2018 Season Preview: Group of Five

By Kevin Fay on August 27, 2018 at 12:00 pm
Nov 18, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; UCF Knights quarterback McKenzie Milton (10) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Temple Owls at Lincoln Financial Field.  Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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We wrap up our conference previews with our Group of Five preview.

Instead of doing a deep dive in to every conference, we are going to take a look at the favorites of each conference and a potential dark horse for each. Finally, I will lay out which team is most likely to earn the New Year’s Six berth.

Sun Belt

  • Favorite – Arkansas State
  • Biggest Challenger – Appalachian State

I thought about switching these two teams because Appalachian State has a little bit easier of a schedule, but Arkansas State returns their starting quarterback and that is the tie breaker here. Either way, it should be a tight race between these two and Troy for the top spot yet again. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the three at the top at the end of the year.

MAC

  • Favorite – Northern Illinois
  • Biggest Challenger – Ohio

As unsure as I was about the Sun Belt, I am even more so here. NIU has an excellent defense and returns the most experience, so they get the nod. The biggest challengers are probably Toledo and Ohio, which should come as no surprise considering how steady they have been in recent years, but both have lost a considerable amount of talent from last year. Again, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see any of the three teams win the conference.

Conference USA

  • Favorite – The Fighting Kiffins (Fla. Atlantic)
  • Biggest Challenger – Marshall

How good could Florida Atlantic be? Well, we will figure that out pretty quickly with a trip to Norman to start off the year. If they are able to pull a shocker and beat Oklahoma, you could be looking at the front runners to land a New Years Six berth. They will be far and away the best team in the conference. A trip to Marshall looks to be their biggest hurdle in conference, but they will need to take a step forward offensively in order to pull a couple of upsets.

AAC

  • Favorite – UCF
  • Biggest Challenger – Memphis

McKenzie Milton and UCF may have lost Scott Frost, but they still are the best team in the conference, and the pre-season favorites to earn the Group of 5 bid for the New Years Six bowl. Standing in their way is a revenge minded Memphis team that returns a lot of talent in their own right. UCF should win the conference, but it likely won’t be as easy as a lot of people think.

Mountain West

  • Favorite – Boise State
  • Biggest Challenger – San Diego State

Boise State will return as the class of the conference, but San Diego state will still have enough talent to make it at least interesting. I really wanted Colorado State to push for the top tier, but after losing to Hawaii in the opener, it’s tough to see them ready for that kind of spotlight.

New Years Six Bowl Bid

I do agree that UCF is probably the best team out of the group, but there is more competition this year in Conference USA than there is out west, so I am going to go with Boise State as the eventual representative of the Group of Five. They are favored in all of their games other than from a trip to Stillwater to face an Oklahoma State team that shouldn’t be what they have been in recent years.

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