BOONE — The Sun Belt Conference has a slim chance for the Group of Five spot in a New Year's Six bowl, and Commissioner Karl Benson laid out that path on Friday.
Right now, Central Florida is No. 8. and set for the NY6 appearance. UCF plays Memphis on Saturday in the American Athletic Conference title game. No. 22 Boise State and No. 25 Fresno State also play on Saturday in the Mountain West Conference championship.
Should UCF lose, it will then be ineligible because the Group of Five nominee has to be a conference champion. And if Fresno State manages to win, Benson thinks an opening is created for Appalachian State. Benson said if the Mountaineers win on Saturday against Louisiana in the inaugural Sun Belt title game, Appalachian is a 10-2 champion with a loss against Penn State and loss against Georgia Southern, which featured App State quarterback Zac Thomas leaving after the team's opening drive with a concussion.
Benson said there is a case to be made there.
"As much as the committee talks about the eye test, injuries and various factors, with Zac not in there after the first series, who knows with that game?" Benson said. "So we have made it very clear to the committee that if those two scenarios occur, UCF and Boise State, and the three champions are App State, Fresno State and Buffalo (in Benson's hypothetical). You put App State's resume up against those other two and there's not a whole lot of difference. So could we have a team in contention tomorrow night and Sunday with the committee? Absolutely, we can."
Now, the likelihood of that actually happening will be small. Even if UCF were to lose, it's still one ranked team beating another in the MWC game. But if Fresno State wins, they'll beat a Boise State team that defeated them in the regular season. That'd be the Bulldogs best win in an 11-2 record. Benson thinks App State should get a fair look too.
"We don't know if App State is 26," Benson said. "And what is the gap between App State and Fresno State today? I think it's pretty narrow. They don't go any further, but I think that would be my take on whether App State could jump over Fresno State. How much has the committee really grilled down and evaluated App State? How much did were they aware that Zac Thomas went down?"
Benson said each of the 10 football conferences have a pair of CFP committee members assigned to them. Benson had his first conversation with the two (who he would not name) a day before App State's game at Georgia Southern. He joked during the call that it wouldn't jinx a team with good playoff chances.
Those CFP reps also provided more validation to him of the conference's path forward.
"One of two committee members said 'I just want you to know that I didn't know that much about the Sun Belt Conference before this season, but I now know just how good the Sun Belt is,' the outgoing commissioner Benson said. "And that I think again is an example of Sun Belt credibility, Sun Belt integrity, Sun Belt relevance. We are a relevant conference. The conference has come so far in five years."
MORE FROM BENSON:
- On the first Sun Belt title game (getting choked up at the end of the answer): "This will be my second inaugural football championship game as a commissioner. 1996, the WAC had its inaugural game. And I can remember that game vividly. I can see the weather, I can see the two teams — BYU and Wyoming — and it was a meaningful game. I can see all the elements of it. And what's interesting is a year later, the second game, I can't remember a thing about it. And I've got a feeling that tomorrow is going to be that type of game here in Boone and at the stadium. I think it's going to be a spectacular day and another day that I can remember for the rest of my life."
- On App in the Sun Belt: "I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge . . . just how good the Sun Belt has been to App State and how good App State has been for the Sun Belt."
- On the city of Boone as the first title game host: "I've told people there's no better place — not just in the Sun Belt but throughout college football — than Boone, N.C. and this stadium for a backdrop for college football."
- On jerseys for the game: App State will wear all black and Louisiana will wear all red.