Three Group of Five teams that could crash expanded CFP party

    For the first time, a team from outside college football’s power conferences — the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 — will have a clear path to a national title this season because of an automatic bid to the College Football Playoff. 

    This season, the highest-ranked champion of a “Group of Five” conference will be make the expanded, 12-team playoff.

    Here are teams from smaller conferences that could benefit from this wrinkle to the format and earn a historic playoff berth:

    Liberty | Conference USA | Schedule

    If the automatic bid existed a year earlier, the Flames would have earned it. They finished their regular season 12-0, won the C-USA championship and were selected as the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six representative. 

    In the Fiesta Bowl, however, overmatched Liberty took a 6-0 lead over Oregon but lost 45-6. 

    The good news for the program is prolific quarterback Kaidon Salter (32 TD passes, 12 rushing TDs, six interceptions in 2023) returns, as does respected head coach Jamey Chadwell, whose team faces an easy schedule. 

    13-0 could be in the cards once again, and with it, a possible playoff berth. The only question is how Liberty will be evaluated against, for instance, a 12-1 champion from the more competitive American Athletic Conference.

    Boise State | Mountain West | Schedule

    The Broncos would be a fitting first Group of Five team to automatically qualify for the playoff, as they spent so long carrying the banner for the group of small conferences in the pre-playoff era. 

    Boise State hasn’t dominated in recent seasons as it did in its heyday. However, after the 2023 firing of head coach Andy Avalos with the team at 5-5, the Broncos finished strong enough to win the Mountain West title for the first time since 2019.

    Now, former interim coach Spencer Danielson leads Boise State, which will have former five-star quarterback Malachi Nelson at the controls of the offense. The transfer never got a chance at USC. 

    Former NFL head coach Dirk Koetter, the Boise State HC from 1998-2000, is back as offensive coordinator. In addition to Nelson, he’ll be calling plays for running back Ashton Jeanty, who had a tremendous 2023 season (1,916 scrimmage yards, 19 touchdowns).

    Boise State should have momentum heading into this season and could build its resume with wins over Washington State and Oregon State, the only schools left from the Pac-12. 

    Memphis | American Athletic Conference | Schedule

    The Tigers have competed well in the AAC over the past decade but haven’t done much against powerhouse teams besides a 53-39 loss to Penn State in the 2019 Cotton Bowl. 

    This season, the Tigers are favored to win the most respected Group of Five conference, giving them a prime chance to make the CFP.

    Memphis returns experience at QB in three-year starter Seth Henigan, who has 10,764 passing yards and 79 TDs for the Tigers. Leading receiver Roc Taylor (1,083 receiving yards in 2023) also returns, giving Memphis one of the best duos in the conference.

    An early-season game at Florida State will likely be a loss, but if Memphis takes care of business in conference play, it could go 12-1. 

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