Power 5 and Group of 5, where’s the line?

Scott Shelton

Staff Writer

In 2014, the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) moved to a playoff system, which essentially split the FBS into the Power Five conferences and the Group of Five Conferences. 

In theory, the Power Five conferences, such as the Southeastern Conference (SEC), are the dominant tier of college football, and that’s been true for the most part. 

But there’s a trend in college football, and it’s been brewing for a few years now. 

The Group of Five conferences – the Sun Belt, MAC, Conference USA, Mountain West and AAC – have been getting better, and lines separating Power Five and Group of Five are starting to be blurred.

In 2019, the Group of Five conferences are having one of the best seasons yet against Power Five opponents.

The Group of Five schools have accounted for 18 wins over Power Five schools through eight weeks of college football, and more could be on the way.

According to data from FiveThirtyEight, Power Five schools are 69-18 this season against Group of Five opponents, which is the worst they’ve done at this point in the season since 2008.

The Group of Five conferences that are excelling, especially this season, are the American Athletic Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the Sun Belt Conference. 

The Mountain West Conference alone accounts for half of the Power Five wins with nine this season. 

Eight of the 12 teams in this conference have a Power Five win, and Hawaii has two. 

In the American Athletic Conference, five of the 12 teams have a Power Five win, and Temple has two. 

In our Sun Belt Conference, three East Division teams have Power Five wins: Georgia State, Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina.

Troy missed its opportunity at a win against Missouri earlier this month, but the Trojans have their own history taking down bigger schools. 

In the past two seasons, the Trojans have taken down Nebraska and LSU at their stadiums in convincing fashion by leading nearly the entire game both times.

These recent wins show the competition gap is not as wide as it could be. In fact, look at what has happened in the last 15 seasons.

Since 2004, Group of Five teams have played in 14 BCS and New Year’s Six bowls and have won nine of those games. 

In these games, teams like Boise State, Utah and UCF took down giants of college football, including Oklahoma, Alabama, Auburn, on some of college football’s biggest stages.

This begs the question why does only one Group of Five team get to play in a New Year’s Six Bowl out of the 12 slots?

It’s evident that the Group of Five can compete at a high level, so why are they being left out?

Go one step further and ask why can’t the Group of Five compete for a playoff spot because it seems unlikely to happen in our lifetime.

The biggest problem for these teams and conferences comes down to money.

Schools like Troy can’t possibly compete with Alabama and Auburn in terms of revenue generated from athletics and lucrative media rights deals. 

This leads to less money for recruiting, coaches, facilities and equipment, and more.

According to a USA Today report, the top 51 universities in order of total revenue in 2017-2018 are all Power Five schools. The top 38 of these schools are making over $100 million in revenue. 

The top Group of Five team on the list is the University of Connecticut, which made $79 million in that year. 

No Sun Belt Conference teams appear on the list until Arkansas State, who ranked 74th with a revenue of $40 million.

Appalachian State is 82nd with $36.9 million in revenue, but the Mountaineers still have a legitimate shot to take down South Carolina, who is 17th with $140 million in revenue, on Nov. 9. 

College football is changing, and in 2019, Goliath is not that much bigger than David. 

Even when Power Five schools have a huge advantage when it comes to funding, Group of Five schools still give those schools a run for their money and beat them.


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