Don’t you dare forget about the Group of Five conferences lingering in the corner outside the orbit of the College Football Playoff. Didn’t the 2017 National Champion come from this group, after all? Unfortunately, as we head into the 5th season of the altered post-season these league members are fighting more than ever for respect and recognition.
Summary of Last Year
Your conference champions included Central Florida, Florida Atlantic, Toledo, Boise State, while Troy and Appalachian State shared the Sun Belt crown. You can expect most of these teams to be directly in the mix once again in 2018.
Only 4 teams finished the season ranked including UCF #6, Memphis #19, Boise State #22, and USF #23. Central Florida owned the whole season with a miraculous 13-0 season capped off with wins over 4 ranked teams, including a Peach Bowl victory over Auburn.
Only one G6 team finished inside the Top 50 of the recruiting rankings and that was a surprising Cincinnati (#47) program coming off a 4-8 season. The other top teams included: Boise State #56, USF #64, Toledo #65, FIU #66, and take a look at Tulane #68!
The Group of 5 top recruit for 2018 is Cincinnati tight end Leonard Taylor who checks in as the No. 299th overall player in the country.
Top Out of Conference Game(s)
UCF at North Carolina
Georgia Tech at USF
Memphis at Missouri
Navy vs. Notre Dame
Arizona at Houston
Boise State at Troy
Boise State at Oklahoma State
Fresno State at Minnesota
Arizona State at San Diego State
Northern Illinois at Iowa
FAU at Oklahoma
FAU at UCF
Appalachian State at Penn State
Troy at Nebraska
There are a lot of games to choose from, but if we’re picking from the potential national contenders I’m really focusing on the bolded above. Both Boise State and Florida Atlantic are not playing around outside of their conference this year.
Most Important League Game(s)
AAC: UCF at USF
Conference USA: UAB at Louisiana Tech
MAC: Ohio at Miami (OH)
Mountain West: San Diego State at Fresno State
Sun Belt: Troy at Appalachian State
As is the case with most conferences the Group of 5 leagues mostly have imbalanced divisions at this moment in time. The big exception would be the AAC which is also the strongest G5 league by a wide margin. Most are expecting USF to take a step back from last year, and UCF probably won’t go undefeated again, but their rivalry should be one of the best conference games of the season again.
Sell 2018: Houston
It’s year two of Major Applewhite with the Cougars and he’ll be replacing half his starters from a year ago. The offense went through fits in 2017 (28.3 points per game) and lost the edge from the Herman years. Most expect a fight for the West division in the AAC, although a pair of Power 5 programs await early in the season to add fatigue plus both Navy and Memphis will be road games.
Buy 2018: Buffalo
Don’t sleep on the Bulls! Lance Leipold is entering his 4th season in Western New York and is coming off a 6-win season last year. That’s the 3rd most wins for Buffalo over the last 20 years. They have a sneaky good quarterback in Tyree Jackson, lots of pieces coming back all over the roster, and might win 7 or even 8 games. I’m not kidding.
Offensive Player of the Year: QB McKenzie Milton, UCF
Last year this award featured plenty of competition between Milton, Rashaad Penny, Riley Ferguson, and Quinton Flowers. For 2018, Milton should absolutely own this race from start to finish. Those other contenders are gone and he’s coming off a 4,000-yard passing and 600-yard rushing season with 45 touchdowns.
Defensive Player of the Year: DT Ed Oliver, Houston
Putting up 39 tackles for loss through 2 seasons is good, ya’ll. Oliver is such a heavy favorite you shouldn’t even bet on anyone else winning.
League Title Game(s)
AAC: UCF vs. Navy
Conference USA: FAU vs. UAB
MAC: Toledo vs. Miami (OH)
Mountain West: Boise State vs. Fresno State
Fresh off an off-season contract extension how about Chuck Martin making the MAC title game!?? Okay, they’d likely be significant underdogs in the game but getting there would be a nice accomplishment. Martin almost pulled it off two years ago and is in a good spot to make another run in a pretty weak conference where a few of the top teams from last year should take a step back.
It’s lining up to be a disappointing year across the Group of 5 leagues. UCF with a new coach likely can’t approach their amazing run from last fall, Toledo just had their best season this century, and Boise State won 11 games only to be granted the honor of facing 7-win Oregon in a bowl game. Push all your chips in on a Florida Atlantic undefeated season with crazy Lane Kiffin!