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Friday, July 10, 2020

Football

Cougar opener will make season-long impact regardless of outcome


Senior safety Trevon Stewart makes confetti angels after the game. |

Rest time is over for the Cougars as they are scheduled to open their season against the No. 3 ranked team in the country. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

It’s not often that the first game of a season holds as much weight as the Cougars’ in 2016 —especially when they face the University of Oklahoma Sooners on Sept. 3.

In the playoff-era of college football, every game is critiqued harsher than ever before. The Cougars will open their season versus a Big 12 Conference power, providing them with an early opportunity to make a forceful statement to the nation.

With Big 12 expansion speculations looming, the Cougars have been gifted the opportunity to prove they are capable of competing with another Power-Five opponent.

The opener will also have a drastic effect on the entire College Football Playoff landscape at the end of the season. The outcome and manner in which the game is played will be an influencing agent in playoff committee discussions.

In the two seasons that the playoff system has been used in college football, the playoff committee has proven they do not favor Group of Five teams with weaker schedules and insignificant wins. Although the Cougars eventually landed in the Peach Bowl, many considered them under-ranked for much of the season.

Barring any significant injuries or upsets, the Cougars are expected to run the table in the American Athletic Conference. A solid showing against Oklahoma combined with a conference championship will likely spell another automatic bid for a New Year’s Six bowl game.

However, a win against Oklahoma would mean much more for the Cougars. It surely will shake up the entire playoff selection process this season.

An undefeated Cougars team would make the selection process difficult for the committee. They would be forced to consider putting a Group of Five team in the Top 4 to battle for a national championship for the first time.

Although this has yet to happen, there is precedent set for the Cougars’ case as being a top ranked team.

In 2016, the University of Iowa Hawkeyes were controversially ranked in the Top 4 due to their undefeated record although their schedule lacked quality wins.

This bodes well for the Cougars entering 2016 despite being a Group of Five team. The committee has proven they will reward perfection over strength of schedule in most cases. Perfection is a goal the Cougars have been adamant about achieving, after falling short by only one game last season.

The opportunity for the Cougars to break through the glass ceiling set over Group of Five universities is here. With a playoff system that is tailored toward the Power Five, and has recently favored the Southeastern Conference, the Cougars are facing an uphill battle.

Besides Oklahoma, later matchups against the University of Cincinnati Bearcats and University of Louisville Cardinals prove the quality games are there for the Cougars.

The outcome against Oklahoma will not affect football’s quest for another conference championship, but it has the potential to propel the season to new heights.

When the Cougars face off against Oklahoma, they will be looking to continue to prove that they are not just a “Group of Five Cinderella story.”

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