When the MAC champion Bowling Green Falcons found out their opponent for the GoDaddy Bowl, some BGSU fans were a little disappointed.
The 10-win conference champs, with victories over two Big 10 teams, faced off against -- the Sun Belt's third-place Georgia Southern Eagles.
Sort of an anticlimactic way to end the season.
Any right to complain was diminished by the fact that they lost to GS, but the point remains. As conference champions, why did they face the third-place team from a peer conference?
Looking around, that scenario is more the rule than the exception if you play in a Group of Five conference. Here's where the other champs landed:
- Arkansas State Red Wolves: The Sun Belt Champions went 8-0 in conference and were rewarded with a New Orleans Bowl berth against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs finished second in Conference USA's western division, and to their credit beat ASU in the contest.
- Houston Cougars: The 12-1 Cougars won the American Athletic Conference and will face traditional power Florida State in the Peach Bowl. No complaint there.
- Western Kentucky Hilltoppers: Arguably the Group of Five's best team, the 12-2 Hilltoppers won Conference USA and the Miami Beach Bowl over South Florida. The Bulls went 8-4 and finished second in the AAC's Eastern Division. Sure, there was the whole storyline about facing former coach Willie Taggart, but would that have been diminished if the played, say, Louisville?
- San Diego State Aztecs: After starting 1-3, the Aztecs won an incredible 10 games in a row to take the Mountain West title and the Hawaii Bowl. It would have been even sweeter if the bowl win came against someone other than Cincinnati, who finished a less-than-incredible one game over .500 on the season.
So, of the five G5 champs, one faces off against a "big boy" with a big resume, and the others get also-rans from other G5 conferences. Think about that for a second. What if Stanford won the Pac-12 and went to a bowl game against a 7-5 team that finished third in its division?
Playoffs aside, there's an established pecking order to the Power Five's bowls. If you're in the SEC and you end up in Birmingham or Shreveport, you know it wasn't a great season. If you end up in New Orleans or Atlanta, it probably was a year to remember.
There's no reason the G5 can't have a similar pecking order, at least on a rotating basis.
Here are two ways to make bowls better for Group of Five title winners. The commissioners can mail me a big check once they decide which to use.
1. Champions Play Champions: The Sun Belt Champ plays the MAC Champ and the C-USA Champ plays the Mountain West Champ, for example. The overall top G5er gets an access bowl, why can't the other four play each other? Since G5 bowls don't have an established pecking order and generally haven't been around that long, rotate around which ones get the champs and which ones get the also-rans, and rotate which two conferences face off.
You may have noticed this already happens at the top, where six bowls rotate being playoff semifinal sites some years and regular old bowls -- with also-rans -- in other years.
2. Champions Play Powers: As much fun as it is to beat a conference champ, it doesn't get much better for G5 fans than winning over a P5er. Giving them a shot to do just that at season's end would be the perfect way to start the holidays.
Of the two scenarios, this might be easier to do since the P5 team obviously won't need to be a conference champion. Take the Birmingham Bowl, for instance. It's not much on its surface, especially if you know what Legion Field looks like, with 6-6 Auburn facing 9-3 Memphis.
But there's some intrigue since we'll get to see if overachieving Memphis can beat a second SEC team and gain some respect for the AAC (which needs it after an 0-5 start to bowl season).
Western Kentucky could really put an exclamation point on its 12-win season by beating an ACC or SEC squad. Bowling Green could get a shot at going 3-0 against the B1G. San Diego State could battle for SoCal street cred with a matchup against UCLA or USC.
And for the Power Five team, a win means they can say they beat a champion, a "team that's used to winning." Again, you can rotate which bowl gets which teams to keep all the execs happy.
In a world where the conferences are made up and the bowls don't matter, why not?