July 15, 2024

Games featuring Group of Five teams that will define the 2024 College Football Playoff race


An expanded College Football Playoff adds a lot of intrigue to the regular season for Group of Five teams. After watching the four-team postseason tournament from the outside for a vast majority of its existence — Cincinnati was the only team to make it, once, in almost a decade  — the non-power conferences are guaranteed at least one spot in a 12-team format going forward.

Five automatic bids go to the highest-ranked conference champions. The Power Four conferences are virtually guaranteed one automatic spot each, but the Pac-12’s dissolution means the fifth auto-bid is open for one of the 66 teams spread across the Group of Five conferences. 

Given the CFP selection committee’s hesitancy towards ranking Group of Five teams highly in the past, that might be the only slot that these programs can lay claim to. So that adds an extra air of importance to early-season showcases against Power Four programs — where Group of Five schools can make waves with close showings or upsets — and the individual conference races. 

When looking over the 2024 college football schedule, some games stand out as potentially impactful in the race for the postseason. Here’s a look at contests featuring Group of Five teams that have a chance to influence how the 12-team College Football Playoff pans out. 

Oregon vs. Boise State (Saturday, Sept. 7) 

Oregon is already penciled into just about every College Football Playoff projection on the planet. Dan Lanning has built a machine in very short order thanks to his elite ability to amass talent and get the most out of his players. The Ducks are in great shape to compete for a Big Ten title in their first year with the conference. Getting an early win against what should be a strong Boise State squad could set the tone, but this represents a huge opportunity for the Broncos. It’s a tall order for rookie full-time head coach Spencer Danielson to win in such a tough environment, but even a close game would leave an impact on the selection committee — especially if this is the only loss on a veteran Boise State team’s record. 

Clemson vs. Appalachian State (Saturday, Sept. 7) 

Appalachian State is no stranger to causing chaos. The Mountaineers beat No. 6 Texas A&M in 2022 and took top-20 North Carolina down to the wire last season. App State was one of three Sun Belt squads to win nine games last year and the only of those three to return both their head coach (Shawn Clark) and starting quarterback in Joey Aguilar — the reigning Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year. Now App State enters 2024 with an early game against a Clemson team that’s been on a bit of a backslide recently. The Tigers boast a stacked defense but some significant questions on offense and games like this are always dripping with upset potential. A win against a Clemson squad that will likely be ranked would set Appalachian State on the right track if it runs the table in the Sun Belt. 

Appalachian State QB Joey Aguilar was the Conference USA Newcomer of the Year last season. 
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Appalachian State vs. Liberty (Saturday, Sept. 28) 

Liberty might be the front-runner to represent the Group of Five on the College Football Playoff stage, though it will almost certainly have to run the table given its relatively weak schedule. The Flames would have made it a year ago had the 12-team model been in place, but instead secured a spot in the Fiesta Bowl thanks to a 13-0 season capped by a Conference USA title. Coach Jamey Chadwell has won at least 10 games in three of the past four years and has two conference titles in that same span. Playmaking quarterback Kaidon Salter is back after flirting with the transfer portal and he’s surrounded by an experienced squad on both sides of the ball. As of June, this game is the biggest speed bump on Liberty’s journey. As already mentioned, Appalachian State loves to play spoiler and the Mountaineers could have their own claim to the playoff with a strong Sun Belt showing. 

UTSA vs. Memphis (Saturday, Nov. 2) 

UTSA won seven conference games in its first year as a member of the AAC and just missed out on a shot at the league’s title with a late-season loss to Tulane. Though the Roadrunners have to contend with the loss of longtime starting quarterback Frank Harris, the roster returns plenty of experience elsewhere. It’s also hard to bet against coach Jeff Traylor, who has 32 wins in the past three years. Memphis, meanwhile, has steadily built itself back into a contender under coach Ryan Silverfield. With quarterback Seth Henigan and his 10,366 career yards passing back to orchestrate the offense, the Tigers have the makings of a championship team. UTSA also has an early game against Texas that’s worth watching. 

Tulane vs. Memphis (Thursday, Nov. 28)

Tulane plays Oklahoma and Kansas State in September, while Memphis has an early road game against Florida State and former coach Mike Norvell to contend with. But this season-ending showdown means a whole lot more for each team’s postseason hopes. The Green Wave and the Tigers are two early favorites to win the American Athletic Conference, which is often perceived as the preeminent Group of Five league. This showdown could set the stage for the AAC Championship Game, where the winner could get a golden ticket to that last automatic qualifier in the playoff. 





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