The first set of College Football Playoff rankings will be released Nov. 24, and the selection committee is going to have address an interesting trend that is emerging in the 2020 season.
How do undefeated independent and Group of 5 teams fit in the Playoff race? Excluding conferences that have played just one game (Pac-12, Mid-American Conference), there are 13 remaining unbeaten teams in the FBS.
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That list includes five Power 5 schools in No. 1 Alabama (6-0), No. 3 Ohio State (3-0), No. 10 Indiana (3-0), No. 23 Northwestern (3-0) and Purdue (2-0). The Wildcats and Boilermakers play next week, and the Buckeyes and Hoosiers play on Nov. 21.
No. 2 Notre Dame (7-0) — a traditional independent playing in the ACC for the 2020 season — is the other unbeaten team.
That’s six schools, and that number will be down to four after those Big Ten matchups the next two weeks.
The other seven schools are either independent or in the Group of 5. That list includes No. 7 Cincinnati (6-0), No. 8 BYU (8-0), No. 15 Coastal Carolina (7-0), No. 16 Marshall (6-0), No. 22 Liberty (7-0), Nevada (3-0) and San Jose State (3-0).
The independents have a chance, too. It is possible that every Group of 5 conference produces an unbeaten team at this point. Liberty plays Coastal Carolina in its regular-season finale on Dec. 12. BYU will be heavily favored in its last two games against North Alabama and San Diego State.
How would a rush of unbeaten teams outside the Power 5 affect the College Football Playoff’s first set of rankings? Probably not much. The committee has historically kept the top-ranked Group of 5 team too far down the rankings in the initial set.
Here is a look at where the top-ranked Group of 5 team was ranked in the first set of CFP rankings each of the past six years:
|2014||East Carolina (6-1)||23|
It will be interesting to see where the committee slots those unbeaten teams in that first set. If those teams are ranked low, the justification likely will rest with the conference-only schedules. That’s another impact of COVID-19 on the college football season, but Cincinnati and BYU have the look of top-10 teams regardless of conference.
The Bearcats and Cougars also have interesting CFP arguments at this point in the season.
If those teams are disrespected in the rankings, the annual call for an eight-team playoff will rise. It’s not going to happen this year, but what happens when you leave an undefeated Group of 5 team — say, Marshall or Coastal Carolina — out of the New Year’s Day Six?
We’ll get a hint on how the committee will answer those questions in two weeks.