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The SMU Mustangs won the American Athletic Conference championship Saturday, defeating the Tulane Green Wave 26-14, and finished the 2023 season 11-2.

On Sunday, the College Football Playoff Committee awarded the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl selection to 13-0 Liberty of Conference USA, not to SMU. The Flames are going to the Fiesta Bowl to face Pac 12 runner-up Oregon while SMU will head to the Fenway Bowl to take on Boston College.

There is a compelling argument that SMU would be the better opponent for the Ducks, despite having two losses on the season. While Liberty finished 2023 undefeated the Flames strength of schedule ranked 132nd out of 133 FBS teams. SMU’s schedule, however, ranked 71st, 61 places better than Liberty.

When looking at SMU’s two losses, at Oklahoma and at TCU, the only games on Liberty’s schedule that come close in comparison to either game are the two games Liberty played at home against New Mexico State. Oklahoma was originally slated for a home-and-home series against Georgia with the first game to be played in 2023. However, when the Sooners announced they were going to be members of the SEC starting in 2024 the conference realized a return game was not going to be possible as out-of-conference members and pushed for the cancellation of the series. Oklahoma then reached out to SMU to fill the void in their 2023 schedule, played in Norman, while the return game in 2027 will be in Dallas.

But another metric used by the College Football Playoff Committee is “the eye test”, how a team looks. Ask Florida State how that worked out for them with the committee. And that is where the confusion comes in with regards to SMU.

When asked about why Florida State was left out of the CFP, chairman Boo Corrigan said, “I think it’s one of the questions that we do ask, is from a coaching standpoint, you know, who do you want to play, who do you not want to play.”

So that now begs the question, why wasn’t that logic used when awarding the Group of Five spots in the New Year’s Six bowls? When you break down the resumes of Liberty and SMU you see a huge difference in both competition and results.

The difference in strength of schedule is the glaring metric, but then we circle back to that eye test. And SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee was asked his opinion about who should be in the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon.

“If you watched our game and you watched the game on Friday night,” (between Oregon and Washington), Lashlee said, “anybody who understands football couldn’t have deduced anything different than who would give Oregon the best game.”

So why were the metrics used to keep Florida State out of the CFP also used to put Liberty into the Fiesta Bowl? Using the eye test with SMU, both over the 2023 season and in the AAC Championship Game against Tulane, one may conclude that SMU would give Oregon the better game.

Lashlee responded to the news of his team’s snub from the New Year’s 6 bowl game by giving credit to Liberty and accepting the Mustang's situation. He understands that no matter what he says now, nothing will change the fact that SMU will be playing Boston College in the Fenway Bowl.

“It doesn’t matter. Nobody cared what I thought then; they don’t care now,” Lashlee said. “Again, good for Liberty, good for us. We did what we needed to do. And we’re going to choose to celebrate this team. And we’ll choose to try to finish this season on a high note. That (a NY6 bowl) would have been great and been a lot of fun, but it’s going to be a lot of fun to go to Fenway.”

It should have been a lot of fun playing in Fenway Park, but it would have been much more fun to play in the Fiesta Bowl. Had the CFP committee used the same method for the NY6 bowl game selection as they did with the CFP selection we would have the better matchup for Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.


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