Group of Five Playoff rankings: Memphis jumps Cincinnati as Air Force enters top six

With just a couple weeks left in the regular season — plus conference title games still to be played — we are almost near college football’s version of Selection Sunday when the official field for the 2020 College Football Playoff will be determined. But let’s face it: We already have a good idea of the teams with a legitimate opportunity to play for this year’s national championship.

There’s usually talk this time of year about expanding the CFP field — generally from four to six or eight — with the idea that a Group of Five team would be guaranteed an opportunity to play for the national championship, particularly in the eight-team concept. But with that four-team field not changing anytime soon, it’s time for Group of Five programs to understand once and for all that if they do not set themselves up with a strong enough schedule — including at least a pair of ranked Power Five teams — they do not have a realistic shot of making the CFP no matter how well they play in a given season. We know the AAC does not at all support a measure such as this, but for other conferences, it could open up an additional, fun postseason opportunity.

When the idea was floated a few years ago about the Group of Five creating their own version of the CFP, it was largely dismissed. Well, that idea actually has merit. If Group of Five teams are not going to compete for the CFP National Championship, why not make one of their own? Earn it on the field and make some money in the process.

It is with that in mind that we here at CBS Sports, for the second straight year, will determine what such a playoff would look like. Our self-appointed 11-person selection committee rated and ranked the top Group of Five teams — plus non-Notre Dame independents — just like the CFP Selection Committee. We followed the protocol of evaluating teams individually and relying on these four criteria when discussing comparable teams: championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition (if applicable) and comparative outcomes of common opponents (not including margin of victory). The only difference: After compiling our field of eligible teams by each voter ranking their top six, we filled the spots one-by-one rather than in in groups of three.

With that, we present to you our new Group of Five Playoff Rankings, which will surely change over the next few weeks as things get sorted out with the regular season coming to a close. Oh, and we also show our work below. All rankings utilize the weekly CBS Sports 130.

1. Memphis

Record: 9-1 | Sagarin SOS: 77 | CBS Sports 130: 17
Best wins: SMU, Navy | Losses: Temple

Memphis is the highest-ranked Group of Five team by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, and it’s the highest-ranked one here as well. The reason? It’s the best team in the Group of Five so far this season! Not only are the Tigers 9-1, but they have a stronger resume than the other candidates. They have a win over a ranked team in SMU, as well as impressive wins over Navy and Tulane — teams that are a combined 13-6 — as well as a victory over Ole Miss. Also, while Cincinnati’s loss (Ohio State) is better on paper, a two-point loss on the road to a 7-3 Temple team is a better loss than a 42-0 loss to anybody. — Tom Fornelli

2. Cincinnati

Record: 9-1 | Sagarin SOS: 69 | CBS Sports 130: 18
Best wins: UCF, UCLA | Losses: Ohio State

Cincinnati has had a great season that includes a win over UCF, a victory at Conference USA division leader Marshall, and a win over MAC division winner Miami-Ohio. The Bearcats only blemish is a 42-0 loss to Ohio State, the Godzilla of the 2019 college football season. That margin sounds bad, except that the Buckeyes are beating their opponents by an average of 42 points per game.  Cincinnati better not look past Temple to Memphis though. The Owls are a tough out, as the Tigers already know. — Jerry Palm

3. Boise State

Record: 9-1 | Sagarin SOS: 96 | CBS Sports 130: 21
Best wins: Air Force (27), Florida State (51) | Losses: BYU (53)

The Broncos are in a strange position where its opponents haven’t been stellar on their own, but the average FBS team would have fared far worse than 9-1 against that schedule. The Mountain West doesn’t set up with a lot of wins that would woo our committee between now and the end, so the best chance to move up is to improve what’s been an average showing in terms of Game Control. — Chip Patterson

4. SMU

Record: 9-1 | Sagarin SOS: 84 | CBS Sports 130: 20
Best wins: Temple (44), TCU (50) | Losses: Memphis (17)

Quarterback Shane Buechele has been awesome this year with 28 touchdown passes, and the Mustangs boast one of the best receivers in the nation in James Proche. The defense has had its issues, but as is the case with most Group of Five teams, imperfection isn’t that big of a deal as long as you can make up for it. The Mustangs offense more than makes up for its deficiency. — Barrett Sallee

5. Appalachian State

Record: 9-1 | Sagarin SOS: 115 | CBS Sports 130: 23
Best wins: North Carolina (59), South Carolina (82) | Losses: Georgia Southern (83)

They are going to be furious in Boone when it’s discovered that our Group of Five committee has the Mountaineers outside of the top four following a total domination of Georgia State last weekend. No Group of Five team has been more dominant against its opponents than App. State with its only loss coming to Georgia Southern in severe weather and an average margin of victory on the entire season that ranks No. 12 nationally (16.7 points per game). — Chip Patterson

6. Air Force

Record: 8-2 | Sagarin SOS: 81 | CBS Sports 130: 29
Best wins: Colorado, Colorado State, Army | Losses: Boise State, Navy

The Falcons are the gold standard of the state after wins over Colorado and Colorado State and have become one of the most dominant rushing attacks in the country (313.5 YPG). When you couple that was a passing offense that — while rarely used — is posting 11.4 yards per attempt, you have a recipe for option success … especially when the defense is giving up just 320.6 yards per game. — Barrett Sallee

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