THE TIME has come for a “Group of 5” playoff, and not for the reason you might think.
I’m not going to whine about undefeated Central Florida getting shut out of the College Football Playoff. In a four-team format, there is absolutely no chance a G-5 school cracks that stratosphere. I am fine with that.
Besides, UCF gets a nice gig, playing Auburn in the Peach Bowl. G-5 teams are 2-1 in the “access bowl” format, and if the Tigers act like they don’t want to be there, they’ll get spanked.
My problem is with the rest of the G-5-targeted bowls — again, not for reasons you think. In Marshall’s case, New Mexico is not the most accessible destination for fans, but the Thundering Herd got a better matchup in Colorado State than I expected. From what I could tell Monday, players are excited about going somewhere different.
My beef centers on the placement of other Conference USA teams, particularly the Boca Raton Bowl. In that game, league champion Florida Atlantic draws Ak … Ak … Ak …
Akron. Yep, the 7-6 Zips.
That’s FAU, one of the hottest and most interesting teams in America, playing the winner of the weaker division in the Mid-American Conference. Did someone really think this was a good idea?
Shoot, FAU was initially reported to be playing 6-6 Temple, which got pushed to the Gasparilla Bowl (St. Petersburg) to play Florida International. Either way, it’s garbage.
I guess the schools and the conference will point to ESPN Events for dictating that matchup, which is bad enough, but there is another facet of this — South Florida’s destination.
The Bulls, who have been ranked all season but lost to UCF in a thriller, and were available for a good matchup — you know, with Lane Kiffin’s sudden juggernaut at FAU. Frankly, an FAU-USF matchup would have been one of the top five games on the entire bowl slate, and the runaway leader in the G-5 world. It would give the schools unprecedented exposure in the state of Florida.
It made too much sense, I guess. For one thing, USF is going to the Birmingham Bowl (another ESPN Events Bowl) to play a “Power 5” team, which is fine — if that opponent is not a 6-6 team such as Texas Tech.
That’s much like the suggestion back in 2014 that Conference USA champion Marshall should have gone to the Heart of Dallas Bowl — on the day after Christmas — to play dull, 6-6, coach-on-hot-seat Illinois.
Instead, the Herd chose wisely, taking on MAC champion Northern Illinois on a more sensible date in Boca Raton.
Shoot, the Huskies were two TDs better than the Fighting Illness that year! And the 52-23 win over NIU was a really good day in Herd football history.
So what’s the most interesting G-5 bowl? I’ll pick the San Diego State-Army matchup in the Armed Forces Bowl (Fort Worth).
No. 2 may be the game before Marshall-Colorado State on Dec. 16, the New Orleans Bowl between North Texas and Troy. The Trojans are from the “lowly” Sun Belt, but they are co-champs and will go toe-to-toe and then some against C-USA’s West Division winners.
But that is not nearly what FAU-USF would be. But forget it — instead, the Owls will mercilessly flog Terry Bowden’s Zips and 2 million TV viewers will bail by halftime. Athlon Sports ranks the game the 35th most interesting of 39 bowls.
(MU-Colorado State ranks 31st, by the way).
A tournament of division champs or the “access bowl” replacement would have Memphis or USF, Boise State, FAU, Toledo and/or Troy or Appalachian State. It would serve as a great warmup for the late-season bowls.
It would be good football. It would make great television.
Let’s do it.