Push for College Football Playoff Expansion

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LAS VEGAS – One sentence uttered at Mountain West media days may best crystallize popular sentiment for College Football Playoff expansion.

“All we want is a chance.”

That’s how San Diego State head coach Rocky Long summarized the Mountain West’s place in the college football landscape, and Long said the only way it or any other Group of Five conference will get that chance is through playoff expansion to eight teams.

Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter said in no uncertain terms, “I don’t think the committee would allow [a Group of Five team making the Playoff] to happen.

“When you have a power conference champion already — the Big 12 champion — not go? They’re not going to have two conference champions [excluded],” though DeRuyter added one very tenuous caveat: “Unless in ’17, we beat Alabama and Washington, maybe then we’d have a chance. But it would have to be something like that.”

For the 16 years that system dictated the football landscape, a BCS bid was the Mountain West and every other non-power conferences’ ceiling, which DeRuyter recognizes.

“In the old BCS, there was no better chance of getting in that final game,” he said.

DeRuyter had a team in 2013 that stood on the doorstep of a BCS bowl bid. Had the 2013 Bulldogs gone undefeated in a Playoff system, they certainly would not have been part of the tournament.

However, an added element of the College Football Playoff that perhaps would have benefited Fresno State was the automatic access berth for one Group of Five team into a New Year’s Six bowl. Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson championed the access bid’s value Tuesday, citing two-loss Boise State reaching the Fiesta Bowl, which it won over Arizona.

Thompson, long an outspoken figure pushing for a tournament — a trait of which he cracked a joke at his own expense — did not share Long or DeRuyter’s outlook on playoff expansion being the Group of Five’s only hope for playing for a national championship.

“We don’t know what will happen with those other five conference champions,” Thompson said. “They might all have three-loss teams, and an undefeated team would get in.

“Certainly, a team would have to be undefeated to be under consideration,” he added. “But if you look back at…TCU got as high as [No.] 3 [in 2010], and Utah was as high as 4 the Sugar Bowl year [2008].”

Thompson did refer to the “good fortune” TCU and Utah had those seasons with other Mountain West teams breaking into the Top 25. That’s a difficult metric to predict, and unquestionably one that no team can impact. Even with four 10-win finishers in 2014, for example, Boise State was the conference’s sole ranked team at season’s end.

There are a lot of qualifiers necessary, but Thompson says a Group of Five team in the current, four-team Playoff “is doable.”

Still, the commissioner advocated a system in which all five Power 5 champions, two at-large teams and the current access-bowl recipient from the Group of Five play in an eight-team tournament.

And it’s not just Mountain West or Group of Five leagues advocating it. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn touted playoff expansion last week on ESPN — albeit not as any altruistic overture to the Group of Five.

Malzahn talked of guaranteeing the SEC a second team in the eight-team field, which under Thompson’s suggested format, essentially leaves the rest of college football just one at-large bid to fight over. In 2014, that would have meant leaving out TCU, Michigan State or Georgia Tech to include Ole Miss or Mississippi State.

Motives aside, the groundswell for College Football Playoff expansion is there, and it’s going to happen. When, exactly?

“When’s the contract up?” Long asked rhetorically.