21 for 2021 preseason topics: No. 10. The top Group of Five college football teams that should be in the New Year’s Six bowl chase.
This piece is almost certainly going to be wrong.
Two years ago we didn’t get Memphis – who ended up getting the New Year’s Six Bowl nod – and last season we weren’t even in the right zip code when it came to the rise of Coastal Carolina and Louisiana.
So far in the College Football Playoff era, six teams from the Group of Five conferences – the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt – have been the highest-ranked conference champion in the final CFP rankings to get the New Year’s Six spot. None of them have been able to get into the playoff, but if the tournament expands, that will change.
Boise State beat Arizona in the first shot for the Group of Five, and Houston followed it up with a win over Florida State. Western Michigan, Memphis, Cincinnati, and UCF (twice) are the other schools to get the big spotlight game, going 3-4 overall and generally playing very, very well in the losses.
This year, the Group of Five champion – if it’s not in the College Football Playoff – will either play in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl or the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
21 for 2021 Preview Topics (so far)
21. Thoughts, Wishes, Hopes for 2021
20. Best Teams To Not Make CFP
19: Teams That Will Rebound Big
18. Teams That Will Fall Back
17: Every Power 5 Team’s Letdown Game
16. Expectations For New Head Coaches
15. Expectations For 2nd Year Head Coaches
14. Power 5 Hot Seat Coach Rankings
13. 21 Key Transfers You Need To Know
12. Group of 5 over Power 5 Upset Alerts
11. 5 of College Football’s New Superstars
So what does it take for a Group of Five program to get that New Year’s Six slot? Realistically – but not technically – 1) needs to go unbeaten or finish with just one loss, 2) it should have at least one signature win to impress the College Football Playoff committee that does the rankings, and 3), as part of the requirement, it has to win its conference championship.
Here’s hoping that a few teams will rise up and shock the world, but assume that one of these teams will likely have the best shot at getting the New Year’s Six nod.
Let’s start with a total cop-out.
College Football Group of Five Programs in the New Year’s Six Hunt
5. San Jose State at Nevada winner
Boise State is always the instant pick from the Mountain West to have a shot at the New Year’s Six bowl bid, but this year’s team is undergoing a coaching overhaul and it has a few tweaks it has to make, but there are three problems …
Non-conference schedule, non-conference schedule, non-conference schedule.
The Broncos should be strong enough in a relatively weak Mountain Division to get to the Mountain West title game, but they have to start the season at UCF, host Oklahoma State, and they have to go to BYU.
If they win all three they should probably be No. 1 on this list, if they win two of the three they’ll be in the hunt, and if they win just one, forget it. Throw in the road games at San Diego State, Colorado State and Fresno State, and it’s a tough ask.
From the West, Fresno State will be dangerous, San Diego State always has a puncher’s chance to get to the NY6, and Hawaii will be plucky, but it should – like last year – come down to the showdown between San Jose State and Nevada.
The Spartans have to go to USC, but they other three non-conference games are against Western Michigan, New Mexico State and Southern Utah. If they’re good enough to win the Mountain West title, they’ll be good enough to win all three of those.
They don’t have to play Boise State and get San Diego State and Fresno State at home. However, they start November with a trip to Reno.
The Wolf Pack are loaded with high-octane offensive talent, the overall experience is in place, and the coaching staff is hitting its stride. They have to at least split the road games against Cal and Kansas State, and they follow that up with a trip to Boise State. Throw in road games at San Diego State and Fresno State, and there’s a problem.
However, get by San Jose State, go on to win the Mountain West title, and they should be in the hunt.