Welcome Group of Five Hive. I’m trying a more streamline approach to my Gee, Five Thoughts column. My Group of 5 Top 25 column talks about a lot of teams all at once. Here, I want to focus on the best (and worst) in the world of the G5. I’ll talk about what I viewed as the best game, most pleasant surprise and biggest disappointment, grossly overreact to a team based on this weekend’s outcome, and finally preview a game next week that I think will spotlight a G5 team. Will I overlook something or someone? Absolutely. (Spoiler alert: I don’t even think I mention an AAC team in this column. It’s a working format.) So let’s get into it!
Best Game – James Madison 36, Virginia 35
This game was bananas.
First off, let it be on the record that I almost never root for a Power 5 opponent to defeat a Group of 5 team. That’s kinda my brand. But this was Virginia’s first home game since the senseless murder of three members of last year’s football team. You would have to be pretty heartless not to want them to succeed on some level Saturday. And when running back Mike Hollins, who was one of two people who survived the shooting last November, scored a touchdown…forget about it.
Somehow, James Madison was the bad guy in this story. The fact that they scored 12 points in the fourth quarter to win by one didn’t help things. (After a weather delay, which was an ongoing theme throughout the East Coast.) But that’s what happened.
I don’t hold that against JMU. (I do however, hold the fact that my Under 43.5 bet lost early in the third quarter against them though.) The fact is, on the field, this game meant a lot to them too. They wanted to beat a team they viewed as Big Brother in the state of Virginia and hadn’t played in 40 years. And that’s what they did. Now they can concentrate on their first conference game of the season…at defending conference champion Troy.
Most Pleasant Surprise – Old Dominion’s win over Louisiana
In a Sun Belt East that is incredibly wide open, the one team most people were willing to overlook as a challenger was Old Dominion. They lost a ton of talent to the transfer portal off a team that didn’t make it to a bowl last year anyway. Needless to say, expectations were low.
Well thanks to a 38-31 win over Louisiana, they are at the top of the conference as the only team with a 1-0 record. Fordham transfer Grant Wilson threw for 247 yards and 4 TDs in the win, and running back Keshawn Wicks rushed for over 100 yards. They aren’t eye-popping numbers, and it is hard to tell if the team will have continued success throughout the year, but here and now, they are at the top of the Sun Belt.
(Good luck Saturday at Wake Forest.)
Biggest Disappointment – UTEP’s 38-7 loss to Northwestern
It’s hard to believe in hindsight, but before this game, there were a lot of people saying that UTEP had a very real chance of going to Evanston and knocking off the Big 10 doormat. And for a half, it appeared that would be a possibility. But the second half was a completely different story, as the Wildcats totally dominated in every way, outscoring the Miners 31-0.
I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for UTEP every since I went to see them play Week Zero, 2022. But between this game and the Jacksonville St. game two weeks ago, they have frankly squandered two opportunities to present themselves as a threat in CUSA. There’s too much talent for them to play as badly as they have in those games. Quarterback Gavin Hardison and running back Deion Hankins are two of the best at their positions in the conference, and all they have to show for it is a win over FCS opponent Incarnate Word. Things don’t get any easier this week, as they head to Tucson to take on Arizona. If they gave up 38 points to the Northwestern offense, images what the Wildcats will do to them.
Biggest Overreaction – Boise St. is mid.
Guys, there is a very real chance that Boise St. will be 1-4 once somebody wakes Green Day up (when September ends).
The Broncos hoped to be able to bounce back from their Week One drubbing at the hands of Washington at home against UCF, and while the defense played much better, it was not meant to be. UCF Kicker Colton Boomer made four field goals – including two from beyond 50 yards – to give the Knights the win on the blue turf.
After a presumed break from their Murderer’s Row this week against North Dakota (being played at noon eastern?) they go on the road to take on San Diego St. and Memphis. However, quarterback Taylen Green injured his ankle Saturday and it remains to be seen how serious that injury is. The schedule does ease up a bit slightly, but there are games still at home against Wyoming and Air Force and at Fresno St. A season that had legitimate NY6 aspirations two weeks ago is looking more and more like a 6-6 season every week.
Best chance for a G5 victory over a P5 team – Iowa St. at Ohio
Western Kentucky at Ohio St. and Georgia Southern at Wisconsin will be interesting and maybe even close for a while based on both the Hilltoppers and Eagles abilities to put up points. But I worry about both of those defenses against Big 10 opponents. South Alabama also has a better than average shot at a win in Stillwater. But if you are looking for a game that absolutely looks like a Group of 5 win, look to the MAC, where an Iowa St. team that is struggling offensively travels to Athens to take on an Ohio team that not only matches up well with their Big XII foe but flat out has more talent than the Cyclones this year.