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P.J. Fleck is not in favor of Group of Five playoff

The four-year WMU coach appreciates current, “perfect” system

NCAA Football: MAC Championship-Western Michigan at Ohio Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Three years after the demolition of the BCS system, the nation continues to wonder whether the current playoff system is the ideal way of determining college football’s ultimate champion.

The BCS’s computerized system ultimately prevented teams from the Group of Five conferences (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) from participating in the national championship, even if one possessed a perfect record.

The Western Michigan Broncos currently sit at 13-0, one of two undefeated teams in the nation, but the Broncos were never considered for a playoff spot, placed at No. 15 in the committee’s poll. Rumors have swirled about a potential startup of a Group of Five playoff so teams like Western Michigan can hoist championship trophies.

But its coach remains a fan of the current system.

“I absolutely love the way the Group of Five and the Power Five coincide and mix,” Fleck said. “Just because one AD makes a statement like that doesn’t mean that the whole conference feels that way.”

The statement refers to Northern Illinois’ athletic director Sean Frazier. Frazier supports the advent of the Group of Five playoff, because no team since 1984 BYU has won a national title and no team has earned a ranking higher than 13 in the playoff committee poll.

“I think the way it is, is perfect,” Fleck said. “If you’re in the Group of Five, if you can go undefeated two years in a row, you deserve to be in the national championship, and you’ll find your way into the national championship.”

Undefeated seasons are not annual events in the Group of Five. In fact, 2010 TCU of the Mountain West was the last team to accomplish this feat. But Fleck points to a different Texas team that may have earned a playoff bid if it ran the table in 2016.

“Everybody was talking about Houston this year,” Fleck said. “Group of Five team that goes 13-1 last year, beats Florida State, beat a top five team to start a year. If they would have continued that and went 13-0 or 13-1, I guarantee they’d be in one of those top four spots.”

Houston earned a ranking as high as No. 6 in the AP poll this year. The Cougars convincingly downed Oklahoma on college football’s opening week in neutral site action. But tough losses to Navy and SMU crushed the Cougars’ playoff hopes and knocked them out of the polls. Houston briefly rebounded with a win over another top five team (Louisville), but ended the year with two consecutive losses.

“The great thing we talk to recruits about at Western Michigan is you have the ability now with the playoff system to win and go to a national title,” Fleck said. “There’s a chance for it to happen. In the old BCS system, you didn’t have a chance.”

The only MAC team to participate in a BCS bowl under the older system was the 2012 Northern Illinois Huskie squad. The Huskies fell 31-10 in the Orange Bowl to Florida State, but already had one loss entering the game. Only two teams were selected to play for a title under this system, but the playoff system expands it to more.

Western Michigan defeated two Big Ten teams on the road this year, but Northwestern finished 7-6 and Illinois 3-9. The Broncos schedule opens up with USC next season, and features Michigan State as well. Fleck believes if the team runs the table in two consecutive seasons, the Broncos should lock up a playoff spot.

“I love where we’re at, and I love the position we’re in. If we’re going to feel that way about winning the national title one day, we are in control of that. We’re going to have to schedule non-conference opponents that are gonna be ranked in the top 20.”