As an Ohio State assistant for 15 years, Luke Fickell was part of two Buckeyes teams that posted undefeated records and reached the national championship game, plus two others that played for the title with one loss. But at Cincinnati last season, an undefeated record only got Fickell a No. 8 College Football Playoff ranking, behind two teams with multiple losses.

“We were very fortunate at Ohio State, when you were in those situations, to always be the one that did get it,” he said recently.

Fickell isn’t one to ruffle feathers and pound the table, but he was frustrated with Cincinnati’s ranking last season. His conference commissioner, the AAC’s Mike Aresco, did the campaigning before and after the season, questioning the selection committee’s decision-making and the structure of the College Football Playoff itself.

But the championship opportunity that has for so long been out of reach may be on the horizon — if the power brokers of the sport allow it.

Playoff expansion, a perennial offseason talking point, is more tangible than ever, with a four-person working group actively exploring models for the CFP and CFP executive director Bill Hancock openly acknowledging the discussions. It’s clear that conversations around the subject continue to progress, and more and more administrators around the sport use the word “inevitable,” privately and publicly. What remains unknown is the size that will be agreed upon and when the new format will start.

For 59 football programs in five conferences that have not earned a spot in the four-team bracket, there is one pressing question: In an expanded field, will the Group of 5 get an automatic bid? Should the highest-ranked G5 champion get a designated spot? For the G5, it’s an existential question, one that will either permanently widen or slow the growing cavernous gap between the FBS classifications.