College Football Fans Searching for Cinderella in Cleats

Devon Johnson (who we ranked the top player in our state-by-state rankings) smashed into the end zone to give Marshall their first victory ever against a Big Ten team and make Conference USA, the Mountain West, and the American Athletic conferences a combined 5-5 against Power Conferences (see scoreboard below).

Those conferences all played better than the Pac-12 this week, and they would be represented if I picked teams for an 8-team playoff to start today:

Hypothetical First 8-team Playoff

Ohio State (1-seed, Big 10 Champ) vs. Cincinnati (8, emerge from non-Power preliminary playoff)

Georgia Tech (4, ACC Champ) vs. UCLA (5, Pac-12 Champ)

TCU (3, Big 12 Champ) vs. Auburn (6, at large)

Alabama (2, SEC Champ) vs. Baylor (7, at-large selection)

Six of those teams ranked in the top eight of Cole Muzio’s preseason Top 25, which proved incredibly accurate in Week 1. After watching Week 1, I do give Georgia Tech a slight edge over Florida State for the ACC after they fell just two-points short last year. The Oregon defense that allowed Eastern Washington to score 42 points will have a very tough time stopping UCLA’s freshman quarterback Josh Rosen by the end of the season.

Today I would pick Cincinnati over eight other potential “Cinderella” representatives who look very strong through one week.

Marshall’s 41-31 win over Purdue keeps them in the running.  Memphis beat a pretty good Missouri State team 63-7, Temple shocked Penn State 27-10, Western Kentucky won at Vanderbilt 14-12, Boise State backed up their national rank by holding off a tough Washington team 16-13, Hawaii stunned Colorado 28-20 and Air Force and Colorado State rolled up over 60 points against lesser appointments.

Cincinnati is clearly not one of the top eight teams in the country, but an eight-team playoff should include the five Power Conference champions, two picks by the committee, and then one spot reserved for a non-Power Conference Champion. Just remember Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel threw for 352 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions at Ohio State last year, including a 78-yard strike to Chris Moore in the second half to cut Ohio State’s lead to 33-28. They certainly played the Buckeyes closer than Oregon, Wisconsin, or many others on a neutral field. This is where the football playoff could use a touch of the March Madness magic by giving every team a chance to qualify if they just keep winning.

The schedule I propose:

November 14 Sun Belt/Mid-American Qualifier for “Play-in”: To make this work, the two weakest conferences (Sun Belt and Mid-American) would need to move their conference championships up to November 14 (other teams in the conference could keep playing games with No. 2 in the East hosting No. 2 in the West etc., assuming the Sun Belt went to two divisions after adding Coastal Carolina and UAB).

November 21 Non-Power Conference Championships: Conference USA, the American Athletic and Mountain West would have their championships that day while the Sun Belt and Mid-American champions would face off. (Again, other teams in the conference would play another game).

November 28 Non-Power Conference Champions Meet Each Other: A “Cinderella Semifinal” would match the Non-Power Conference Champions.

December 5 Non-Power Qualifier: The two remaining Non-Power Conference Champions would face off for the right to the playoff just as the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC championships. With six teams determined, the Selection Committee would simply pick the two extra teams (perhaps Baylor and Auburn if they picked today) and Seed the teams.

Would the Cinderella have a chance like VCU and Butler in basketball?

Over the last couple of decades you could have had occasional upsets (see footage of 25 greatest March Madness upsets here). Alabama would have made an 8-team playoff in 2009 and Oklahoma in 2007, and they were crushed by Utah and shocked by Boise State respectively in their Bowl Games. How about Marshall’s team of Chad Pennington and Randy Moss, the Central Florida team that beat Baylor in the Fiesta in 2014, Colin Kaepernick’s Nevada team that stunned No. 3 Boise in 2010, Ben Roethlisberger’s 13-0 Miami of Ohio team, the East Carolina team that beat No. 17 Virginia Tech, and No. 8 West Virginia in back-to-back weeks? Sure, the Cinderella would always be an underdog, but they would make it fun.

Here are the results from this week, with the early contenders for the title of top Non-Power Conference team in bold (the Week 1 results for Power Conferences are here):

Amer improves -7 to -4 Chance Final Final All Sqrt Exceed Opponent
Cincinnati (home) 100% 52 10 6.5 0.0 Alabama A&M
Connecticut (home) 39% 20 15 2.2 4.2 Villanova
East Carolina (home) 98% 28 20 2.8 -2.7 Towson
Houston (home) 98% 52 24 5.3 -0.2 Tennessee Tech
Memphis (home) 85% 63 7 7.5 3.4 Missouri St
Navy (home) 98% 48 10 6.2 0.6 Colgate
SMU (home) 1% 21 56 -5.9 -0.1 Baylor
South Florida (home) 97% 51 3 6.9 1.6 Florida A&M
Temple (home) 30% 27 10 4.1 6.8 Penn St
Tulane (home) 13% 7 37 -5.5 -1.4 Duke
Tulsa (home) 45% 47 44 1.7 3.5 FL Atlantic
UCF (home) 86% 14 15 -1.0 -5.1 Florida Intl
Expected 7.9 wins, went 8-4 7.9 10.6
CUSA improves -9 to -3 Chance Final Final All Sqrt Exceed Opponent
Charlotte 33% 23 20 1.7 4.4 Georgia St (home)
FL Atlantic 55% 44 47 -1.7 0.0 Tulsa (home)
Florida Intl 14% 15 14 1.0 5.1 UCF (home)
Louisiana Tech (home) 100% 62 15 6.9 0.5 Southern Univ
Marshall (home-Sunday) 82% 41 31 3.2 -0.6 Purdue
MTSU (home) 99% 70 14 7.5 1.4 Jackson St
N Texas 0% Idle
Old Dominion 76% 38 34 2.0 -1.2 E Michigan (home)
Rice (home) 98% 56 16 6.3 0.8 Wagner
Southern Miss (home) 3% 16 34 -4.2 1.0 Mississippi St
UT San Antonio 5% 32 42 -3.2 1.8 Arizona (home)
UTEP 2% 13 48 -5.9 -0.4 Arkansas (home)
W Kentucky 49% 14 12 1.4 2.4 Vanderbilt (home)
Expected 6.2 wins, went 7-4, 1 left 6.2 15.3
Mid-Am stays at -13 Chance Final Final All Sqrt Exceed Opponent
Akron 2% 3 41 -6.2 -0.7 Oklahoma (home)
Ball St (home) 96% 48 36 3.5 -1.8 VMI
Bowling Green (neutral) 8% 30 59 -5.4 -0.7 Tennessee
Buffalo (home) 79% 51 14 6.1 2.6 Albany NY
C Michigan (home) 19% 13 24 -3.3 0.4 Oklahoma St
E Michigan (home) 24% 34 38 -2.0 1.2 Old Dominion
Kent 13% 3 52 -7.0 -2.9 Illinois (home)
Miami OH (home) 71% 26 7 4.4 1.7 Presbyterian
N Illinois (home) 83% 38 30 2.8 -0.9 UNLV
Ohio 67% 45 28 4.1 1.5 Idaho (home)
Toledo (home) 0% Cancelled
UMass 0% idle
W Michigan (home) 5% 24 37 -3.6 1.5 Michigan St
Expected 4.7 Wins, went 5-6 4.7 1.9
Mt West improves -6 to -5 Chance Final Final All Sqrt Exceed Opponent
Air Force (home) 99% 63 7 7.5 1.7 Morgan St
Boise St (home) 54% 16 13 1.7 0.0 Washington
Colorado St (home) 100% 65 13 7.2 0.0 Savannah St
Fresno St (home) 89% 34 13 4.6 0.1 Abilene Chr
Hawaii (home) 34% 28 20 2.8 5.3 Colorado
Nevada (home) 94% 31 17 3.7 -1.3 UC Davis
New Mexico (home) 100% 66 0 8.1 1.6 MS Valley St
San Diego St (home) 100% 37 3 5.8 -0.3 San Diego
San Jose St (home) 45% 43 13 5.5 7.2 New Hampshire
UNLV 17% 30 38 -2.8 0.9 N Illinois (home)
Utah St (home) 98% 12 9 1.7 -3.8 Southern Utah
Wyoming (home) 91% 13 24 -3.3 -7.9 North Dakota
Expected 9.2 wins, went 10-2 9.2 3.5
Sun Belt -14 to -17 Chance Final Final All Sqrt Exceed Opponent
Appalachian St (home) 97% 49 0 7.0 1.7 Howard
Arkansas St 6% 6 55 -7.0 -2.1 USC (home)
Ga Southern 14% 0 44 -6.6 -2.5 West Virginia (home)
Georgia St (home) 67% 20 23 -1.7 -4.4 Charlotte
Idaho (home) 33% 28 45 -4.1 -1.5 Ohio
New Mexico St 1% 13 61 -6.9 -1.0 Florida (home)
South Alabama (home) 95% 33 23 3.2 -1.8 Gardner Webb
Texas St 3% 16 59 -6.6 -1.2 Florida St (home)
Troy 9% 21 49 -5.3 -0.7 NC State (home)
ULL 24% 33 40 -2.6 0.5 Kentucky (home)
ULM 1% 14 51 -6.1 -0.2 Georgia (home)
Expected 3.5 wins, went 2-11 3.5 -13.1

 


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