Now that Week Zero is in the books, it is time for a slightly more data-driven “Good news bad new5”. Last week I offered an overarching preview of the Group of 5 (which you can read here). Each week I will preview the G5 landscape, trying to highlight some of the more newsworthy teams and games along the way. Some teams will pleasantly surprise and some will disappoint. (Looking at you Hawai’i.) It’s just the nature of the sport. Without further ado…here we go!
1. Football is BACK in full.
That’s the goodest of good news.
2. UTSA has Illinois right where they want them.
If you are drinking the orange Kool-Aid, be careful it isn’t poisoned.
Illinois looked better than expected Saturday in their win over Nebraska. However, let’s keep a couple things in perspective:
1. Nebraska is a complete dumpster fire.
2. Illinois lost their starting quarterback in the first quarter of that game to injury.
3. Illinois isn’t above a letdown.
4. UTSA may be really, really good.
UTSA has been building something in a Conference USA that is in desperate need of a team to carry their banner. In fact, I’m on record somewhere on the internet saying that they COULD go undefeated this year. Getting a win against an Illinois team riding high right now might be just the thing to springboard them to a magical season.
3. G5 Conference Supremacy already at stake.
Some people may view a game like Boise St. vs. UCF as Group of 5 cannibalization. There is likely only one NY6 Bowl spot available for a team not in a power conference, and having two teams play each other knowing that one will lose and possibly knock itself out of consideration isn’t doing the AAC or Mountain West any favors.
Poppycock I say.
First off, the game is being played on Thursday night, where they will garner the attention of any fans that doesn’t care about Ohio St. (There are other games going on, but this is probably the highest profile one.) Assuming a competitive game, that will offer a lasting image, especially if both teams have successful season. Secondly, there is a lot of attention being paid to G5 teams like Cincinnati, Louisiana and Coastal Carolina. A win by either team likely puts them in the Top 25 and gets them in the mind of the Playoff committee early (especially UCF, who plays the aforementioned Cincinnati). You need those people watching you and your conference all year long if you want any chance of making the playoff.
A rising tide lifts all boats or whatever.
1. We probably didn’t learn anything good about the Mountain West.
San Jose St. and Fresno St. had games Saturday against opponents they were expected to run roughshod over. No surprises were to be found. San Jose St. used a big-play offense to beat FCS foe Southern Utah, while Fresno St. overwhelmed a UCONN team that looked like it hadn’t played a game in almost two years. I don’t think we learned anything about each team after those wins. However, both have Pac-12 opponents this weekend (USC for San Jose St. and Oregon for Fresno St.) that will tell us a lot more.
Which brings us to the third Mountain West team that played Week Zero, Hawai’i.
Their run defense was absolutely gashed by a UCLA team that was honestly not even trying to gameplan for this game. The Bruins rushed for 244 yards, most of that in the first quarter. From there, they were on cruise control. Hawai’i, a bowl team last year, never could get anything going in their 44-10 loss. A team with a struggling offense and serious flaws on defense (especially run defense) will not do well in the Mountain West.
2. A hurricane not named Miami is coming through the south.
First things first, the damage Hurricane Ida has done and is continuing to do is very real. I lived in Mississippi last year and have family who lives there today, so I have a vague idea of what Hurricane Season is like. It’s no bueno. Ts and Ps to everyone in the South.
Now, from a football perspective, there is no word yet on if games will be postponed. However, Tulane had what was a home game against Oklahoma turned into a road trip to Norman.
Again, no bueno.
Granted, Tulane could probably play Oklahoma on the moon and still be a 3 TD underdog. But having a home game that would have really garnered excitement in New Orleans taken away because of a natural disaster is asking a lot. Hopefully the events of this week don’t have an affect on an AAC team with visions of a bowl game.
3. Relegation might be something worth looking into.
UCONN looked Bishop Sycamore-levels of bad in their 45-0 loss to Fresno St. Saturday. Admittedly, seeing a team travel cross-country to be competitive against a good opponent when they themselves haven’t played in almost two years is asking a lot. But UCONN…what was that?
Here’s the thing though, New Mexico St. saw that pathetic performance and said “hold my beer”.
They were beaten thoroughly by a not-as-good-as-Fresno-St. team in UTEP, 30-3. Neither the Aggies or the Huskies reached 200 yards of total offense. Neither the Aggies or the Huskies are desirable enough for conference to invite them to join (may as well add UMASS to that as well). Why not just make all 3 FCS schools and be done with it?
5 G5 Games to keep an eye on:
I know there is a ton of great college football on this weekend. But here are five games involving Group of 5 teams that may be under-the radar and should be a part of the channel surfing rotation. Keep in mind, I am not predicting upsets in these games necessarily, nor am I necessarily advocating gambling on any of these games (even though for a few I would). I’m just saying…don’t forget about the fact these games are happening.
So, a couple quick rules:
I wrote a whole thing about potential GS vs. P5 upsets (which you can read here) so I’ve already talked a bit about Louisiana vs. Texas among other intriguing games. Read that. Also, all these games are taking place on Saturday, when it is easy for them to get lost among the plethora of options. If you aren’t locked in on East Carolina vs. Appalachian St. on Thursday night then I don’t know what to tell you.
1. Army at Georgia St. (Noon, ESPNU)
Army appears to be the cream of the military school crop currently in college football. They will be facing a Georgia St. returning all 11 starters on offense, including quarterback Cornelius Brown IV, who would have garnered a lot more buzz as the top quarterback in the conference if not for the meteoric rise of Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall and Louisiana’s Levi Lewis. Their defense struggled to stop the run last year, however. Not ideal when playing a service academy.
2. Marshall vs. Navy (3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Even though I like UTSA, the Conference USA race is pretty wide open. As a defending division champion, Marshall is one of the teams in the discussion, even though a three game losing streak to end the season has had them fallen off the radar a bit. Meanwhile Navy struggled last year, but they have their seasons where they are scary good. The wishbone is most dangerous when they have returning experience running it, and this year they do have a good amount of returning experience. Their first game of the season usually sets the tone for the rest of the season (See 2020 vs. BYU where they lost 55-3.) Expect them to be much more prepared for Game One this year.
3. San Jose St. at USC (5 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
This game got a bit more interesting after watching San Jose St. last Saturday night. I know I said above there isn’t much to take away from them beating Southern Utah, however the one thing that San Jose St. showed is that they have speed at the skill positions, a trait that translates no matter who the opponent. Of course, USC has as much, if not moreso, but SJSU can at least hang. They also matchup well at the QB position with Nick Starkel just as able to put up numbers as Keaton Slovis. I’m not sold enough on the Spartans defense to predict an upset, but the game will be fun nonetheless.
4. Texas Tech vs. Houston (7 p.m., ESPN)
With the expectations at Cincinnati, excitement of Gus Malzahn’s arrival at UCF, and people talking SMU as sleeper (me, I am people), don’t forget about the Houston Cougars.
Led by quarterback Clayton Tune, Houston starts off their season against a Texas Tech Red Raider squad coming off a losing season but with hopes for a rebound behind Oregon transfer Tyler Shough. Big picture, it’s hard to get a good read on either team, but they are evenly matched, which should make for a fun game.
5. Kent. St at Texas A&M (8 p.m., ESPNU)
If there is ever a time to get the Aggies, it is early. Expectations are high in College Station, but they are breaking in a new quarterback, a couple new linemen and some questionable receivers. Kent St., meanwhile, led all of college football in scoring last year and return pretty much everyone that contributed to that. Luckily for A&M, they have a defense likely to figure out Dustin Crum and a running attack that should be able to control the clock. I don’t think the Flashes win, but don’t expect a blowout.
There are several more games involving G5 teams I could choose from if I’m being honest. Louisiana Tech takes on a Mississippi St. team expected to improve in Year Two under Mike Leach. Heck, even La. Monroe vs. Kentucky has a level of interest based on Rich Rod and Terry Bowden bringing their experience to the Fun Belt. (Remember Coastal Carolina was picked to finish last in the conference last year, look how that turned out.)
Check those batteries in the remote.
G5 Top 10
Here is where I will give my rankings of the best G5 schools. Because when else will Army be considered a Top 10 team?
1. Cincinnati – Not far and away, but definitely the G5 team most likely to crash the playoff party.
2. Coastal Carolina – For better or worse, them and Louisiana are likely to be joined at the hip this year.
3. Louisiana – A win over Texas will make a loud statement.
4. Liberty – An easy schedule and a darkhorse Heisman candidate could keep them in the Top 25 most of the year.
5. San Jose St. – See Louisiana, but replace Texas with USC.
6. UCF – Always a scary team to play with Dillon Gabriel at QB.
7. UTSA – If they beat Illinois, there honestly no reason they can’t go undefeated this year.
8. Ball St. – The MAC is wide open, for now, go with the defending champion.
9. Nevada – The best G5 pro prospect at quarterback is either Malik Willis of Liberty or Carson Strong of Nevada.
10. Army – Games at Ball St., at Liberty and at Wisconsin will be interesting. (Both in real life and for these very important ranking purposes.)
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