Soon-to-be-former Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson mentioned in a recent interview that in a universe where UCF is toppled by Memphis – a result we don’t see happening, mind you-you might find Appalachian State winning the Sun Belt title and advancing not to the New Orleans Bowl, but to the Peach or Fiesta Bowl as the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six Bowl representative.
How does he arrive at such a conclusion, you ask? Well, let him speak for himself, shall we?
“Benson said if the Mountaineers win on Saturday against Louisiana in the inaugural Sun Belt title game, Appalachian is a 10-2 champion with a loss against Penn State and loss against Georgia Southern, which featured App State quarterback Zac Thomas leaving after the team’s opening drive with a concussion.
“As much as the committee talks about the eye test, injuries and various factors, with Zac not in there after the first series, who knows with that game?” Benson said. “So we have made it very clear to the committee that if those two scenarios occur, UCF and Boise State, and the three champions are App State, Fresno State and Buffalo (in Benson’s hypothetical). You put App State’s resume up against those other two and there’s not a whole lot of difference. So could we have a team in contention tomorrow night and Sunday with the committee? Absolutely, we can.”
I can appreciate KB’s optimism and desire to support his conference, but I can also assure you that this is flat-out not happening.
Let’s just suppose that UCF does lose – they’re knocked out, because the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion gets that New Year’s Six bid.
If App State and Fresno both win, Benson is correct that the Mountaineers compare favorably to the Bulldogs:
- Appalachian State is 17th in S&P+, with their best win coming against Troy (50) and their worst loss coming against Georgia Southern (61)
- Fresno State is 10th in S&P+, and a title game win over Boise (29) would be their best win, with their worst loss coming against Minnesota (59)
Even then, you’re still asking the committee to give credit for a quality loss to a team with one less win and a lower-quality “best” win.
Unfortunately, that side-by-side takes on a lot of water when you factor in that you’re talking about the Group of Five conference champion who is ranked the highest in the College Football Playoff ranking.
The Mountain West title game will feature Boise State, who is currently #22 in those rankings, facing off against Fresno State, who is #25 in those rankings. The winner of that matchup will pick up a win against a ranked opponent and would likely find themselves ranked somewhere around 20th when Sunday afternoon rolls around.
Appalachian State, no matter how much you want to compare their resume relative to Fresno or Boise, has no chance. Even if, as Benson would suggest, they are ranked “26th” or just outside the current rankings, they are not going to move the needle much with a win over a 7-5 Cajun team where they enter as a 17-point favorite.
Have the Mountaineers had a great season? Absolutely, and they’d probably be ranked if they had managed to pull out that win against Penn State. But no matter how similarly they look on paper, they’re not going to get any boost from beating a team they are a three-score favorite to beat, let alone enough of one to pass a ranked team that defeats a team above them in the rankings.
I like being an optimist, but I like being a realist as well.