In a G5 playoff, who’s in and who’s out? Plus, conference championship scenarios

I can’t believe we’re already in the final weekend of the regular season. It turned out to be a very entertaining Group of 5 year, and a lot is on the line heading into the weekend. Let’s get into it.

(Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for length and clarity.) 

If you were a coach and were offered identical contracts at San Diego State and Boise State (and wanted them), which would you pick and why? — Brad B.

This is a fascinating and perhaps very relevant question, Brad, as I suspect there will be some candidate pool crossover. These might be the two best Group of 5 jobs, period. They’re definitely both in the top five. Which one would I pick? Let’s take a look at the advantages of each.

Boise State: History of success that spans generations; great fan support with sold-out stadiums; more facility upgrades in the works.

San Diego State: Great location for recruiting and quality of life; brand-new stadium; lots of success over the last 15 years.

By the tiniest of hairs, I’ll take San Diego State. Nothing can match Boise State’s run of success over the last two decades, but this is more about potential. SDSU should be able to recruit really good quarterbacks and skill players and it’s a failure that Brady Hoke and Rocky Long never did. This next hire needs to fix that side of the ball and create an entertaining product the fans will come out and see in that beautiful stadium.

SDSU also just reached the men’s basketball national championship game, and the Aztecs would’ve gotten a Pac-12 invitation if the conference didn’t collapse. That window appears closed for now, but it could come back in the future. For all of Boise State’s actual success, the ceiling at SDSU feels higher right now. The recruiting, the new stadium and getting to live in San Diego would make me choose SDSU.



San Diego State after Brady Hoke: Pluses, minuses and candidates for the job

But Boise State is, again, a really good job, and there’s a reason it’s always been successful. Please don’t hate me, Boise fans.

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San Diego State’s head coach Brady Hoke will retire at the end of this season. (Jim Rassol / USA Today)

If there was a four-team Group of 5 playoff, who would you have in (and who are the first two out)? — Gary M.

First off, everyone is eligible. If I had to pick right now, I’d have to go with my Group of 5 rankings listed below, meaning Tulane, James Madison, Liberty and Toledo are in, while SMU and UNLV are the first two out.

But if we’re projecting it after the next two weeks I’ll have to go with SMU, JMU, Liberty and Toledo. That’s projecting that SMU wins the ACC, Liberty wins CUSA, Toledo wins the MAC and JMU beats Coastal Carolina this week without a Sun Belt Championship Game.

Did you notice that this week’s AP poll featured four different Group of 5 conferences in the Top 25? I can’t remember the last time that happened. And the Mountain West wasn’t far behind with UNLV as the No. 3 team receiving votes.

There was a good amount of time this season where we wondered if there may not be any Group of 5 teams ranked in the final Top 25. Now, it seems likely we’ll have at least two or three. That’s a great selling point for the G5 heading into the 12-team playoff era (even if we’re about to move to the 5+7 model).

What happens if Tulane and SMU lose this week? I cannot understand how the conference championship participants are picked. AAC is very confusing! — Rusty P.

Get ready for this confusion to become the norm next year as almost everyone gets rid of divisions (except the Sun Belt and MAC) and several conferences grow. In this situation, BCS computer rankings could be involved.

In the easiest scenario, SMU beats Navy, and the Mustangs play the winner of Tulane/UTSA. If SMU loses to Navy, the Mustangs can still play in the game if Tulane beats UTSA. If SMU loses to Navy and UTSA wins, the likely scenario is Tulane at UTSA.

Without the head-to-head tiebreakers involving SMU, the tiebreaker goes down to the BCS computer rankings, which currently have Tulane the highest among the three, then SMU, then UTSA. So if SMU and UTSA both lose, it’s likely SMU would remain ahead.

The top 4 seeds in the Mountain West are UNLV (6-1), Air Force (5-2), San Jose State (5-2), and Boise State (5-2). San Jose State travels to UNLV, and Air Force travels to Boise next week. How do these games play out and who makes the Mountain West Championship Game? — Cade L.`

This is another situation where the computer rankings could come into play. If UNLV beats SJSU, it’ll host the MWC championship game against the Air Force-Boise State winner. But if SJSU beats UNLV, it’ll create a three-way tie.

In that scenario, the computer rankings will determine the top two teams. UNLV is currently much higher than the rest and could very well make the championship game even with a loss. Boise State and SJSU are very close in the rankings, so that would be a close call.

Fun fact: The very last tiebreaker for both the AAC and MWC is a coinflip by the commissioner. There’s a nonzero chance some conference has to do that in the near future.

Does Mike Houston at ECU get another year? With offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick out at the end of the season, is there an obvious replacement? — James G.

The offensive coordinator change at this point in the season is usually the sign that a head coach will be back and the coordinator change with one game left is a way to signal that news to fans. Because firing the coordinator with one game left in a 2-9 season doesn’t actually change anything notable. As for replacements, it’s always hard to say because it comes down to head coach preference and what offense they want to complement their defense. Despite the difficult season, ECU is second in the AAC in yards per play allowed. The Pirates just need to fix that offense.

Will the Sun Belt get 12 teams into bowl games? If not, which thing(s) are the most likely not to happen?

Twelve does look possible. The bowl projections from my colleagues Stewart Mandel and Scott Dochterman have 11 in. They project ODU beating Georgia State to get there, Louisiana beating ULM to get there and Marshall losing to Arkansas State to fall short. They also project falling four 6-6 teams short, allowing JMU, Jacksonville State and two 5-7 teams to get in.

In terms of most likely to least likely to get in, I’d say JMU, Louisiana, ODU and Marshall in that order.

If you’re wondering, the record for most bowl-eligible teams in a conference is 13 from the 14-team SEC in 2021.

Is Mike Neu’s seat warming up and what does he need to do next year in order to remain at Ball State? What should the expectations be for Ball State as a program? — Andrew K.

This is a job I’m keeping an eye on as a possible change over the weekend. Neu did a great job with the 7-1 record and MAC championship in 2020, but it’s been a steady decline since, to 6-7, 5-7 and now 4-7 with one game left. He’s an alum and was given five years before making his first bowl appearance, but there are two years left on his contract after this season, and the athletic director who hired him, Beth Goetz, is now at Iowa. I’d lean toward him probably coming back next season, but I wouldn’t rule out a change yet.

The expectations for Ball State should be to get in bowl contention most years. Neu is fifth in the MAC in salary, and Sportico’s athletic department database has Ball State eighth in the MAC in football operating expenses in 2021-22. It’s not the worst job but it’s not the best. There’s so much parity in the MAC that every conference game is difficult, but none are unwinnable. It doesn’t have the expectations of an NIU or Toledo.

In the span of 3 months, UNLV has moved up 78 spots in your “Ranking 133” column. In the history of the column, what is the largest delta between G5 pre-season and postseason rankings? — Barry K.

The largest gap for any team has to be Tulane last year, which started at No. 112 and finished at No. 10. I can’t imagine any team surpassing that record. After all, Tulane’s flip from 2-10 to 12-2 was the largest turnaround in college football history. But UNLV could end up among the largest outside of Tulane.



The Athletic 133: 11-0 Washington deserves more respect

Group of 5 Top 10

1. Tulane (10-1)
2. James Madison (10-1)
3. Liberty (11-0)
4. Toledo (10-1)
5. SMU (9-2)
6. UNLV (9-2)
7. UTSA (8-3)
8. New Mexico State (9-3)
9. Miami (Ohio) (9-2)
10. Ohio (8-3)

Just missed: Wyoming, Memphis, Fresno State, Air Force, Jacksonville State

Games of the Week

American: UTSA at Tulane (-3)
3:30 p.m. ET Friday, ABC
Pick: UTSA

CUSA: Jacksonville State at New Mexico State (-2)
4 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN+
Pick: NMSU

MAC: Toledo (-11) at Central Michigan
Noon ET Friday, ESPNU
Pick: Toledo to win, CMU to cover

MWC: Air Force at Boise State (-6)
4 p.m. ET Friday, FS1
Pick: Boise State to win, Air Force to cover

Sun Belt: James Madison (-9) at Coastal Carolina
3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN2
Pick: JMU

(Top photo: Jim Rassol / USA Today)

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