The entire college football landscape as we know it is being turned on its head. Geographical sense is gone, seismic moves are being made, and super conferences are inevitable. The Big Ten and SEC look to be the Goliaths of the future, while the ACC, Big 12, and Pac 12's futures are uncertain. With all of this conference alignment taking place, it begs the question: What about the Group of 5 conferences and schools? I think now is the perfect time for the Group of 5 to make a move of their own, going to their own division.
For a couple of years now, there have been 130 schools in the FBS level of college football, which is obviously a lot of teams to fight for one prize. As we all know, however, not all 131 of those teams get an actual shot for the National Championship. Up until last year when Cincinnati made the College Football Playoff, no Group of 5 team had ever even sniffed at a chance to play for college football's holy grail. Usually, outside of years in the past where teams like BYU won it all pre-BCS and CFP, only the Power 5 conferences (ACC, B1G, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC) get any chance at the National Championship. That's 65 teams out of 131 with any shot to be at the champions, literally almost 50% of the FBS.
Personally, I've never understood what the point was of the Group of 5 being in a division where they 99.9% of the time have nothing major to play for. Since college football looks like it's going to resemble the NFL in about 2-3 years, it seems like the perfect time for the Group of 5 to break from the FBS and become their own division, make their own playoff system, and give all of those other 65 teams something to play for.
How College Football Should Look Going Forward
Ok, hear me out. As a guy who played soccer when he was young, I'm not a huge soccer man as an adult. However, I've always been intrigued by how the Premier League and Champions League operate. The Premier League consists of 20 teams where, each season, the bottom three teams are relegated to the Champions League the next season. Meanwhile, in the Champions League that consists of 32 teams, the Winner, Runner-Up, and the Winner of a four-team playoff between seeds 3-6, all get promoted to the Premier League the next season.
My pitch for college football is to bring a similar system, like soccer has, to the fold. Imagine with me that the SEC and the B1G become the two premiere conferences of college football and both end up with 20 teams each and what's left of the ACC, Big 12, and Pac 12 merge to become a third super conference of 25 teams or take the worst 5 teams and send them down a division to make all three conferences 20 teams.
Now, by moving the Group of 5 to their own division, you then create a Champions League for college football and the Premier League would be the SEC, B1G, and ACC/Big 12/Pac 12 hybrid. We'll call it FBS 1-A and FBS 1-AA for this scenario. After each season, you take the bottom 12 teams from FBS 1-A, send them down to FBS 1-AA, and divide them out based on geography if possible. Then in FBS 1-AA, you take the best 12 teams and move them up to FBS 1-A the following season with the champion of 1-AA getting first pick of what conference they want to join, the runner-up getting next choice, and so on until all 12 spots are filled.
Here's how each conference in 1-A would potentially look like if this started in 2024-2025 (based on my realignment predictions):
ACC/Big 12/Pac 12
Potential future "Power 3" make-up. (Worst teams in bold).
This would allow both divisions an opportunity to not only play for a championship of some sort, but to also be rewarded if you have a good season in the 1-AA division and punished if you have a bad season in the 1-A division.
Now let's use last year's records to explain who would be promoted and relegated. From FBS 1-A, the 12 worst teams were Arizona (1-11), Indiana (2-10), Kansas (2-10), Vanderbilt (2-10), Duke (3-9), Georgia Tech (3-9), Nebraska (3-9), Northwestern (3-9), Stanford (3-9), Colorado (4-8), USC (4-8), and Washington (4-8). Those teams would be relegated to the 1-AA division for the next season. So in this scenario, the B1G would lose 6 teams, the SEC would lose 1 team, and the ACC/Big 12/Pac 12 hybrid would lose 5 teams to the 1-AA. Obviously in normal years, the bottom four teams from each would be relegated down.
Here's how each Group of 5 conference looks like as of now:
New Mexico State
San Jose State
Current Group of 5 layout. (Best teams in bold).
The best teams from the 1-AA were Cincinnati (13-1), Louisiana (13-1), Houston (12-2), SDSU (12-2), UTSA (12-2), Coastal Carolina (11-2), Utah State (11-3), BYU (10-3), Fresno State (10-3), Air Force (10-3), Appalachian State (10-4), and Army (9-4, best point differential 9-win team). These teams, starting with Cincinnati, would fill the gaps of each conference they want in order record.
I believe a system like this would be great for college football's future and would be a proper way to reward and punish teams on a regular basis. The Group of 5 schools deserve an equal shot to play for a title of their own and be able to move up to the Power 5 level in the process. As dominoes continue to fall in the college football world, I hope one of them is the Power 5 and Group of 5 finally being in separate divisions and maybe even implementing a system like soccer has. Whatever happens going forward, the future of the sport we all know and love the most is going to be wild, weird, and exciting, and I, for one, can't wait to see what comes next!