Group of Five teams have been pushed aside, but they are making noise

The plan to divide and conquer has hit a hitch.

The five conferences that write the rules and cash the checks continue to dominate the race for the four-team College Football Playoff. The top 17 teams in this week's Associated Press media poll top 25 represent the Pac-12, Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten and Big 12 conferences or Notre Dame.

It remains highly unlikely any school from the outcast "Group of Five" conferences will rise to compete for the national championship.

The power leagues have consolidated even more power in the last few years and worked hard to cut off the left-behind leagues: Mountain West, American Athletic, Mid-American, Conference USA and the Sun Belt.

Yet, "Group of Five" schools are showing remarkable resilience. Seven of them are either ranked or receiving points in this week's AP poll.

The American Athletic, the core of which splintered from the old Big East, entered Friday with three ranked teams: No. 18 Memphis, No. 21 Houston and No. 22 Temple.

The MAC is represented by undefeated Toledo at No. 19. Western Kentucky of the Sun Belt is receiving 11 points in the AP poll, and Mountain West teams Boise State and Utah State are receiving eight and seven.

A lack of marquee games on a midseason lull weekend allows the lesser leagues a rare chance to garner some attention.

There are some good little-guy stories evolving.

Temple is ranked for the first time in 36 years and will stay ranked after Thursday night's come-from-behind win at East Carolina. The Owls are 7-0 for the first time in school history and get a weekend to rest in advance of Notre Dame on Halloween.

Temple was once coached by Pop Warner, but that's about the only pop the program has shown. Temple has had eight seasons of one win or fewer.

The football program was so bad it got kicked out of the Big East in the early 2000s, only to be invited back when the conference was on its deathbed.

Schools from lesser leagues are being lifted by a bumper crop of young coaches, including Temple's Matt Rhule, Toledo's Matt Campbell, Memphis' Justin Fuente, and Houston's Tom Herman.

And their teams aren't just beating up weaklings. Temple defeated Penn State, Memphis knocked off Mississippi and Toledo beat Arkansas.

The only setback for Western Kentucky, which plays in Conference USA, was a three-point loss at Indiana.

The Hilltoppers, led by 44-year-old Coach Jeff Brohm, have a chance to make headlines Saturday when they face fifth-ranked Louisiana State in Baton Rouge. LSU is favored by 17 points, but Western Kentucky is playing with house money.

"I want our guys to relax and play," Brohm said this week. "Whatever happens after that, I'm fine with it."

Western Kentucky is led by quarterback Brandon Doughty, who passed for 4,830 yards and 49 touchdowns in 2014. This year, he already has 25 touchdowns against four interceptions.

LSU Coach Les Miles called Doughty "every bit an SEC quarterback."

Miles also did what many voting coaches do the week before they enter a game as double-digit favorites against a weaker opponent. "I voted for them to be in the top 25," he said of Western Kentucky.

The long-term prognosis for the Group of Five hasn't changed. Teams from those schools, lacking the billions of dollars networks are pumping into the Power Five, struggle to compete at the very highest levels.

The have-nots will continue to grovel for the one guaranteed bid each season to one of the six major bowl games. It is up to the CFP selection committee to pick the top champion among the Group of Five.

Most people assumed that spot would be ceded annually to Boise State, the first Group of Five bid winner last season on its way to upending Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl.

However, Boise State (5-2) is probably out of the running, meaning the auto-bid is up for grabs.

So which team is going to grab it?


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