Who’s next? Examining the winningest programs without a CFP appearance

The College Football Playoff’s selection is limited but a new item does appear on the menu from time to time.

Michigan and Cincinnati became the latest programs to break through and reach the four-team field last season. Neither advanced beyond the semifinals, but the Wolverines and Bearcats provided hope for others that parity could become more common in a sport so often dominated by the same handful of teams.

Still, the elite are elite and the first eight seasons of the playoff has only reinforced the mantra. Thirteen programs have reached the College Football Playoff and only five have won the national title since the introduction of the four-team format in 2014.

But after Michigan finally unseated Ohio State in the Big Ten and Cincinnati became the first Group of Five school to be included in the playoff, hope blossoms across the country. Several programs have been on the cusp of greatness. Michigan and Cincy were among those teams just a year ago. Who will be the next team to make the big leap?

First, let’s take a look at the programs with the most wins since the inception of the CFP.

Most wins without CFP appearance (since 2014)

1. Appalachian State (80)
2. Boise State (76)
3. Wisconsin (75)
T-4. Oklahoma State (72)
T-4. San Diego State (72)
6. Memphis (71)
7. Iowa (70)
8. Utah: (68)
9. Penn State (67)
T-10. BYU (65)
T-10. Florida: (65)
T-10. Louisiana (65)
T-10. Marshall (65)
T-10. Texas A&M (65)
T-10. UCF (65)
16. Houston (64)
T-17. TCU (63)
T-17. Toledo (63)
T-17. Western Kentucky (63)
T-20. Air Force (62)
T-20. Auburn (62)
T-22. Baylor (61)
T-22. Miami (61)
T-22. NC State (61)
T-22. Western Michigan (61)

It’s not a surprise to see Appalachian State and Boise State near the top of the list, but in a world where conditions must be perfect for Group of Five schools, the best bet for the next breakthrough team is in the Power Five.

So, let’s rank the teams with the best opportunities to reach the CFP for the first time before the field likely expands in 2026.



Cincinnati became the first Group of 5 school to reach the playoff, but it needed an almost perfect set of circumstances to play with the big boys. The Bearcats not only needed an undefeated season, but they also had the benefit of a high preseason ranking thanks to a stellar 2020 season and then followed it up with a road win against a legitimate top-10 Notre Dame team. Such opportunities are few for Group of Five schools, but Appalachian State might have the best opportunities among the non-Power Five schools.

App State hosts North Carolina and travels to Texas A&M this fall, and that provides an opportunity for a win against a top-10 team. Trips to UNC in 2023 and Clemson in 2024 also provide opportunities, and a road game at South Carolina in 2025 could be big if the Gamecocks continue to rise under coach Shane Beamer.

Author: Lucy Green