Has everyone calmed down after the coaching carousel spun out of control and transfer portal swallowed up seemingly hundreds of players over the past couple of days? Good, because there are still games this weekend. Very important ones, actually. Granted, only one actually has any bearing on the College Football Playoff, but let’s consider that progress.
So let’s take a bit of a deep dive into each G5 Conference Championship and see what it may mean for the teams involved.
American Athletic Conference
#21 Houston at #4 Cincinnati (Saturday, 4 p.m. on ABC)
What’s at stake: See that #4 next to Cincinnati? It’s kind of a big deal.
The winner of this game very likely represents the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl. If Cincinnati wins, that will in all likelihood be a playoff game. As it should be. I mentioned in a previous column that all they needed to do was keep winning and watch the world burn around them and sure enough, that’s what has happened. But there is one more obstacle in their way, a very good Houston Cougar squad whose only loss came in the first week of the season.
It probably goes without saying, but there is a lot of pressure on Cincinnati to win this game. They essentially are carrying the weight of the Group of 5 on their shoulders. Not to mention swirling rumors of Luke Fickell going to Notre Dame. I think they will come out a bit tight, and Clayton Tune and the Houston offense is good enough to capitalize. I think the Bearcats are in a dogfight, but playing at home will help them edge out a victory.
Prediction: Cincinnati 33, Houston 27
Western Kentucky at UTSA (Friday, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
What’s at stake: The winner likely takes on BYU in the Independence Bowl, while the loser may have to “settle” for a New Orleans Bowl bid. If a trip to Bourbon Street is your consolation prize, that’s not so bad.
RIP UTSA’s undefeated season. You were too perfect for this world anyway.
The fact of the matter is that last Saturday was prime for a Roadrunner letdown. They had just come off a dramatic, last-second victory over UAB to clinch the West Division, then had to travel to Denton, Texas to face a hot Mean Green squad fighting for their bowl lives. By the way, did you know that North Texas and Old Dominion both finished the season winning five games in a row? Did you also know those are not the longest current streaks in CUSA? Because UTSA’s conference championship game opponent, Western Kentucky, are winners of seven games in a row.
The Hilltoppers took their lumps early on thanks to a difficult non-conference schedule (Army, Michigan St., Indiana) and a conference opening game against…UTSA. However, WKU hasn’t lost since their 52-46 shootout loss to UTSA in Bowling Green. Quarterback Bailey Zappe is 32 yards away from 5,000 on the year and this offense is clicking on all cylinders. While I still love the Roadrunners, the expectation of going undefeated finally got to them and this is not the team to try to bounce back against.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 51, UTSA 45
MAC (Saturday, Noon, ESPN)
Kent St. vs. Northern Illinois
What’s at stake: Big picture, not a whole lot. The conference has kind of devoured themselves, so the winner of this game doesn’t get anything more than a Quick Lane Bowl bid or whatever.
These two teams played about four weeks ago in the most MACtion-y game ever won by the Golden Flashes 52-47. However, Rocky Lombardi may not be 100% this time around. (He sat out last week.) And if NIU’s 43-21 loss last week against Western Michigan was any indication, they need him. Backup quarterback Ethan Hampton threw for 69 feet. (Nice. But seriously, 23 yards passing.)
Kent St. meanwhile, have proven that they can score against anyone in the MAC behind Dustin Crum. Their lowest output against a conference foe was 27 points against Bowling Green in their conference opener, which they won. Count on them to be able to do at least that against the Huskies.
Prediction: Kent St., 41, Northern Illinois, 20
Mountain West (Saturday, 3 p.m., Fox)
Utah St. at #19 San Diego St.
What’s at stake: San Diego St. has an outside chance at a New Year’s Six bowl, though Houston will likely jump ahead of them if they beat Cincinnati. It remains to be seen if Cincy would fall behind either team, but that’s probably moot.
The Aztecs have one loss, to Fresno St., and a win over Utah that looks better and better as the season goes on. Utah St. has also beaten a Pac-12 team, defeating Washington St. Week One in a game that everyone thought at the time said more about the Cougars than Utah St.
San Diego St. has been mostly reliant on their defense all year. If their offense was built out of the same stuff as their defense, they are probably an undefeated team. The Aggies are no slouch, winning 6 of their last 7, but their loss was a clunker to Wyoming. Being prone to such games gives me cause for concern that they can put up the points they need to against the Aztecs.
Prediction: San Diego St. 27, Utah St., 17
Sun Belt (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Appalachian St. at #24 Louisiana
What’s at stake: The winner goes to a bowl game determined by ESPN. The loser may actually face the loser of the CUSA Championship game in New Orleans.
Speaking of teams that haven’t lost since the last time they played their conference championship foe, I present the 10-2 Appalachian St. Mountaineers!! The last time we saw them face the Ragin Cajuns, they got the doors blown off of them 41-13 in Lafayette.
App St. is really hot right now and has revenge on their mind against a team that embarrassed them about six weeks ago. Louisiana is probably not making a NY6 bowl, but Billy Napier will be coaching this game. (Remember when Florida hired him? That seems like forever ago.) Both teams have a lot of motivation, so I expect a good game. I just think App St. is better than they showed last time.
Prediction: Appalachian St. 34, Louisiana 28