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Moller: What really is the Power 5?

| Thursday, November 18, 2021

Every year around this time, the college football world revolves around the weekly College Football Playoff rankings. Nearly every week there exists some surprise with a team ranked too high or too low. The recent controversy has been the discussion about what to do with Group of Five teams such as Cincinnati. Although the Bearcats have arguably the best win of the season on the road over Notre Dame and are currently undefeated, they have been unable to crack the committee’s top five because of their Group of Five status. I am not going to argue that Cincinnati should necessarily be in the top four, but are we really justified in defining five conferences as Power 5?

Let’s start the discussion with the Pac-12. The Pac-12 is notoriously made fun of. They have failed to get respect from the College Football Playoff committee over the years, having only ever had two teams make the playoffs: Oregon in 2015 and Washington in 2017. While Oregon did win their semifinal matchup in 2015 against Florida State, they ultimately lost in the championship by 24 points to Ohio State. Washington, on the other hand, lost their semifinal game to Alabama by a score of 24-7. These two teams aside, why is the Pac-12 considered a Power-5 conference? What have they done to prove themselves in the College Football Playoffs and in the regular season leading up to the playoffs? Not much.

Just look at this year for example. The fact that independent BYU, who isn’t even a Power-5 football team, can go 4-0 against teams in the conference says a lot. In fact, BYU beat Utah and Arizona State, two of the “better” teams in the Pac-12. Considering BYU is 4-0 in the Pac-12, maybe they should be on top of the conference because no other Pac-12 team has been able to go undefeated against their conference schedule.

While the Pac-12 is the worst of the Power-5 conferences in my opinion, is the Big 12 much better? Some would argue that having Oklahoma makes them better, but is Oklahoma really that good? Although they usually win the Big 12 every year, they are horrendous in the playoffs with a record of 0-4. Except for a close double-overtime loss to Georgia in 2018, the Sooners have lost the other three games by double digits. To me, this shows that the Big 12 isn’t really a viable conference either. The fact that Oklahoma is no doubt the best team in the conference, but they just can not find a way to win a playoff game, shows that the Big 12 is not ready to compete for a national title. Looking past Oklahoma, traditional college football power Texas has been absolutely atrocious as of late and nowhere near the College Football Playoff conversation. In fact, the Longhorns are a stunning 4-6 this season with only two Big 12 wins.

To make matters worse for the Big 12, they will be losing Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC in a few years. While the loss of Texas might not hurt as bad, the loss of Oklahoma should make the Big 12 completely irrelevant. I argue that the Big 12 should be given no more respect than any other Group of Five conference in deciding the College Football Playoff going forward. After these teams leave, the conference will likely be controlled by Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State, who are all teams that have never made (and should never make) a serious run at the College Football Playoffs.

While the Big 12 and Pac-12 are definitely the most disgraced Power-5 conferences, that doesn’t mean that the ACC and Big Ten are off the hook either. Let’s start by looking at the ACC. The conference has basically been Clemson and everybody else since 2016. In that run of greatness, the Tigers beat nearly everyone in their paths to make the College Football Playoffs a stunning six years in a row. I will concede that those Clemson teams were great and well-deserving of those spots, but can a conference be a Power-5 conference if there is only one team that dominates in the conference? In fact, during Clemson’s run of greatness there was only one year where another ACC opponent finished in the top ten of the final rankings (Florida State in 2017). It doesn’t seem fair for a team to play subpar conference opponents every season and not get tested until they reach the College Football Playoffs.

Now we look at the Big Ten. The Big Ten’s record in the playoffs is not great at 3-4, and similarly to the ACC, the conference tends to be dominated by one team: Ohio State. The Buckeyes have made the playoffs four times, winning the national championship in 2015 and losing in last year’s national championship. The only other team to make the playoffs from the Big Ten was Michigan State in 2016, and they got drubbed 38-0 by Alabama. Although Ohio State is the clear frontrunner in the conference, the Big Ten does have one thing going for them: depth. Nearly every season, the Big Ten has been able to put other teams in the top ten of the final rankings with Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan being pretty consistent every year. While Ohio State usually ends up winning the conference and making the playoffs, at least they have to work for it.

I’ve talked about every Power-5 conference except the SEC, and I will concede that the SEC truly is the best conference from top to bottom. The conference has perennial powerhouse Alabama, but teams like Georgia and LSU have made good runs as well, and there are a plethora of teams that tend to finish the season in the top ten of the final rankings.

The times are changing in college football with conference realignments and a possible twelve-team playoff field. Considering the fact that the SEC has proven to be the only true “power” conference in recent years, maybe it’s time we get rid of the whole idea of “Power 5” itself. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that teams like Oklahoma and Oregon are playing schedules that are not much tougher than Group of Five teams like Cincinnati.

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About Nate Moller

Nate is a junior majoring in chemical engineering. He is originally from a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota and is currently living in Siegfried Hall. Some of his passions include running, cross country skiing, and getting too worked up about Notre Dame and Minnesota sports teams.

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