Put Fresno State, SDSU and Utah State in the CFP Top 25, You Cowards
The Bulldogs, Aztecs and Aggies aren’t playoff-bound, but they deserve both the committee’s respect and a real shot at the Group of 5’s New Year’s Day bowl berth.
We lay out the cases.
It’s become trendy this week to think ahead to next Tuesday’s reveal of the first College Football Playoff rankings of 2018. They are, for several different reasons, the only rankings that matter once in play: We all get to prognosticate on who Alabama will murder in the national semifinals, for one, and we Group of 5 enthusiasts get to size up the race for the New Year’s Day bowl bid.
As it happens, other publications are already suggesting the first CFP top 25 might not have much for Mountain West fans to cheer. CBS Sports’s Jerry Palm has just one Group of 5 team, UCF, in his current projection. SB Nation’s Jason Kirk only mentions the Knights in his look forward, too. There’s a good chance we’ll see more predictions after the weekend, but you get the idea: Nobody is taking the Mountain West’s contenders seriously.
Here’s my argument: The Fresno State Bulldogs, San Diego State Aztecs and Utah State Aggies all deserve to start ranked and make the race to the top a worthwhile one. I’ll explain why.
The gulf between UCF and the Mountain West’s best at the start of the year was never that wide to begin with.
Here’s a fact: Fresno State and San Diego State both won ten games in 2017. Here’s another fact: They received exactly one combined point in the preseason AP top 25.
Go back and look at this year’s preseason AP poll, which runs 44 teams deep. Just two teams from the Group of 5, UCF and Boise State, made the cut while six others received as many combined points as 4-3 Oklahoma State. This isn’t an isolated trend, either, since just five Group of 5 teams began the season ranked between 2014 and 2018, even as 13 G5 teams finished the year in the top 25.
Hell, the AP ranked six Power 5 teams that had five or six losses in 2017 in this year’s preseason poll, which I’ll acknowledge has mostly worked out so far (Michigan, Texas) but is far from fool-proof (Stanford, Florida State).
I’m fairly certain that preseason narratives play a factor in how teams are received later, especially since, as we’ll see later, the best of the Mountain West has tended to do very well in late-season play in the CFP era.
The CFP committee might as well stop wasting its time with good, but not great Power 5 teams at the bottom of the rankings.
Here is a list of every team that began between 20 and 25 in the first CFP rankings from 2014-17, their S&P+ and Sagarin rankings at the time (as I could find the data), and how they did afterwards.
Note: “Wins and losses after” include the rest of the regular season, conference championship games and bowl games.
Of these 17 teams, ten were still ranked in the last CFP top 25, four of which came last year. In general, I think it’s safe to say that they’ve been fine as a group, but for every one that might have been underrated (2014 Clemson, 2016 Florida State), there’s another that got exposed as a touch overrated (2014 Duke, 2017 Arizona).
In other words, they haven’t really covered themselves in enough glory to warrant continually overlooking the best that the Group of 5 has to offer, especially since…
For the most part, the Group of 5 teams that began ranked did pretty well for themselves.