With back-to-back undefeated regular seasons, Central Florida had cruised past the rest of the so-called Group of Five conference teams and into a New Year’s Six bowl game the past two years.
But with the Knights’ upset loss at Pittsburgh two weeks ago, the Group of Five picture is less clear this season.
Since the formation of the College Football Playoff, one bid to a major bowl game has been reserved for the highest-ranking team from the group’s conferences, the Mountain West, American Athletic Conference, Conference USA and Mid-American Conference.
Several Group of Five schools have had strong starts to 2019.
UCF, which bounced back from its loss with a 56-21 thrashing of Connecticut on Saturday, was ranked 18th in Monday’s Associated Press poll, two spots behind undefeated Boise State. SMU, which is 5-0 and has a victory over TCU to its credit, entered the rankings at No. 24 this week, and Memphis (28th in votes), Appalachian State (29th) and Army (30th) were knocking on the door of the Top 25.
And the current top two are not sure things to stay there.
UCF plays at Cincinnati, whose only defeat came against Ohio State, on Saturday and has road games at Temple and Tulane, both of whom are 3-1.
The Green Wave is averaging more than 450 yards per game on offense, and its only loss this season came at No. 7 Auburn, 24-6. Tulane plays at Army on Saturday.
Temple knocked Maryland out of the Top 25 last month and is coming off a 24-2 win over Georgia Tech. The Owls are holding opponents to less than 300 yards a game.
Two of Boise State’s toughest remaining games appear to be on the road: at BYU on Oct. 19 and Utah State on Nov. 23. The Broncos, who beat Florida State in the season opener, play at UNLV Saturday and host 4-1 Hawaii in 10 days.
Group of Five schools racked up 19 wins through the first four games this year, more than in any season since at least 2009, according to research by Sports Illustrated.
Memphis had one of those wins, against Mississippi, and Appalachian State beat the North Carolina team that just pushed Clemson to the limit and out of the top spot in the AP poll.
Still, despite the success, none of these schools — not even a 12-0 Boise State — would have any real chance of getting a CFP berth.
The Power Five conferences currently have at least six strong contenders for the four playoff spots and another nine teams ranked above the Broncos.
An eight-team CFP might give the smaller schools a fighting chance, but the current agreements are in place until 2026.
“I think we should expand the playoff and have it be a real postseason,” UCF athletic director Dr. Daniel White told Sports Illustrated. “We’ve always been in a kind of beauty pageant mode in college football. The four-team playoff is way better than anything we’ve had before. It’s progress, but I don’t understand why we can’t have a postseason like any other sport in America, college or pro.”
Utah State +28 at LSU, Total 71.5: Both the Aggies (533 yards per game) and Tigers are (563) have been humming on offense.
The Aggies have to travel to an unfriendly place and play at 10 a.m. Logan, Utah, time, but in their other journey east of the Mountain Time Zone this season they led undefeated Wake Forest with 90 seconds left before a late touchdown gave the Demon Deacons a 38-35 win. That was Utah State’s only loss so far this season.
The Tigers have scored at least 45 points in each game and had 65 and 66 in wins over Northwestern State and Vanderbilt the past two weeks. But their second-half defense has been shaky, surrendering 52 points in wins over the Commodores and Texas. UTAH STATE and OVER
Western Michigan at Toledo -2: After an 0-2 start to the season, the Rockets have rebounded with three straight wins, including 28-21 over BYU on Saturday.
But they face the Broncos and senior quarterback Jon Wassink, who’s averaging close to 300 yards passing in Western Michigan’s five games.
And Toledo has struggled against the passing game. Colorado State’s Patrick O’Brien and BYU’s Zach Wilson threw for a combined 720 yards against the Rockets the past two weeks. WESTERN MICHIGAN
Michigan State at Ohio State -20.5: Linesmakers have struggled to put up big enough numbers in the Buckeyes’ past four games. Since surrendering 21 second-half points in its season-opening win over Florida Atlantic, Ohio State outscored its next four opponents by a combined 217-22.
On top of that, Buckeyes opponents have averaged less than 225 total yards this season.
The Spartans have rebounded from a loss to Arizona State, but their defense was shaky in a 40-31 win over Indiana on Saturday — a game that was tied before a Matt Coghlin field goal with five seconds left. OHIO STATE
Last week: 1-2