Eight teams who could crash the College Football Playoff in 2018
The College Football Playoff has been around for four seasons, and so far, it has only included teams from the Power 5 conferences. What will it take for a Group of Five team to crash the College Football Playoff? It will probably require a perfect storm of circumstances.
Power conference teams will have to have unconvincing seasons and leave an opening. Someone will doubtlessly have to go unbeaten. National hype and high-profile names, be they in coaching or playing, would probably help, even though it shouldn’t matter. It will take a lot, but the dream is there every year. UCF certainly came close in 2017, ultimately having to settle for their own definition of a championship.
Here are eight Group of Five teams who have the talent to at least ask some questions of the selection committee in 2018.
Why not do it again? Yes, the Knights lost coach Scott Frost and some of their key talent, but quarterback McKenzie Milton, likely the best Group of Five signal-caller, proved himself talented enough to lead this team far. Another unbeaten regular season would raise the hype to a fever pitch. The defense is the question, as they lose five starters, including NFL-quality names like Shaquem Griffin. If that unit comes together under new defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, anything could happen, but that will be the key.
2) Florida Atlantic
Lane Kiffin is assuredly the Group of Five’s most high-profile coach, and he’s used that notoriety to his advantage. The Owls were unbeaten in Conference USA last season. They have amassed a lot of talent and will have some unusually high credibility thanks to Kiffin’s status as something of a celebrity coach. With early-season away games at Oklahoma and UCF, they run the risk of being out of the running early, but if they win those contests, they’ll be very hard to stop and could have the resume to match the hype.
3) Boise State
The Broncos won the MWC last season and return a very experienced squad, led by senior quarterback Brett Rypien, nephew of Mark. Rypien will be a four-year starter and comes into his final year of eligibility with a 28-9 record in games he’s played in, giving him the opportunity to cap his career on a very high note. Their non-conference schedule is on the forgiving side, which could hurt their playoff hopes but help their chances of going unbeaten during the regular season, so it’s a double-edged sword.
The second contender out of a talented AAC, the Cougars can boast what few Group of Five teams can — a legitimate, potential top-ten NFL draft pick. That’s defensive lineman Ed Oliver, already one of the best in the college ranks at what he does. The key to Houston’s season will be getting an unproven offense going, but quarterback D’Eriq King has experience and talent. That’s the wildcard — if they end up being able to score, look out.
It’s easy to forget it now, but the Tigers very nearly prevented the UCF story from coming to its exciting climax in 2017. They took the Knights to double overtime in the AAC title game, ultimately losing out despite putting up 55 points. They have to settle their quarterback situation — Arizona State transfer Brady White is competing with David Moore for that role — but most of the defense is returning and the squad has the capability to handle their offensive losses. They could very easily turn the AAC on its head.
6) Fresno State
Jeff Tedford’s squad won ten games in 2017 and returns the majority of its starters, which should ensure they’re a factor in the Mountain West next season. They lost just one conference regular season game and were three points away from beating Boise State to the MWC title. All that indicates that the Bulldogs, led by quarterback Marcus McMaryion and a talented group of offensive players, aren’t particularly far off.
7) San Diego State
The loss of running back Rashaad Penny will certainly hurt the Aztecs, but this team returns plenty of talent in other places and has been able to absorb high-profile losses before. They lost just three games last season, one of them a bowl game, so they weren’t that far off from bracketing themselves as one of the elite Group of Five teams. If they beat Fresno State and Boise State — two of the teams who bested them last year — all bets are off.
The Thundering Herd are fresh off an 8-5 season and look poised for further improvement in 2018. A big part of that will be graduate transfer quarterback Alex Thomson, who turned down larger schools like Tennessee to play at Marshall. He will spearhead what is expected to be an outstanding offense, and with scheduled games at South Carolina and against NC State, they’ll have a chance to burnish their resume with wins over power conference opposition.