahoma 34-28
Summary

Boise State breaks through! I’m really glad, because I would have had to deal with a throng of rabid Broncos’ fans if they didn’t even get a win in the Group of 5 CFP. The Broncos manhandled Appalachian State in one of the biggest blowouts of our 6-year simulation before edging out a very good Memphis squad. However, their magic ran out against the Sooners – no ‘Statue of Liberty’ stunner in this one, as the Broncos dropped a 6-point contest to Jalen Hurts, CeeDee Lamb and Co. 

Final Thoughts

A Group-of-5 playoff will never happen, because it will require the NCAA to admit that their current system excludes half the teams in the nation from even competing for a Playoff spot. However, I am still enthralled by the idea; exciting small-name programs can be exciting to watch, and this system pits some of the best teams in the nation against each other, largely producing thrilling results. Four-seeds combined for an insane 7-3 record, as upsets raged throughout the years, while teams like UCF proved their utter dominance with convincing victories. 

Ultimately, Boise State led with four Playoff appearances, although it took them until that fourth try to snatch a win. Memphis went 2-3 in three appearances, and nobody else had more than two Playoff berths. Against CFP teams, our Group-of-5 champions went 2-6, but no victories were seen in the final four years. 

Ultimately, I think four appearances in six years is a decent statement as to Boise State’s consistency, regardless of their schedule, but the three tournament victories by fourth-seeds also showed that there is plenty of parity between the best Group-of-5 teams. Again, this won’t happen, but imagine if this event was a precursor to the CFP, making it four straight weekends of premier college football. One can dream.

Ranking Group Of Five College Football Conferences

Yesterday, we ranked the Power-5 football conferences (in basketball, football, and baseball), so today, it’s time to look at rankings for the Group of 5 conferences – who is a joke, and who is a legit threat to Power-5 teams.

MWC/AAC/SB/CUSA/MAC

AAC/MWC/SB/CUSA/MAC

MWC/AAC/CUSA/MAC/SB

AAC/SB/MAC/MWC/CUSA

MWC/AAC/MAC/SB/CUSA

MAC -20, CUSA- 21, SB – 17, AAC – 8, MWC – 9

#5. Conference USA

Last season, it was 20th time is the charm for Conference USA, which lost it’s first 19 games against Power-5 opponents before scraping out November wins against cellar-dwelling Arkansas and a floundering Miami squad. They weren’t great outside of the Power-5 either, going just 9-12 against fellow Group-of-5 programs, and, thanks to Western Kentucky, they had the sole FCS loss among Group of 5 teams (Independent UMass and the ACC’s Georgia Tech had the other two FBS-FCS losses). Florida Atlantic (11-3) nearly cracked the top 25 at the end of the season, which would have provided the conference with a bit of pride, but they didn’t, and C-USA finds the basement in these rankings.

#4. Mid-Atlantic Conference

The MAC was a strong contender for the cellar in these rankings, but ultimately they got the nod to stay just above C-USA. Just with Akron (0-12), this conference has probably the worst team in the FBS, and they were even worse against Power-5 competition, going 2-21, although their wins over Illinois and BYU represented victories over at least semi-capable programs. The MAC loses to Conference USA in star power, with no teams collecting more than eight wins, but, outside of Akron, they also can’t match C-USA in truly atrocious teams. It’s a lot of mediocrity, in the MAC, but a decent bowl season (3-4) – and Conference USA’s FCS loss – kept them out of the basement.

#3. Sun Belt

Unlike the prior conferences in these rankings, every team in the Sun Belt had at least two wins, and outside of South Alabama (2-10) and Texas State (3-9), everyone came within a game of bowl eligibility. Appalachian State was one of the best Group-of-5 programs in the country, just missing out on a 14-0 season and winning the conference. The Sun Belt saw some strong performances against the Power-5, despite a relatively dismal 4-9 overall record. Georgia State toppled Tennessee, while App State upended both South and North Carolina, and Coastal Carolina snatched a road victory at Kansas, and Louisiana-Monroe took Florida State to overtime in Tallahassee. There’s things not to like – only five teams qualified for bowl games – but the Sun Belt, with a couple of very good teams, and cellar-dwelllers that don’t quite match the atrocity of those in the MAC and C-USA, belongs third on this list.

#2. Mountain West

It was nearly a toss-up between the clear top-2 conference in the Group of 5. The Mountain West had the best success of any conference against Power-5 programs, nearly breaking .500 with a 10-12 mark, including Boise State’s comeback against Florida State, along with road victories at Vanderbilt, Arkansas, UCLA, and Colorado. They struggled at times against other Group of 5 programs, however – after posting a 2-0 record against Conference USA, they went 1-5 against the AAC, Sun Belt, and Mac, ultimately relegating them to 2nd on this list. Boise State got smacked in the conference’s lone bowl game against a Power-5 team (38-7 loss vs. Washington), but they went 4-3 overall in bowl season. Boise State was the class of the conference, but Air Force, Hawaii, and San Diego State all reached at least 10 wins.

#1. American Athletic Conference

The AAC got the nod for the #1 Group of 5 conference. In a two-man competition with the Mountain West, the AAC won out with a 3-0 head-to-head record with the MWC, and they placed four teams into the AP Top 25 at the end of the season, to the Mountain West’s two. Their cherry on top is the New Year’s 6 bowl, where the AAC leads with four appearances – no other Group of 5 has more than two, and the Mountain West has just one. The American also went a stunning 16-1 against all other non Power-5 programs, with a 7-13 mark against Power-5 schools, punctuated with a ranked victory over #25 TCU. With Memphis, Navy, Cincinnati and UCF, the conference has four truly great teams, and SMU is pushing to make it five. The conference went 4-3 in 2019 bowl game appearances, led by Memphis’s stiff fight in the Cotton Bowl and Navy’s strong Liberty Bowl victory.