A few weeks ago, Amy Daughters of FBSchedules.com published an interesting article asking “Should the Playoff Consider Scheduling Intent?” The article largely focused on Power Five teams, especially Notre Dame, having their playoff cases strengthened by the intent of their non-conference scheduling. While intent could give Power Five teams the benefit of the doubt when it comes to cracking the top four, can it move Group of Five teams into the top 12, and give them an extra spot in the New Year’s Six? Here we look at every year in the Playoff’s existence to see if scheduling intent could have led to more Group of Five bids.
Scheduling intent would boost Marshall higher into the playoff rankings, but likely not high enough to gain an at-large bid. Marshall’s strongest non-conference win was over a 6-6 Ohio team and they still lost to 8-5 Western Kentucky, while Boise State went 11-2 before the Fiesta Bowl. Boise State ultimately played for “all the Tostitos”, while Marshall went big in Boca Raton.
For Marshall, with a 12-1 record on Selection Sunday, an argument for intent could be made as their game with Louisville was cancelled and had to be replaced with a 1-11 Rhode Island team. While there is insufficient information about when the Louisville series was agreed to, it can be concluded that Marshall intended to bolster their slate by scheduling Louisville, since they have been a consistent performer throughout the 2000s. With intent in play, Marshall certainly would be higher than teams like #25 Minnesota (8-4), and #15 Arizona State who went 9-3 who lost to 5-7 Oregon State and #14 UCLA by 35. However, they likely would not pass #10 Arizona or #9 Mississippi for an at-large spot, as both had wins over playoff participants in the regular season, with Arizona winning their division and Mississippi defeating #4 Mississippi State to go along with their victory over Alabama.
2015 marks the first year that intent in scheduling could have significantly influenced the final rankings. The American had four teams in the playoff rankings throughout the year, with Houston ultimately receiving the Group of Five spot. Although they entered Selection Sunday with a 12-1 record, they were placed at #18, behind four three-loss teams. Of course, strength of schedule held them back, but they had two wins over Power 5 teams, Vanderbilt and Louisville. Vanderbilt ended 2015 with a 4-8 record, but when the series was scheduled in July 2014, they were fresh off of two straight seasons with nine wins and top 25 finishes. As for Louisville, Houston scheduled them in October 2013, less than a year removed from their 2012 Sugar Bowl title run, but the Cardinals only finished with an 8-5 record in 2015.
Houston would have most likely moved up in the rankings if the Playoff considered their intent. Strength of schedule was the only reason why teams like 10-2 Northwestern, who was outscored 68-10 in their two losses, 9-3 Oregon, who lost by 42 at home to Utah, or a Baylor team that went 9-3 including a loss to 5-7 Texas. Even though Houston lost to a 6-6 UConn team, they played much of that game without Greg Ward. Furthermore, it was unfair for the committee to punish teams like Baylor less than Houston for losses to mediocre teams, especially given Houston’s resume. With only at-large spots in the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl available, it is unlikely that Houston would have surpassed enough teams to give the Group of Five spot to either 11-2 Western Kentucky or 10-3 San Diego State.
In 2016, Western Michigan faced a similar situation to UCF, finishing the season undefeated, yet receiving disrespect in the rankings. Western Michigan had two wins over power conference teams, Illinois and Northwestern. Western Michigan has strong cases for scheduling intent with both schools. When Western Michigan agreed to play Illinois in August 2012, the Fighting Illini had won two straight bowls, the 2010 Texas Bowl over an RGIII-led Baylor team, and the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl over a UCLA team that played in the Pac-12 Title Game. As for Northwestern, when Western Michigan scheduled them in May 2012, the Wildcats were fresh off of their third straight bowl appearance. Despite having two power conference wins with good intent, they were placed at #15 by the playoff behind six three-loss teams, and one four-loss team, Auburn.
Western Michigan could have easily moved into the top 10 and received an at-large bid, giving Temple the Group of Five spot if not for the committee’s bias. Among teams with “stronger competition” were a 9-3 Oklahoma State team which lost to 6-6 Central Michigan, an 8-4 Auburn team that went 5-3 in the SEC, and 9-3 Louisville, losers of two straight including a loss to 7-5 rival Kentucky.Without a doubt, if scheduling intent was factored in, Western Michigan would have jumped into the top 12, if not the top ten, and received the at-large slot in the Cotton Bowl. This would have allowed for a match-up with former MAC member, and 10-3 AAC champ Temple in the Cotton Bowl, as the Owls would have received the Group of Five slot. The bias that befell Western Michigan was a sign of things to come for the following year’s representative.
Intent could have boosted the case for the People’s Champ, UCF. Hurricane Irma cancelled two games, with one of them being a potential resume building game over Georgia Tech. As a result, UCF defeated only one power conference team, Maryland. The argument for the intent of the Maryland game is debatable since when the game was agreed to in October 2012, Maryland had went 2-10 the previous season, but went to bowls in three of the previous five years. Maryland was still a solid team in ACC, and their current status of Big Ten doormat was unforeseen, as they were a month away from joining the Big Ten. The case for intent for the Georgia Tech game is strong, despite never being played. Georgia Tech was not just a solid Power Five team like the previous teams mentioned, but were reigning Orange Bowl champs when the game was scheduled in April 2015. Scheduling this game not only separates
UCF with their Group of Five counterparts, but also puts them on par with Power 5 teams, in that they attempted to play a team that was considered a contender at the time of the agreement. If intent is factored into the final rankings, UCF likely passes Washington, whose best non-conference win was over a 9-4 Fresno State team, in the final poll. As a result, UCF enters as an at-large, and the Group of Five bid goes to either 10-3 Boise State or 11-2 Toledo.
Clearly, if the committee factored intent into its rankings, the Group of Five would be benefited greatly. With this in mind, the following question should be asked. If strength of schedule is such an issue for Group of Five schools, why doesn’t the committee look at whether they try to challenge themselves. If intent can help Notre Dame get in the top four, it should be considered by the committee to help Group of Five teams get more spots in the New Years Six.