Friday Five: Group of Five college football teams that could make the New Year's Six
These five teams could crash the New Year's Eve party and earn the major bowl bid later this year
Every Friday, the Friday Five will rank something in the world of college football -- anything and everything from the logical to the illogical. This week we rank Group of Five teams that could surprise and grab a New Year's Six berth.
In this week's Friday Five, we're breaking out an old favorite with a new twist. In each of the last two offseasons, I've done a Friday Five listing the Group of Five teams I believe have the best chance to crash the New Year's Six party.
As you know, there's one at-large berth reserved for the highest-ranked G5 team in the College Football Playoff poll. Last year, it was Western Michigan earning a bid to the Cotton Bowl where it lost to Wisconsin. The year before that, Houston beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl, and the Cougars victory came a year after Boise State beat Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl.
Who will be the team looking to improve the Group of Five's record to 3-1 this year? That's what I'm trying to figure out this week, but as I mentioned, there's a twist.
I'm not going to take Houston, Boise State or Western Michigan into consideration for this list. I don't expect Western Michigan to compete for a spot again this year, but Boise State and Houston very well could -- and probably should -- be in the hunt, but putting them on the list would be too easy.
Instead, I'm looking for some new blood in our list of dark horse possibilities. Some darker horses, if you will.
|I included the Mountaineers on this list because they're probably going to be the best team in the Sun Belt in 2017. The problem for Appalachian State is that they're in the Sun Belt. Even if the Mountaineers go undefeated this season, I don't believe the selection committee would rank them ahead of a one-loss champion from the other Group of Five conferences. Of course, considering they'll be playing Georgia to start the season, maybe going 12-0 would be enough. Still, I would guess that the Mountaineers would need a lot of help elsewhere to get the spot.|
|So with Boise State removed from the equation, I look to the rest of the Mountain West for a candidate, and while there are a few, Wyoming is the one that stands out the most. The reasoning for this is rather simple. Craig Bohl has a winning track record as a coach and last year's Wyoming team took a significant step forward, improving its win total by six games. Wyoming also has a quarterback in Josh Allen that many believe could be one of the first players taken in the NFL Draft next season. The Cowboys also have big games against Iowa, Oregon and Boise State, and wins in those games would definitely grab attention. So when you put those three factors together, you've got yourself a stew going. My primary concern here, though, is that Wyoming is going to be a young team in 2017. A young team can win, but it's possible Wyoming's best shot at a New Year's Six spot could come in 2018.|
|Charlie Strong steps into an excellent situation in Tampa. Strong not only inherits a talented team that won 11 games last season but one with a lot of experience returning to the field in 2017. Quinton Flowers is one of the most exciting dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, and he's entering his senior season. On the other side of the ball, while I'm not naive enough to believe Strong can walk in and make major improvements to the defense in Year One, I have a hard time believing the Bulls won't improve on the 31.6 points per game they allowed last year. All that and a manageable schedule makes USF a team that could win the AAC this year, and if you win the AAC, you have a good shot at that NY6 spots. Which is something you should remember as you move onto the next two teams on this list.|
|Well look at that, we're still in the AAC. I'm sure some readers are wondering how I could put UCF ahead of USF on this list considering that the Bulls have been the better team the last few years, but it's pretty simple. First of all, USF is entering its first year with a new coach while UCF's Scott Frost is entering his second campaign. Frost is a coach that's shown he can turn things around rather quickly, as he took over a team that went 0-12 in 2015 and won six games last season. Furthermore, UCF has a schedule that provides a few more chances at marquee wins than USF does. That's not to say Maryland and Georgia Tech are juggernauts, but wins over them would look better on a resume than Illinois (USF's only P5 opponent). None of this is to say there aren't concerns. UCF had one of the better defenses in the AAC last year, but it will have to replace a lot of tackles from that unit this year. Also, overall, UCF will be one of the younger teams in the conference. The good news is that while there's plenty of inexperience on this roster, the offensive line has plenty, and I tend to think teams with experienced lines are more likely to improve than those without.|
|Look out for Memphis this year, dear reader. I just feel like there's a perfect storm surrounding this program right now. I mentioned schedule concerns for USF already, and those concerns also exist here. I ranked the strengths of schedule in the AAC a few weeks ago, and according to my formula, no AAC team has an easier schedule this year than Memphis. Having said that, it still does include UCLA, and Memphis will also play Houston, Navy and UCF. So there are plenty of resume games. This is also a veteran roster with just about everyone who mattered from last year's offense back this season, including quarterback Riley Ferguson. The Tigers will also have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country. So we're talking about a talented, veteran team with a manageable schedule playing in a conference with plenty of CFP cache. My concern -- there's always one -- is the defense. There will be a lot of new starters on the unit this year, but considering last year's squad allowed 5.77 yards per play, that might not be the worst thing in the world.|
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