Earlier I wrote about games involving Group of 5 vs. Power 5 teams for those who want to dip their toe in the Group of 5 pool (which you can read about here). But for those who want to dive into the deep end, this post is for you.
Thanks in part to smaller conferences looking to gain exposure, college football is almost a 7-days-a-week operation. The MAC kinda spearheaded the movement by agreeing to have games televised on Wednesdays (since Thursdays were occupied by the ACC and Fridays by the Big 10). Then with all the uncertainty of last year, teams jumped on the opportunity to play any day they could. So
The reality is, there is always one G5 team represented in a major bowl. And if you’ve paid attention, you’ve seen that team be quite successful in said bowl game. In 2015 it was Houston thumping Florida St., two years later UCF beat Auburn to cap off an undefeated season, and last year Cincinnati hung with Georgia before losing on a last second field goal. (All these games were Chick-fil-A Peach Bowls oddly enough.)
So with that in mind, here are 10 games involving Group of 5 teams facing each other that I find interesting. Most, if not all of them, will play a part in determining who will be this year’s fly in the CFP ointment.
Boise St. at UCF (Thurs., Sept. 2)
There is some weird symmetry here, with Bryan Harsin leaving Boise to take the Auburn job that used to be held by…new UCF head coach Gus Malzahn. The Malzahn-Dillon Gabriel coach/quarterback pairing is going to be very interesting to watch, as Malzahn actually does his best work with a mobile quarterback. But Gabriel probably has a better arm than any Auburn quarterback Gus has coached. I’m not super high on Boise this year, so if the Golden Knights offense is clicking, this game could get out of hand, but it’s an interesting storyline nonetheless.
Air Force at Navy (Sept. 11)
I think I said it all with the introduction. Two military schools facing each other on the 20 year anniversary of 9/11. When they say “throw the records out when (insert teams here) play, this is what they mean.
East Carolina at Marshall (Sept. 18)
I consider these two teams under-the-radar for 2021. East Carolina always feels like one of those teams that should be better than they are, and Marshall I always think is better than they actually are. Fun fact: This is a rematch of a 2001 GMAC Bowl game that ended with a 64-61 overtime victory. On the 20th anniversary, could we get a similar game? If quarterbacks Holton Ahlers of East Carolina and Grant Wells of Marshalls have anything to say about it, maybe.
San Jose St. at Western Michigan (Sept. 25)
You know how college basketball has a day where mid-majors all play each other in a non-conference matchups in February so you will remember who they are in March? This game feels like one of those games scheduled to accomplish the same thing, so when they have a rematch in the Idaho Potato Bowl or whatever, you will care. San Jose St. won the Mountain West Last year and return seemingly 11th year quarterback Nick Starkel, while Western Michigan has hyper-efficient sophomore Kaleb Eleby back to lead the Bronco offense. I’m not saying it is going to have an impact on the College Football Playoff or anything, but it should be a really fun game.
UCF at Cincinnati (Oct. 16)
Arguably the AAC matchup of the year. And if Cincinnati is somehow still undefeated at this point (which means they will have defeated Notre Dame and Indiana) then this could be the toughest challenge remaining on their way to an undefeated season, a playoff berth and shattering the glass ceiling for Group of 5 teams everywhere.
Coastal Carolina at Appalachian St. (Wed., Oct. 20)
Since the consensus two best teams in the Sun Belt, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana, are not scheduled to face each other, this is the de facto regular season game of the year in the conference. App State may not be as good as Mountaineer teams of recent memory, but they are still a tough out. Coastal Carolina brings back a lot from their outstanding team from last year, but the element of surprise is long gone. Wednesday night in Boone, North Carolina never sounded so exciting.
SMU at Memphis (Nov. 6)
These two teams may be just a notch below Cincinnati in the AAC pecking order, but they are neck and neck with each other. Two years ago, the teams met in a Top 20 showdown on ABC Saturday Night Football (won by Memphis 54-48). Last year, SMU won on a last second field goal. This game is bound to be entertaining.
UAB at UTSA (Nov. 20)
UAB is more than just a feel-good story after having their football program discontinued in 2014 then resuming in 2019. They are the defending Conference USA champs. UTSA is a team on the rise that could soon challenge UAB for C-USA supremacy.
Louisiana at Liberty (Nov. 20)
Both teams may be looking for a resume boost to represent the Group of 5 in a major bowl game. This feels like one of those games – much like Coastal Carolina vs. BYU last year – that was scheduled on a whim. I don’t think that’s the case. Regardless, the quarterback duel between Levi Lewis (Louisiana) and Malik Willis (Liberty) should be fun. Louisiana and Liberty has a couple Ls. On November 20, one of them will have one more.
See what I did there?
Buffalo at Ball St. (Tues., Nov. 23)
The MAC is one of the most wide-open conferences in college football. Though the sample size last year was small (some teams played as few as 3 games) these two teams rose above the rest. They met in the conference championship won by Ball St. 30-27. Though several teams could stake a claim to that game this year (Toledo, Western Michigan, Kent St. among them) expect this season finale to have a say in who is the MAC champion.
MACtion baby. Gotta love it.