Group of Five college football coaches, schools must help themselves

LAWRENCE, KS - SEPTEMBER 12: Head coach Jamey Chadwell of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers reacts during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium on September 12, 2020 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images)
LAWRENCE, KS - SEPTEMBER 12: Head coach Jamey Chadwell of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers reacts during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium on September 12, 2020 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images) /

Group of Five college football teams have enough trouble finding inclusion at the table, so why do they continue to exclude themselves?

Another college football regular season is in the books, and once again there are multiple Group of Five football programs with a legitimate beef with the selection committee. Not one, not two, but three Group of Five teams finished their regular seasons with unblemished resumes.

Cincinnati, the preseason favorite in the AAC and the projected group of five king coming into the season, defeated Tulsa 27-24 to capture the AAC crown and earn the table scrap bid to the New Year’s Six.

Coastal Carolina, ignored in the preseason for media darlings Appalachian State and Louisiana in the Sun Belt, finished 11-0 and won the Sun Belt title despite having to cancel their much anticipated rematch with the Ragin’ Cajuns in the title game.

And perhaps most unexpectedly, San Jose State knocked off Boise State to win their first Mountain West title, completing an unexpectedly impressive 7-0 season.

Unsurprisingly, none of those teams will have a shot at winning the national championship. All three could win their bowl games, complete unbeaten seasons, and never have a legitimate shot at winning it all. Some system, right?

The Bearcats boast one of the best resumes of the playoff era for a Group of Five program. Even with the pandemic removing any chance of adding a couple Power Five scalps to the wall, Cincinnati boasted the nation’s top-ranked defense and 11th ranked offense.

The Chanticleers aren’t backed as much by the computers, but they did earn a Power Five victory in the regular season by defeating Kansas, and along with knocking off perennial Sun Belt heavyweights Appalachian State and Louisiana, Coastal also took a game against BYU on three days notice and knocked off the Cougars for good measure.

San Jose State doesn’t have the same resume strength, but both Cincinnati and Coastal seem to have legitimate gripes, particularly with Notre Dame backing into the playoff fresh off a 24-point thumping at the hands of Clemson in the ACC Championship. Didn’t the Irish have their opportunity on a neutral field against one of the leading contenders? Why do they deserve another shot while the others are left in the cold through no fault of their own?

You would think that there would be outrage and rallying cries among Group of Five coaches for inclusion. It happens every year, and with each passing year it gets clearer that the selection committee has no interest in giving Group of Five schools a seat at the table. Revenue and ratings are king, and Coastal and Cincinnati aren’t bringing eyeballs to the TV like the Alabamas, Ohio States and Clemsons of the world.

It’s obvious that the selection committee doesn’t respect the Group of Five. It’s equally obvious that, for the most part, Power Five programs and coaches don’t respect them, either. But why don’t those Group of Five programs and coaches respect themselves?

I ask this question on the heels of the USA Today publishing the final regular season individual rankings of each coach with a vote in the Coaches Poll. According to their data, 30 Group of Five coaches have votes. Only seven of those 30 voted Cincinnati in the top four.

Jamey Chadwell, head coach of the unbeaten Chanticleers, voted the Bearcats sixth and his own program seventh. I can understand the rationale of Chadwell not putting his team in the top four, but to not even believe they are the best team from the Group of Five ranks when there could be a legitimate argument to be made? After all, while statistical models favor the Bearcats, it’s the Chanticleers who have the more impressive wins on their resume. How do you think Grayson McCall and the rest of his teammates feel about their coach’s lack of faith? I can guarantee you McCall would’ve ranked the team higher, if given the chance.

This also begs the question of, if these coaches don’t respect their own programs, why should anyone else? Why should anyone take them seriously as legitimate contenders when, for the most part, they don’t see themselves as such?

What possible reason could there be for the Group of Five coaches to undersell their own programs? The point I continue coming back to in this thought exercise is that a large section of Group of Five coaches believe that they will one day land the opportunity at a Power Five job, where they would then have the real ability to compete for a title. They’re using their current jobs as stepping stones over to greener pastures, so the long term validity of their current programs and leagues don’t matter much to them. And that’s a complete disservice to their players and fans.

Louisiana’s Billy Napier is probably the worst offender. He’s the only Group of Five coach who didn’t rank either Cincinnati or Coastal Carolina in the top 10. Of course, only one coach had Louisiana higher than where Napier ranked his Cajuns so he clearly doesn’t mind voting his own team higher than his contemporaries as it suits him. It’s probably not a coincidence that Napier’s name has popped up in numerous coaching searches the last two offseasons. Such is the nature of a successful, young coach in the Group of Five ranks.

Of the seven coaches to vote Cincinnati at No. 4, excluding Fickell, two likely don’t have any desires at a Power Five future. Wyoming’s Craig Bohl, who turned 62 over the summer and has spent the last 17 years between North Dakota State and Wyoming, seems perfectly content with the job security and relative obscurity his posts give him. The other is SMU’s Sonny Dykes, who already had a taste of Power Five life at Cal, where he got a bit of a raw deal on his way out of Berkeley.

The others are Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, Northern Illinois’ Thomas Hammock, Georgia Southern’s Chad Lunsford, and Buffalo’s Lance Leipold.

College football’s ruling class will always favor their own; they consistently overvalue their own programs and undersell the Group of Five. No Power Five coach polled had a Group of Five team in their top four. Only two power five coaches — Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente and Maryland’s Mike Locksley – had the Bearcats in the top five.

It’s time for Group of Five programs and coaches to start playing the power five’s game. If they are going to oversell themselves and undervalue you, then you need to overvalue your own programs and undersell the Power Five. Chadwell should’ve voted Coastal No. 1 and rounded out his top four with Cincinnati, San Jose State, and Louisiana. If it benefited a Power Five league, don’t you think they would do the same in that position?

The Group of Five is never going to gain the respect of the rest of college football unless they first respect themselves.

The chips are stacked against them from the outset. They’ll always be driving on rocky terrain, navigating treacherous roads in search of respect and inclusion. And yet they consistently let the air out of their own tires before starting the car.

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