Boise State carried the banner for Group of Five conferences last season, knocking off Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl while Colorado State, Marshall and Northern Illinois all enjoyed solid seasons as well.
But there’s no question the gap between the ACC/Big Ten/Big 12/Pac-12/SEC and the AAC/Conference USA/MAC/Mountain West/Sun Belt is widening. It’s easy to see the difference on Saturdays, with games from Group of Five conferences being played in smaller stadiums and often difficult to find on TV. Autonomy measures will only grow the gap between FBS powers and non-powers.
But perhaps the easiest-to-grasp view of the gap comes from looking at Rivals’ rankings of 2015’s top 250 recruits, only three of whom are committed to schools outside the Power Five.
Those players, all of whom garnered four-star ratings from Rivals: Wide receiver Tristan Payton (No. 142, Jacksonville, Fla.) is committed to UCF, four-star quarterback Chad President (No. 212, Temple, Texas) is committed to Tulsa and quarterback Brett Rypien (No. 232, Spokane, Wash.) is committed to Boise State.
Three uncommitted members of the Rivals250 have “high” interest in Group of Five programs, too: Four-star offensive tackle Toby Weathersby (No. 98, Houston, Texas) is down to Arkansas, LSU and Houston; four-star running back T.J. Simmons (No. 166, Lakeland, Fla.) is down to Marshall and Temple; and four-star receiver Jaylinn Hawkins (No. 233, Buena Park, Calif.) is down to Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, Cal, Oregon and Utah.
With two days until signing day, Rivals’ 60 highest-rated recruiting classes are all Power Five programs — Willie Taggart and South Florida are currently tied with Purdue at No. 61, giving them the most talented crop of incoming freshman of any Group of Five school.
This isn’t exactly new — AAC/Conference USA/MAC/Mountain West/Sun Belt have always struggled to recruit against Power Five programs given the facilities and resources available — but since recruiting rankings do matter, it’s another reason to believe a Group of Five school may never contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff.