| March 18, 2018

Column: Power Five Failures

September 8, 2016

College football is not a perfect system. The peculiarities and mismanagement of the BCS and College Football Playoff selection committee have driven many fans insane.

In 2014, the CFP  decided five conferences have a higher chance of reaching the high profile bowl games — the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC. These conferences were dubbed the Power Five.

On the other end, the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Mid-American Conference and Conference USA were put into the Group of Five.

Being in a Power Five conference comes with many benefits, like nationally broadcasted games, a strong schedule and more attention from the CFP.

Teams like Alabama and Florida State have earned their Power Five status. Every year they put together talented rosters and end the season with two or fewer losses against the top teams in the nation. The SEC, which houses Alabama, was once considered the undisputed ruler of the Power Five conferences.

All this changed in 2016.

In what many are calling the greatest opening of college football history, the SEC took a tumble. Half the 14 SEC teams lost last weekend, starting the season 0-1.

Some of the losses made sense. Kentucky is not known for football might.

But others were just astonishing.

Ole Miss lead Florida State before halftime. The Seminoles took the game after scoring 33 points. Mississippi State lost to Southern Alabama. No. 5 Louisiana State was bested by an unranked Wisconsin.

These losses signal a change in what defines a power conference. Top schools are failing to adapt to a changing environment.

This trend isn’t unique to the SEC. Power Five teams everywhere felt the heat from lesser known programs. Houston, a Group of Five member, upset Oklahoma. PAC 12 team Washington State lost to FCS team Eastern Washington. No. 2 Clemson narrowly avoided defeat at the hands of unranked Auburn.

The college football landscape is changing. The gap between the elite and the ordinary is closing.

Before the CFP formed, Boise State was famous for “BCS Busting.” For many years, the Broncos opened the season by taking down a big name school and breaking into the top 25.

Houston made headlines last year with a top 25 ranking and an automatic bowl berth. Since then, the Rockets have put together an impressive depth chart. This offseason, Houston became the first Group of Five program to land a five-star recruit.

Teams like Houston and Boise State are trying to prove that Group of Five teams can keep up with the big schools. More teams challenge the system every year, but some are excluded because of “weak” schedules.

Group of Five teams are expected to have a nearly perfect season to be considered for a major bowl appearance, even if they take on a team like Alabama or Oregon.

The CFP is becoming less exclusive. Soon, the CFP committee will need to see value in lesser known Group of Five and redefine what it means to be elite.

Brandon Hill can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill

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