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McGuire Metric: Ranking the Group of Five

East Carolina has jumped out in front of the competition among Group of Five schools vying for the lone guaranteed New Years Day bowl spot, at least according to my experimental method of ranking performance on the field based on strength of schedule. The American Athletic Conference’s Pirates have recorded the most impressive victory among Group of Five schools and they followed it up with a blowout of another ACC school, North Carolina.

As we know, the College Football Playoff selection committee will be responsible for fielding the four-team playoff and the remaining spots in the other playoff-associated bowls. This year the playoff semifinals will be played in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. That leaves the Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Peach Bowl and Cotton Bowl with eight spots to fill. One of those spots will be reserved for the highest-ranked conference champion from the Group of Five conferences — the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt.

As I displayed yesterday with the update on conference pecking order, it has not been a particularly strong year for the Group of Five conferences. The Mountain West has been particularly disappointing based on my expectations. As it stands after four weeks, according to these numbers, the American, Conference USA and the MAC are all tied in the conference cumulative standings. Boise State and Utah State have missed out on their chances to record a signature win. Cincinnati was my preseason pick to win the big bowl spot and the Bearcats are just getting started. Cincinnati gets a chance to make an impression this week with a road game at Ohio State. As it stands, Cincinnati may need a win in Columbus because they are already behind the pack led by East Carolina.

Using the updated numbers through four weeks, here is how the Group of Five schools stack up against each other.

  1. 9.5 – East Carolina
  2. 4.5 – Marshall
    4.5 – Northern Illinois
  3. 4.0 – Louisiana Tech
  4. 3.0 – Boise State
  5. 2.5 – Central Michigan
    2.5 – Colorado State
    2.5 – Ohio
    2.5 – Temple
    2.5 – UTEP
  6. 2.0 – Air Force
    2.0 – Georgia Southern
    2.0 – New Mexico
    2.0 – New Mexico State
    2.0 – South Alabama
    2.0 – UTSA
    2.0 – Western Michigan
  7. 1.5 – Louisiana-Monroe
  8. 1.0 – Bowling Green
    1.0 – Nevada
    1.0 – Utah State
    1.0 – Wyoming
  9. 0.5 – Arkansas State
    0.5 – Florida Atlantic
    0.5 – Houston
    0.5 – Memphis
    0.5 – Middle Tennessee
    0.5 – North Texas
    0.5 – South Florida
    0.5 – Southern Mississippi
    0.5 – Toledo
    0.5 – Tulsa
    0.5 – UAB
    0.5 – Western Kentucky

Here is what needs to be kept in mind. East Carolina could very well finish the season with a higher McGuire Metric number than Cincinnati, yet still be left out of the mix for the Group of Five spot. The scenario to watch for is Cincinnati losing to Ohio State and Miami (both games on the road) yet the Bearcats come back to win the AAC. This would likely include a win over East Carolina in the process, but it may not yield enough points in the system to pass the Pirates by the end of the season. But under the guidelines of the CFB Playoff selection committee, ECU would not be eligible to receive the automatic spot because they would not be the conference champion. This is good news for fans of Boise State or maybe Northern Illinois.

What about Marshall?

Rakeem CatoMarshall could very well run the table and go 13-0 with a Conference USA championship when all is said and done, but I am not sold it will be enough to be given the guaranteed bowl spot. The reason for that is Conference USA’s strength of schedule. Things looked very good for Conference USA out of the gates, even edging the Big Ten and Big 12 early on, but the conference has come back to earth a little bit in recent weeks. Rakeem Cato and the Thundering Herd have taken care of business but are on track to end the season without much of a threat and no real signature victories to boost the overall profile. Marshall is tied for second among Group of Five schools using this metric, but they will likely have a difficult time catching up to or passing East Carolina unless the Pirates implode.

Marshall’s best chances may come by running the table and conference champions from the AAC, MAC and Mountain West all end the season with multiple losses. It is not impossible, but perception according to the selection committee will be something to pay close attention to.

About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.