The Group of Five refers to conferences that aren’t part of the Power Five conferences. That group includes teams from the MAC, Conference USA, the Mountain West, the American Athletic Conference and the Sun Belt. While there might not be as much hype surrounding these programs as there is surrounding the Power Five conference teams that are expected to contend for a national championship this season, there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye out for a handful of programs from the Group of Five. Here is a look at the top Group of Five college football teams primed for big seasons in 2017.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
The Mountaineers have registered a combined 21-5 record over the last two seasons. Appalachian State won bowl games in each of those years. The Mountaineers are loaded with firepower once again led by running back Jalin Moore, who rushed for 1,402 yards last season and was named the Sun Belt’s offensive player of the year. Appalachian State also returns an experienced quarterback in Taylor Lamb. The Mountaineers have the talent to make some serious noise out of the Sun Belt Conference this season.
There will be plenty of eyes on Scott Satterfield’s side beginning in Week 1 when they clash with Georgia in their season opener. To give you an idea of just how well-respected the Mountaineers are, they are only a 14-point underdog at Georgia. If they were a pushover, Georgia would be laying at least 20 points but clearly, App State is being respected in this spot.
Boise State Broncos
Boise State likely ranks behind San Diego State in the Mountain West power rankings heading in to the 2017 season. However, the return of quarterback Brett Rypien and a tough defense should help the Broncos contend. Rypien threw for 3,646 yards with 24 touchdowns last season and if he can continue his development he could be in for a monster season. Boise State can’t be overlooked among the Group of Five teams this season.
Speaking of quarterbacks primed for big years, Riley Ferguson has the potential to put up monster numbers in 2017. The senior quarterback set a school-record with 32 touchdown passes last season while nearly hitting 4,000 passing yards. Dynamic wide receiver Andrew Miller is back after registering 95 catches or 1,434 yards last season so there is no reason to expect any drop off in the Tigers passing game. Memphis is the favorite to win the AAC West division heading in to 2017. It will be very interesting to see if they can live up to expectations as one of the top programs in the Group of Five this season.
San Diego State Aztecs
The Aztecs are the preseason college football favorites in the Mountain West after compiling an 11-3 record and winning back-to-back Mountain West championships over the past two seasons. San Diego State will be led by star running back and kick returner Rashaad Penny and they have plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the football. It won’t take long to get a read on the Aztecs as they visit Arizona State and then host Stanford in consecutive September weekends. They should have potential to upset both teams or – at the very least – cover and give those sides a surprising run for their money.
South Florida Bulls
South Florida will have a new head coach after losing Willie Taggart to Oregon. However, the Bulls hired a capable replacement in Charlie Strong, the former Texas Longhorns sideline boss. The key to the Bulls college football season is that they return their most important player in quarterback Quinton Flowers. Flowers became the first player from any FBS Florida school to register 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in the same season in 2016. It will be very interesting to see what he has in store for an encore with a South Florida side that is definitely primed for a big season among the Group of Five conferences. The Bulls have a relatively easy schedule and could push for an undefeated season. If so, look for Flowers to be in the Heisman Trophy conversation among the finalists.
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