We have a lot of regard for the top midmajors around here: Cincy, Temple, Fresno, UCF, SDSU, Utah State, UAB, USF, Georgia. Southern, Houston, Troy, App. State — all are very solid clubs. In fact, we ranked six of them this week, with UAB just on the cusp of a coveted spot.
The AP poll does likewise. This week they’ve ranked the following: No. 9 UCF, No. 17 Houston, No. 18 Utah State, No. 20 Fresno State, with Georgia Southern, UAB, San Diego State, USF, and Cincinnati all in the next group of 10. That’s nearly a third of the Top 35 clubs hailing from the Group of 5.
In terms of advanced stats, there’s even more love about the little guys: Bill Connelly’s data-reliant project sees Fresno State ranked ninth, with UCF No. 11 — Houston, App. State, Boise State, North Texas, Temple, and Utah State are also in the Top 35 of the S&P+.
But, if you’re looking for some respectability from the CFP Committee, don’t come trotting out an AAC or Sun Belt or Mountain West patch on your jersey — you simply won’t get it. The committee’s first week of selections was wedded to preseason AP polls like a dog to some fresh kitty litter — it stinks but it was simply too tasty to turn to down. And, that has been an empirically demonstrated theme throughout the now-five years of selections.
In fact, the Committee only ranked two Group of 5 clubs in its Top 25: UCF (at No. 12) and Fresno State (at No. 23). Yet, Ohio State, which was gifted one decent win on the road and was absolutely blown out by a .500 team in another, pops in at No. 10. Iowa, which has lost both of its games against then-Top 25 teams and has little else to show for on the season, weighs in at No. 16. NCSU has caught a bit of Iowa-itis as well. I was very high on the preseason Wolfpack. And, for six games, they looked to be solid. But then they faced two decent squads and lost both of them — the team’s simply nothing special. Yet, here we are, at No. 21.
That bias shows particularly strong with LSU’s initial ranking at No. 3 — The Tigers have one of the better wins of the season. But, the other two ballyhooed victories are over a 5-3 Auburn team and a 5-3 Miami team that have little else to show for their resume other than moral victories. They’re certainly not doing it with advanced stats or eyeballs. Michigan, which has a Top 25 SOS and a one-possession road loss to the Committee’s No. 4, was dropped to 5th. Notre Dame, with a No. 31 SOS was dropped below the Tigers as well, despite being undefeated and having (by the committee’s own reckoning) the single best victory of the season.
No one is seriously saying that a 7-1 Fresno State team should be or is qualified to be in the field of four. Or, at this juncture and with the nation’s 124th ranked schedule, that UCF should be sniffing the Top 10. But, the Committee tracking so closely with AP preseason expectations rather than how the midmajor teams look and play as of week 10 does everyone a disservice — and that holds true from undervaluing the Georgia Southerns of the world to especially overvaluing wins over preseason Top 25 P5 teams like Miami. It also furthers two narratives: That G5 teams will never get a fair shake, and that the answer to the problem is either a set-aside or playoff expansion. One is empirically demonstrable. The other, playoff creep, requires vigilance to restrain.
So, hey, maybe show a little love to the little guys for how they look on the field and not just placate the P5 wheels that squeak the loudest, alright? There are excellent “small market” teams that deserve the same benefit of the doubt as a 5-3 but-toothless Power 5 team. Failing that, ask your No. 14 Penn State Nittany Lions if they want a rematch with unranked Appalachian State, or for that matter if they want to tangle with the team that demolished the Mountaineers?