The term “upset” is a dirty word in the world of the Group of 5.
It’s proven every year through the non-conference schedule and Bowl season. Group of Five teams can hang with the Big Boys. Look at games like Georgia St. vs. Auburn last year. Or San Diego St. vs. Utah. Or Bowling Green vs. Minnesota. Or, you know, Cincinnati vs. Notre Dame.
Sure, in the case of GSU vs. Auburn it didn’t go the Panthers way, but if you watched the game, you saw how easily it could have.
So with that in mind, I wanted to look at this year’s schedule and see which of the P5 teams are most in danger of a loss that will surely bruise their ego and cause fellow G5 fans to point and laugh like Nelson from The Simpsons.
5. Marshall at Notre Dame (Sept. 10) – Sometimes it’s not about who you play but when you play them.
Think back to just last year, when the vaunted Fighting Irish opened their season with a dogfight against Florida St. While they won the game in overtime, the following week in their home opener against Toledo, they looked lethargic and, quite frankly, probably should have lost to the Rockets.
This year, those very same Golden Domers open their season in Columbus against Ohio St. then follows up with a home opener against a Group of 5 school. Either ND is 1-0 and becomes ripe for a letdown or they lose (likely badly) to OSU and question how good they really are. Either way, they better take Rasheen Ali, Corey Gammage and the rest of the Thundering Herd seriously, because that’s a very good team.
4. Colorado St. at Washington St. (Sept. 17) – Sometimes it’s not about who you play but w…. ok you get it.
The Rams, who will look much different than previous years under new coach Jay Norvell, takes on a Wazzou squad who also runs an Air Raid style with Incarnate Word transfer Cameron Ward at the helm. What makes this such a challenge is this game comes after Washington St. travels to Madison to take on a physical Wisconsin team. To go from that style to what CSU will play is a shock to anyone’s system. Neither team will be a finished product in mid-September, but the Rams just may be catching their Pac-12 opponent at the right time.
3. TCU at SMU (Sept. 24) – Sometimes it’s not about who you play but what you are playing for.
Sure, the Iron Skillet is a trophy any school would be proud to own. But this game, this year, is about more than that. Former Mustang coach Sonny Dykes switched allegiances to take over the Horned Frog program after Gary Patterson *cough cough* resigned. There appeared to be no love lost over the years between the two coaches, so to see Dykes take the position probably felt like a slap in the face to those who #Ponyup.
The problem for Dykes come Sept. 24 is, SMU is still good. And people don’t forget.
I don’t expect him to receive the warmest of welcomes. If you are a college basketball fan and remember former Texas Tech-turned-Texas coach Chris Beard’s return to Lubbock, it may be something like that. Beyond that, Tanner Mordecai is still there to lead a prolific offense set to prove they are a threat in the AAC with or without Dykes.
Revenge games rule.
2. Virginia Tech at Old Dominion (Sept. 2) – Sometimes it’s not about who you play but where you play them.
ODU is a team I’ve mentioned in previous columns as a sleeper in the Sun Belt. This year they open their season up against a Hokie team that is rebuilding under new coach Brent Pry. What makes this game most interesting is that it is a home game for the Monarchs. Which means, no “Enter Sandman”. (Unless ODU are bigger trolls than I think.)
While I do think Virginia Tech will be respectable, they are breaking in a new quarterback (Marshall transfer Grant Wells) and were not exactly trending in the right direction before Pry’s arrival. Meanwhile Old Dominion is one of the better offenses in all of the G5 and a decent enough defense to handle the Hokies. If this game were later in the season, I might feel differently, but in Week One, I like the Monarchs a lot.
1. Miami (OH) at Northwestern (Sept. 24) – Then again, sometimes it’s just about who you play.
It happens every year, like an 11 seed upsetting a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A MAC school upsets a Big 10 team. This year’s safest bet is a Redhawk squad led by quarterback Brett Gabbert taking on a Northwestern squad with very little expectation.
Last year, the Wildcats had a pretty weak defense, and an offense that wasn’t much better. They open the season in Dublin, Ireland against Nebraska in a game that they are going to have to show marked improvement from last year to win. If they can’t or don’t, then why should a team that’s expected to challenge for their conference title be intimidated? I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Miami (OH) is favored when the lines come out.
I know there will be others, Teams like App St., Georgia St. and UTSA come to mind as having golden opportunities to get high profile wins. But “five” is the general theme of my schtick, so a line had to be drawn. So which P5 vs. G5 games did I leave out? Let me know on Twitter (@justincripe) and/or (@walkonredshirts).