Group of 5 teams have, to date, completely missed out on the College Football Playoff.
Fans of those teams have also -- outside of optimistic UCF supporters the past couple seasons -- missed the chance to sweat out a playoff race and selection day. And the Allstate Playoff Predictor.
We can change one of those things today.
We're going to imagine a world where the Group of 5 conferences -- American, Conference USA, MAC (Mid-American), Mountain West and Sun Belt -- have its own playoff. With the exact same format as the regular CFP: four teams, decided on by a committee with the same criteria. And ask the Allstate Playoff Predictor where the contenders stand.
From this point forward we're living in that world -- and below are the 13 teams with at least a 5% chance to reach the Group of 5 final four. The (other) playoff race is on!
Boise State Broncos
Chance to reach playoff: 70%
The Broncos are not the best Group of 5 team out there -- that honor is still reserved for UCF, according to FPI -- but they are in the best position to land a top-four spot. Boise is undefeated, has pocketed a win at Florida State already and has a 47% chance to win the Mountain West.
But this is still a path with roadblocks. The Broncos have a pair of tough road games ahead, a nonconference battle with BYU and an divisional showdown with Utah State in a game that should feature a nice quarterback matchup between true freshman Hank Bachmeier and the Aggies' Jordan Love, who has gotten some NFL buzz. Should Boise State lose that game its divisional chances would drop to 25% -- and its playoff hopes would plummet, too.
Boise State's Power 5 equivalent is probably Ohio State: They're the best team in one of the middle conferences and therefore have the best shot to reach the playoff (yes, Ohio State has the best chance to reach the playoff).
Chance to reach playoff: 65%
The AAC is the SEC of the Group of 5. The American has a 99.7% chance to put at least one team in the playoff. In this hypothetical world, whatever is the AAC equivalent to the Paul Finebaum Show would spend most of its time wondering what the chances are of the conference landing multiple teams in the playoff. Eighty-four percent is the answer, by the way. It helps when Conference USA has already been almost eliminated entirely.
SMU has only a 17% chance to win the AAC -- less likely than either UCF or Cincinnati -- but it has one crucial thing going for it: an undefeated record to date. Though we project SMU to ultimately end up with 2.2 losses, that will often be good enough to reach the playoff, even if without a conference title.
They're the best team in the Group of 5, and it isn't close -- FPI estimates UCF to be about a five-point favorite on a neutral field over Cincinnati, the next-best team. And wouldn't you know it: not only are these two teams in the same division, but they square off on Friday night (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) in a high-leverage game.
Should UCF beat the Bearcats, the Knights would have a 73% chance to win the conference, while a loss would drop them to 19%.
Chance to reach playoff: 46%
Obviously, Friday's game against UCF is crucial for the Bearcats. Because they already have a loss and aren't as good as UCF, they're more reliant on winning the AAC than the Knights or Mustangs.
And the Bearcats aren't totally a lock to win the division even if they pull out a win over UCF on Friday. They still have tough road contests on tap against Houston and Memphis that could trip them up.
Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns
Chance to reach playoff: 30%
The Ragin' Cajuns are the G5's version of Oklahoma. They boast an elite offense with a middling defense and are the best team in their mid-tier conference. Appalachian State is their Texas -- a decent challenger but not quite on the same level. Because Appalachian State is in the opposite division, a win for Louisiana next week over the Mountaineers would only boost the Ragin' Cajuns' chances of winning the conference from 42% to 48%.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
Chance to reach playoff: 27%
While the Sun Belt has a couple legitimate contenders for the playoff, the conference only has a 56% chance to get at least one of them in, so it needs to avoid cannibalizing itself. In other words, the Sun Belt needs the winner of the Appalachian State vs. Louisiana game next Wednesday to also win the conference title. And no, there's virtually no shot they could both get in.
Chance to reach playoff: 26%
Back to the ol' SEC-junior conference. Memphis is actually FPI's fifth-best Group of 5 team, but we project the Tigers to end up with roughly the 10th-best strength of record and they almost certainly won't get in unless they exceed those expectations.
Memphis is the equivalent of another set of Tigers: Auburn. These Tigers are a strong group but have stronger competition in their own conference. It's a tough road but they do control their own destiny.
Chance to reach playoff: 14%
Toledo is Oregon.
The MAC is a long shot to put a team into the playoff, and almost all of those hopes are riding on the Rockets. QB Mitchell Guadagni and this Toledo squad took an early season loss to an SEC school (just like the Ducks) and now have a 9% chance to win out.
Utah State Aggies
Chance to reach playoff: 11%
We've now entered the chaos-required territory of teams, because Utah State already has a loss on its resume, will surely pick up another at No. 5 LSU on Saturday (noon ET on SEC Network) and is extremely likely to grab at least a third somewhere down the road. Odds are the Aggies will need the mayhem in the AAC and Boise State to fall apart.
Air Force Falcons
Chance to reach playoff: 10%
Air Force's issue is its loss to Boise State. Winning out in the regular season still only gives the Falcons a 35% chance to win the division, and they aren't good enough to pull off an 11-1 playoff berth, Alabama-style.
Hawai'I Rainbow Warriors
Chance to reach playoff: 8%
If the committee gave out style points in its selection process, Hawai'i and its gunslinging offense would benefit. But rules are rules in this hypothetical, so the Rainbow Warriors remain very unlikely contenders.
Tulane Green Wave
Chance to reach playoff: 8%
The Green Wave is Florida for all the same reasons Memphis is Auburn -- a good team overshadowed by the better squads in the conference -- just with a longer shot to get it done because Tulane isn't quite as good.
Tulane's actually the eighth-best team in the G5 -- thanks to a good defense and OK offense -- but it's tough sledding over there in the AAC.
Chance to reach playoff: 6%
Finally, our Notre Dame corollary.
If you're surprised to see BYU on this list at all, I hear you. Three losses, two overtime wins and no shot at a conference title? Yep, it's not looking great. But this is all about a tough schedule: the fourth-hardest among G5 teams from an average top-25 team perspective.
If BYU can win out, the Allstate Playoff Predictor thinks the Cougars can get there given how much they would have accomplished to earn that 9-3 record.