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College Football Group of Five Preview

High Fives

In 2021, Cincinnati became the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff. Many thought it would never happen. Group of Five teams typically have weaker schedules and a talent deficit. Going undefeated isn’t enough; they need help. That was the case for the Bearcats in 2021.

Will another Group of Five team crack the College Football Playoff this season? If it happened once, it can happen again. At the least, a New Year’s Six appearance is likely. Since 2017, a Group of Five team has played in a New Year’s Six Bowl in four of five years.

College Football Group of Five Preview

Who will crash the party in the 2022 season? Check out some of the Group of Five’s title favorites, per college football lines.

Appalachian State Mountaineers

  • 2021 Record: 10-4
  • 2021 Conference Record: 7-1
  • Head Coach: Shawn Clark
  • Odds to Win Conference Title: +200

The Mountaineers have a great chance of winning their first Sun Belt title since 2019. Last season, Appalachian State could not get over the hump against in-conference foe Louisiana. The Ragin’ Cajuns defeated Appalachian State twice on their way to a Sun Belt title. In the postseason, the Mountaineers were demolished by Western Kentucky 59-38.

For the 2022 season, Appalachian State will have one of the Sun Belt’s best offenses. In 2021, the Mountaineers ranked 32nd in yards per game (434.7). Expect the same level of production, if not better, with many returning pieces. Quarterback Chase Brice returns after throwing for 3,337 yards and 27 touchdowns with a 151.1 passer rating. Lead running back Nate Noel is also back. He comes off 1,128 rushing yards and 5.7 yards per carry.

The defense lost key contributors in the offseason. However, the unit will be solid with last year’s second-leading tackler, Trey Cobb, stepping into an elevated role. In addition, edge rusher Nick Hampton is back following a 17.5-tackle for loss and 11-sack season.

Appalachian State is the favorite to win the Sun Belt (+200), and college football odds have the win total at over/under 8 ½. The Mountaineers will be one of the Group of Five’s most balanced squads.

Boise State Broncos

  • 2021 Record: 7-5
  • 2021 Conference Record: 5-3
  • Head Coach: Andy Avalos
  • Odds to Win Conference Title: +200

After Bryan Harsin left for Auburn, Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos took the head position at his alma mater, Boise State. Avalos’ first season did not go well. The Broncos’ 7-5 record was their worst win percentage since 1998’s 6-5 finish. Since 2000, Boise State has one of college football’s highest win percentages. Avalos must meet the Broncos’ high expectations in 2022.

Many expect a much better year from Boise State. The sportsbook lists the Broncos as the favorite (+200) to win the Mountain West. To do so, the run game has to be miles better. Last year, Boise State ranked 97th in rushing yards per game (123.8 yards). The offense was 73rd in total yardage per game (384.5). If the rushing attack becomes more effective, all offensive numbers will go up.

Boise State’s defense could become one of the Mountain West’s best. Following a 66-tackle season, Ezekiel Noa is the top linebacker. Scott Matlock is an all-conference defensive tackle; he posted seven sacks in 2021. The secondary, which had 13 interceptions last season, returns a lot of experience.

The Broncos will likely bounce back this season. A Mountain West title would be their first since 2019.

Cincinnati Bearcats

  • 2021 Record: 13-1
  • 2021 Conference Record: 8-0
  • Head Coach: Luke Fickell
  • Odds to Win Conference Title: +180

It’s hard to replicate what Cincinnati did a year ago. The Bearcats made history as the first Group of Five team to make the playoffs. As many expected, Cincy couldn’t hang with Alabama. Join the club. Still, it was an incredible run.

Cincinnati sent many players to the NFL, especially on defense. Starting cornerback Sauce Gardner was drafted fourth overall. Safety Bryan Cook, cornerback Coby Bryant and defensive end Myjai Sanders went in later rounds. On offense, quarterback Desmond Ridder, lead receiver Alec Pierce and running back Jerome Ford were drafted.

The Bearcats lost their best players on both sides of the ball. The big positive: All starters on the offensive line return. Transfer Ben Bryant and sophomore Evan Prater are battling for the starting QB spot. A few other transfers, like running back Corey Kiner, will help fill open spots.

Don’t expect another undefeated season from Cincinnati. There are many questions. A lot of star power is being replaced. Plus, the secondary is particularly concerning. The Bearcats will be one of the Group of Five’s best, but winning the American Athletic Conference will be tough.

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

  • 2021 Record: 11-2
  • 2021 Conference Record: 6-2
  • Head Coach: Jamey Chadwell
  • Odds to Win Conference Title: +500

Under Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina has become a powerhouse in the Sun Belt. The Chanticleers’ rebuild is what everyone hopes for. In Chadwell’s first season, Coastal Carolina went 3-9. The following year: 5-7. Since 2020, the Chanticleers are 22-3. Once again, Coastal is at the top of the Sun Belt.

The Chanticleers will be replacing major receiving targets. Tight end Isaiah Likely was drafted in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens. Lead receiver Jaivon Heiligh has exhausted his eligibility. From 2020-21, he had consecutive seasons with over 950 receiving yards.

Transfer Sam Pinckney could become the No. 1 receiver. The 6-foot-4 wideout is a great red zone target. Coastal Carolina needs a monster season from QB Grayson McCall, who was once advertised as an NFL prospect.

The defense is retooling the linebacker corps and secondary. If the Chanticleers make noise, it will be on the back of McCall.

College Football Group of Five Preview
Jamey Chadwell | Brian Davidson / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Fresno State Bulldogs

  • 2021 Record: 10-3
  • 2021 Conference Record: 6-2
  • Head Coach: Jeff Tedford
  • Odds to Win Conference Title: +225

With Kalen DeBoer headed to Washington, Fresno State needed a new head coach. The Bulldogs brought back Jeff Tedford, who was at Fresno from 2017-19 and California from 2002-12. DeBoer left the program in a great position.

Quarterback Jake Haener is the best player on the roster. He had an amazing 2021 season, totaling 4,096 passing yards and 33 touchdowns. During the offseason, Haener landed in the first round of several 2023 mock drafts. Fresno State could be the Mountain West’s top offense once again. Last season, they ranked ninth in passing yards per game (314.3). Expect more of the same.

Moreover, the Bulldogs are returning seven starters on defense. The unit was solid in 2021, allowing 21.4 points per game (20th). Fresno State has a tough non-conference schedule with games against Oregon State and USC. In the Mountain West, the Bulldogs could dominate.

Houston Cougars

  • 2021 Record: 12-2
  • 2021 Conference Record: 8-0
  • Head Coach: Dana Holgorsen
  • Odds to Win Conference Title: +225

Houston was one win away from capturing the American Athletic Conference title. But Cincinnati was in a league of its own, defeating the Cougars 35-20 in the title game. The 2022 season could be Houston’s year for revenge.

Quarterback Clayton Tune leads the charge. In 2021, he was one of the AAC’s best with 3,544 passing yards and a 30-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The run game took a hit in the offseason with Alton McCaskill tearing his ACL. However, the running back room is deep. Ta’Zhawn Henry recorded 524 rushing yards last season, and USC transfer Brandon Campbell could make a big impact.

Led by a terrific safety duo, the defense is in good hands. Gervarrius Owens returns after earning First-Team All-AAC honors. Also, Hasaan Hypolite could make a big jump. This will be one of the American’s top secondaries.

Houston will challenge Cincinnati in the American.

Northern Illinois Huskies

  • 2021 Record: 9-5
  • 2021 Conference Record: 6-2
  • Head Coach: Thomas Hammock
  • Odds to Win Conference Title: +450

Will Northern Illinois go back-to-back in the Mid-American Conference? The potential is certainly there. The Huskies return several key pieces on the offensive line, which is irreplaceable for a run-heavy team. Last season, NIU ranked fifth in rushing attempts per game (46.4). Lead rusher Jevyon Ducker transferred to Memphis, leaving the starting back role to Harrison Waylee, who had 574 rushing yards in 2021. In addition, starting QB Rocky Lombardi returns after throwing for over 2,500 yards.

If the Huskies are going to repeat, the offense will have to carry the load. In the last two seasons, the defense has been putrid. Last season, they ranked 114th in allowed yards per game (465.5) and 113th in allowed points per game (35.2). More than likely, the defense will struggle for the third consecutive season.

Northern Illinois is expected to be one of the four best teams in the MAC. College football lines have the Huskies’ win total at over/under 6 ½.

UAB Blazers

  • 2021 Record: 9-4
  • 2021 Conference Record: 6-2
  • Head Coach: Bryant Vincent
  • Odds to Win Conference Title: +200

Last season, the Blazers were one of the best teams in Conference USA. However, they were not good enough to win. The title went to UTSA. In 2022, UAB has its eyes on the conference title. Will the Blazers get it done?

The 2021 season ended on a great note with a Top 25 bowl win over BYU 31-28. LSU is the only Power Five program on UAB’s schedule. The Blazers are a prime Group of Five candidate to end the regular season undefeated or with one loss. After head coach Bill Clark retired due to back problems, offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent was named interim head coach. This adds adversity to the 2022 season, but the Blazers are still capable of a massive season.

The offense returns seven starters, including QB Dylan Hopkins.

One of 2021’s best Group of Five defenses will be the strength of the team. UAB ranked 20th in yards allowed per game (344.1). Keondre Swoopes and Starling Thomas leads one of Conference USA’s best secondaries.

The Blazers will likely hit the over on their 8½ win total.

UCF Golden Knights

  • 2021 Record: 9-4
  • 2021 Conference Record: 5-3
  • Head Coach: Gus Malzahn
  • Odds to Win Conference Title: +300

Most consider the American Athletic Conference a two-horse race between Houston and Cincinnati, but don’t sleep on UCF. The Golden Knights have kept it rolling since Gus Malzahn took over in 2021.

UCF replaced Dillon Gabriel, who transferred to Oklahoma, with Ole Miss transfer John Rhys Plumlee. He had limited playing time as a backup. Plumlee flashed big potential in his freshman season, totaling 910 passing yards and 1,023 rushing yards. This is an interesting development as Plumlee played receiver full time last season. Starting running back Isaiah Bowser returns after rushing for 703 yards last season.

The defense returns nine starters along with added transfers. Branden Jennings and Terrence Lewis are transfer linebackers who will add depth. Transfers Lee Hunter and K.D. McDaniel joins the defensive line rotation. This will be one of the American’s best defenses. If the offense improves, UCF could win the AAC title.

College Football Group of Five Preview

UTSA Roadrunners

  • 2021 Record: 12-2
  • 2021 Conference Record: 7-1
  • Head Coach: Jeff Traylor
  • Odds to Win Conference Title: +200

Conference USA will come down to two teams: UTSA and UAB. Last season, the Roadrunners won the conference thanks to big wins over UAB and Western Kentucky. The UTSA program is rising. Another conference title will officially make the Roadrunners the powerhouse of the C-USA.

Nine starters return on offense, but lead back Sincere McCormick left for the NFL. From 2020-21, McCormick had consecutive seasons with over 1,400 rushing yards. Replacing that level of production will be difficult. More than likely, it will be a joint effort between Arkansas transfer Trelon Smith and Brenden Brady. All-C-USA quarterback Frank Harris returns for his fourth season.

The defense’s biggest loss was Tariq Woolen, who was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. However, safety Rashad Wisdom returns as one of the Group of Five’s best defensive backs. LSU transfer Quinton Cage and West Virginia transfer Nicktroy Fortune add depth to the secondary.

Following a conference title win, UTSA is still stacked. The Roadrunners continue to add Power Five talent to the C-USA. Keep an eye on this rising program.


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