Anyone can give you, dear reader, a preview of the college football season. See, watch this…
Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio St., Clemson and Georgia are all going to be really, really good. Four of them are probably going to the CFP.
I’m not exactly breaking news, and I don’t want to regurgitate the same things that a lot of other people are saying, but here is another actual little known fact…There is a lot of good football out there to be consumed. You just have to know where to find it.
Fellow Walk-On Redshirts writer Aaron crushed it with the Power 5 previews. Being more a fan of the underdog, I concentrate my efforts on the Group of 5 conferences. (Which I cleverly referenced in the headline if you “see what I did there”.)
Rather than give extensive previews for the lesser-known conferences, I figured I would provide six easily-digestible observations (three positive, three not-so-much) for the Group of 5 conferences this college football season. Three positive and optimistic, three a bit more realistic. We’ll start with the good news, because I’m not a monster.
1.“Fun Belt” is more than a clever nickname
Last year the college football was introduced to the Sun Belt Conference when three teams from the conference (Louisiana, Arkansas St., Coastal Carolina) defeated three Big 12 teams (Iowa St., Kansas St., Kansas) Week One. At the time, it was considered a plight on the Big 12, but at the end of the year, both Louisiana and Coastal Carolina established themselves as Top 25 teams.
So what will they do for an encore?
Both teams begin the season in the Top 25 and will probably be tied to each other’s success. But the Sun Belt is more than a two-team conference. Before there was Louisiana and Coastal Carolina, there was Appalachian St. looking to crash the New Year’s Six party. And don’t overlook Arkansas St. this year either under new coach Butch Jones and incoming transfer James Blackman (Florida St.). The Red Wolves are a competent defense away from getting back to the upper echelon of the conference.
2. Expect the unexpected
If you are looking for good quarterback play, look no further than the MAC. Dustin Crum leads the highest scoring offense in 2020 in Kent St. Kaleb Eleby was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in college football for Western Michigan. Division champions Ball St. and Buffalo both return their starters (Drew Plitt and Kyle Vantrease respectively) and Power 5 transfers Jacob Sirmon of Washington and Rocky Lombardi of Michigan St. look to take Central Michigan and Northern Illinois to new heights. Add in perennial conference threat Toledo and this conference is completely wide open. Those mid-week MACtion games are must-see.
3. A changing of the guard?
Last year’s MW conference championship game had traditional power Boise St. facing upstart San Jose St. I don’t see either team getting back. Boise St. was showing cracks last year, which may have prompted Bryan Harsin’s move to Auburn, while San Jose St. came from out of nowhere last year, but I don’t trust teams that do that to be sustainable.
Nevada has been ascending over the past couple years and have possible first round quarterback Carson Strong orchestrating their high-octane offense. Another team to watch is Wyoming, who has arguably the best running back in a conference loaded with good ones. (Xazavian Valladay, who I am going to nickname “Scrabble” if no one has yet.) And of course teams like Air Force, San Diego St. and Fresno St. lurk in the mountainous shadows.
Now the bad news. (Sorry Cincinnati fans, this one might sting.)
1. Good but not good enough
Cincinnati is getting some early-season hype, and rightfully so, but if you are looking for someone to crash the Playoff party, look elsewhere.
There seems to be a clear hierarchy in the rankings, with 5 teams all battling for 4 spots. Cincinnati is not one of those 5, so they probably need to go undefeated (against a schedule that includes Indiana and Notre Dame) AND have several teams ranked above them lose once, maybe even twice. It would help if teams like Texas A&M and Iowa St. fail to fulfill expectations. I’m not on the committee so I can’t say for sure, but let’s just say that the Bearcats should just be happy winning their conference and putting the fear of God in someone in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
2. Conference WhoSA
I’ll admit, if pressed, there are some teams that I forget whether they are in the Sun Belt or Conference USA. (If I told you Appalachian St. was playing Marshall, you could easily think it was a conference game. They are and it isn’t.) With the recent rise of the level of play in the Sun Belt, that has kind of squeezed C-USA out of the G5 picture. Conference champion UAB is a fun story, as they were able to revive their football team after budget cuts forced them to dissolve it several years ago, but their brand of football is not as eye-catching as fellow G5 teams in the south such as Coastal Carolina and Liberty (who interestingly enough, they play October 2). There are a couple possible sleeping giants in UTSA and Southern Miss, but it would help if someone could get a signature non-conference win to draw eyes to the conference as a whole. It could be Western Kentucky, who gets Indiana at home.
3. The downside of parity
As mentioned above, there is a lot of good in the MAC. The problem is, it is just that. Good. Some team needs to be great. With seemingly every team playing at least one non-conference game that they are unlikely to win for the sake of the almighty dollar, there appears to be a glass ceiling just too difficult to break through. But if a team like Ball St. for example can get a victory in Happy Valley against Penn St., that could catapult them into the NY6 discussion.
I’ll try to give week-by-week observations along this theme throughout the year. Because let’s face it, Alabama can share some love with South Alabama.