The College Football Playoff has created a number of unintended consequences across all of college football, chief among them pitting conferences against each other. There's of course the dogfight at the top among the Power 5 leagues to claim one of the four seats at the table in the semifinals.
But there's also a fierce, even more cutthroat one step below the Power 5, where the so-called Group of 5 leagues scratch and claw to claim the one reserved spot in a New Year's Six bowl. The one (1) school that receives that spot earns $4 million for their respective conference and, more importantly, a shot at the big boys. Group of 5 teams are 8-3 against Power 5 opponents in BCS/CFP games, a mark that includes iconic moments such as Boise State's stunner over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Utah ambushing Nick Saban and Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl and UCF's defeat of Auburn in the 2018 Peach Bowl, kicking off the Knights' national championship tour.
Each conference has taken a different strategy in separating itself from the others. The AAC has launched its Power 6 campaign, aiming to separate itself entirely from the Group of 5. The Sun Belt, the only such league not to reach a New Year's Six game, created its "Rise Above" slogan.
"While one or two of our peer conferences may have other goals, the Sun Belt’s goal remains the same as we stated four years ago," Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said Tuesday. "To be the highest rated Group of Five Conferences and to send our football champion as the highest rated group of five teams to one of the New Year’s Day games and there isn’t any reason that this goal cannot be achieved this year. The pieces are in place, the commitment has been made, the coaches are in place, the student athletes are in place, and we are expecting that the Sun Belt champion will be playing in one of those prestigious New Year’s Day games this year. So yes, the time is now and the Sun Belt is ready to Rise Above."
On Tuesday, the MAC launched a campaign of its own. Moving forward, each MAC team that knocks off a Power 5 opponent will fly a pirate flag on its campus throughout the following week.
"The Mid-American Conference and its members are the pirates of the FBS. Our ships, our stadiums are not always the largest... but we are manned by highly-motivated troops. Our players and coaches carry a chip on their shoulders to demonstrate an anywhere, anytime attitude," MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. "If respect is not freely given, we will earn it and we will take it."
MAC teams will host six Power 5 opponents on their campuses this season, beginning with Syracuse at Western Michigan on Aug. 31 and including Utah at Northern Illinois on Sept. 8 and Miami at Toledo on Sept. 15.