This season, the Mountain West has played 17 games against teams from the Power Five. The oddsmakers say that the under-the-radar conference should have gone 1-16 in those 17 contests.
Instead, the Mountain West posted an 8-9 record, a stunning success rate considering the expected win percentage.
Of those eight victories, the Mountain West was more than a touchdown underdog in five of the wins (Hawaii over Arizona, Wyoming over Missouri, San Jose State over Arkansas, San Diego State over UCLA and Nevada over Purdue).
The Mountain West’s eight victories against non-conference Power Five opponents are the most of any conference in the nation. And the Mountain West could have had more: Utah State lost in the last two minutes at Wake Forest 38-35; and Fresno State lost in double OT to Minnesota 38-35.
Did the Mountain West overachieve or were they grossly underrated?
Maybe it’s both?
Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson believes that there are multiple teams from the Group of Five conferences that are better than Power Five schools.
“Several Top 25 Group of Five programs are labeled such by league affiliation and (yet are) much stronger than numerous Power Five conference members,” Thompson said.
The Football Bowl Subdivision currently consists of 130 schools, split equally with 65 Power Five conference schools (and Notre Dame) and 65 from the Group of Five conferences (and five independents).
However, the Power Five schools currently do not comprise the top 65 teams in the nation.
In this week’s power ratings from the Action Network’s Collin Wilson, 10 non-Power Five teams rate among the nation’s top 65 programs.
Those non-power league teams among the top 65: UCF, Cincinnati, SMU, Temple and Memphis from the American; Boise State and Utah State from the Mountain West; Appalachian State and Louisiana from the Sun Belt and independent BYU.
If you extend it out further to include the worst-rated Power Five program — (not surprisingly) Rutgers, rated at No. 106 — the breakdown of the nation’s top 106 FBS programs looks like this: all 65 Power Five programs and 41 Group of Five programs.
While there is a huge disparity in media rights revenue and College Football Playoff access between the power leagues and the non-power leagues, there’s not as big a disparity on the field.
“Over half the Mountain West members (seven) have registered victories over Power Five institutions this season, including four true road wins in their stadiums,” Thompson added. “The line is so often blurred between the self-generated term ‘Power Five’ and ‘Group of Five’ solely dependent upon your conference affiliation. This fall speaks to the depth and quality of the Mountain West.”
Thompson is dead on.
The Mountain West’s eight victories against opponents from the Power Five is its most since 2008, when it won 10 games against the power leagues. The Mountain West can still match that number but would need huge upsets in their final two games against Power Five opponents: Utah State at LSU Saturday and UNLV at Vanderbilt on Oct. 12.
Besides the Mountain West, the American also has had its share of success this season with six victories in 18 games against Power Five opponents. The AAC’s six non-conference Power Five wins are tied for second-most nationally with the SEC and Big 12.
The American, which was favored in five of its 18 contests against the Power Five, is 6-12 against the “big boys.”
When it comes to the rest of the Group of Five and how they stack up against the Power Five, the Sun Belt is 3-7, the Mid-American is 1-18 and Conference USA is 0-16. Independent BYU is 2-2 against Power Five teams.
Will the non-power leagues ever receive the same media rights revenue, College Football Playoff access and New Year’s Six bowls as the Power Five conferences?
But the Group of Five has proven it can sometimes do more with less as evidenced by its success on the field against Power Five opponents this season.