Week One is done in the world of the Group of 5, which can mean only one thing. It’s time for gross overreactions!!
That’s right. I could have written a column simply stating that Texas St. will be going to the Cotton Bowl. UTSA is really bad. (More on those two teams later.) South Alabama and Boise St. are overrated and Wyoming found an offense, but those things are not necessarily true. We have to dig deeper, dear Group of 5 Hive. The snapshot, knee-jerk reactions are reserved for the G5 Top 25.
1. The Sun Belt has a problem.
One of the great things about the Sun Belt is the general wide-openness of the conference. Generally speaking, any team can beat any other team in conference play. But over the past few years, Texas St. has been considered one of the few “gimmies”. That will no longer be the case for the foreseeable future.
To borrow a phrase from Deion Sanders, the Bobcats “are comin”.
Coach GJ Kinne has brought a high-octane offense with him from Incarnate Word, and the initial results are very promising. Texas St. announced their arrival with a 42-31 win Saturday at Baylor. Auburn transfer TJ Finley proved to be an excellent fit, throwing for nearly 300 yards and 3 TDs while rushing for another. Another transfer, Ismail Mahdi (Houston Christian) flashed his big-play ability, rushing for 83 yards and a 65-yard score on just 6 carries. It remains to be seen whether the defense can consistently hold up their end of the bargain, but there are certainly similarities between here and what is going on in Boulder, Colorado.
Up next is a non-conference game at UTSA in what has become a significantly measuring stick for both teams after UTSA’s 17-14 loss at Houston. But regardless of the outcome of that game, thanks to getting South Alabama and Troy at home, the Sun Belt West has a big-time problem on their hands.
2. The Green Wave keeps rolling.
South Alabama was viewed by many (myself included) as a team that could not only beat Tulane but also be a challenger to the top team in all the Group of 5.
The Green Wave had other ideas.
Michael Pratt was 14-15 for 292 and 4 scores and the defense created 5 turnovers as Tulane won handily 37-17. The key question for Tulane was what they would look like after the graduation of running back Tyjae Spears, and while the running game might still be a question mark, it may not matter as long as Pratt and that Green Wave D is playing at this level. Up next is a big test at home against Ole Miss in a game that could very much establish the Green Wave as the NY6 bowl representative in the Group of Five.
3. The Mountain West might be more wide-open than we thought.
Most preseason polls suggested that the Mountain West went through Boise St. But people forget that the defending conference champs are Fresno St. They sent a reminder Saturday with their 39-35 win over Purdue in West Lafayette. Quarterback Mikey Keene did his best Jake Haener impression, throwing for 366 yards and 4 TDs and receiver Erik Brooks filled in for Jalen Cropper quite well, catching 9 balls for 170 yards and two scores. With the offense continuing to play well and the upcoming schedule setting up pretty well, the Bulldogs could go on a run.
Fresno St. is not the only MW team who notched a win over a Power 5 opponent. In one of the more entertaining games of the weekend, Wyoming defeated Texas Tech 35-33 in a game that had a little bit of everything. Double Overtime. A weather delay. It was basically the Stefan of football games. (Google it.) Provided Andrew Peasley can stay upright, the Cowboys may have found an offense to go with their traditionally salty defense. Fresno St. at Wyoming, October 7. Mark it down.
As for that Boise St. squad? They got boatraced 56-19 by a Washington team that could be a buzzsaw. I’m willing to overlook that if they come out this Saturday against UCF and play like the team they were expected to be.
4. MAC TBD
We didn’t get a ton of data from the MAC this weekend, as only 4 teams won this weekend, and only one was against an FBS team.
But oh what a win it was.
Northern Illinois defeated Boston College 27-24 in OT Saturday afternoon. It certainly wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing game in the world, as quarterback Rocky Lombardi was only 13 for 29 passing for 165 yards, but a win is a win, especially on the road against a Power 5 opponent. Whether the Huskies will be a force in the MAC still remains to be seen, but they will definitely be a thorn in the side of any opponent.
The second best performance by a MAC team probably came in a loss. Prohibitive favorite Toledo went to Champaign and took Illinois to the wire before losing 30-28 on a last second field goal. Dequan Finn played really well, throwing for 2 TDs and rushing for 75 yards and another score. If not for that field goal, most pundits would be looking at Toledo as one of the top threats to Tulane’s status as the top G5 team. But despite the loss, I’m here to tell you that they still are.
5. The learning week.
Weeks Zero and One are obviously fun. But Week Two is when we really learn what teams are made of. I mentioned Ole Miss at Tulane and UCF at Boise St. earlier, but among the other games pitting G5 vs. P5 include:
Troy at Kansas St.
James Madison at Virginia
UNLV at Michigan
Appalachian St. at North Carolina
Eastern Michigan at Minnesota
Temple at Rutgers
UCLA at San Diego St.
Southern Miss at Florida St.
That doesn’t even include the G5 on G5 crime expected in games pitting Ohio at Florida Atlantic, UAB at Georgia Southern and Air Force at Sam Houston. (I know there are others, but I’m just over here trying to keep my word count relatively low.) The point is, we will learn a lot about a lot of teams this weekend.