Is it ever too early to predict which group of five team has the best chance to receive the New Years Six? Probably, but do we care? No. Today we are going to look at the five teams with the best chance to receive the bid. When making this list, I based it on who was returning and potential arrivals or departures. With that said, let’s jump right in!
- Cincinnati – This should be the easiest one. We just did our preview for Cincinnati the other day. Luke Fickell returns a strong core of players including starting quarterback Desmond Ridder. Cincinnati’s non conference schedule includes games against Notre Dame and Indiana. Cincinnati should be the most talented team in the American Athletic Conference in 2021. The Bearcats ranked 8th in points allowed last season and should rank in the top 10 again next season. Even if Cincinnati loses a game, they should still be in great position to make another appearance in a New Year Six bowl game.
- Louisiana – Billy Napier returns as head coach for Louisiana after going 10-1 in 2020. Their only loss came on the road to Coastal Carolina by three points. Both Louisiana and Coastal Carolina are expected to be strong contenders in 2021. With games against Liberty and Texas, Louisiana will have their fair share of opportunities to impress the voters on why they are a top 25 team and are deserving of the bid. Last season Louisiana averaged over 33 points per game. Do not be surprised if that number rises next season.
- Coastal Carolina – Grayson McCall was one of the best quarterbacks in 2020 and should continue to get better. McCall completed over 68% of his passes and only threw three interceptions. The main issue for Coastal Carolina is they lack games to help build a resume. Their non conference games consist of Kansas, Buffalo and The Citadel. Even if Coastal Carolina goes undefeated, would they get passed over by a team with one loss but better wins? It is a legitimate concern. Head coach Jamey Chadwell is in good position to reach double digit wins next year.
- San Jose State – One team that received little attention during the 2020 season was San Jose State. They went 7-1 with their lone loss coming in the Arizona Bowl against Ball State. Journeyman quarterback Nick Starkel started all eight games for the Spartans and will be returning in 2021. Starkel threw 17 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. The Spartans defense was their bread and butter. They allowed less than 20 points per game. San Jose State plays USC early in the year. If they can upset the Trojans, they could have the early track to the New Year Six bowl bid.
- UCF – With the recent news of Gus Malzahn taking the UCF job, I believe UCF will have a strong season in 2021. There are rumors that quarterback Dillon Gabriel could be looking for a new home which would move them off of this list. While he is still on the roster, UCF remains in the top 5. Wide receiver Jaylon Robinson returns after having over 900 yards in his sophomore season. Malzahn’s offense succeeds when he has a strong rushing attack. UCF loses their top two rushers from 2020. Malzahn will need to find his cowbell back in order to lead UCF back to another New Year Six bowl game.
Honorable Mention: Ball State, Appalachian State, SMU, Buffalo