A lot of talk has been placed on the teams from the big conferences, Notre Dame and BYU, but there is a lot more to college football than just that. As we approach the beginning of the season, it is a perfect time to review what teams can make a push for the group of five spot in the New Year’s Six Bowl Game.
The Bulls are the easiest team to list here. They are a preseason top 25 team and have a chance to run the table and make some noise while doing so. Charlie Strong didn’t pan out at Texas, but was a good hire for the Bulls and has experience coaching in BCS Bowls.
Returning for the Bulls is Quinton Flowers, who had the offense humming last season. He is a dark horse contender for the Heisman Trophy, but will need to have a statistically astronomical season to win it while playing in the AAC. He is a college football star who will have six other returning starters on offense to help.
On defense Auggie Sanchez leads the way. He has a lot of experience and is ready to become one of the best USF players ever with a good senior season. Seven other starters return from a unit that needs to up their game this season.
The schedule sets up well for USF to run the table. They have tough games against Houston, Temple and UCF, all of which they should be favored in. They will be in contention for a New Year’s Six Bowl.
Tom Herman is now at Texas, but Major Applewhite has a lot of good players returning. Houston has about as good of a shot as any to knock off USF in the AAC. They won nine games last season and return 17 starters.
The entire offensive line returns and should improve this season. Duke Catalon is the returning starter at running back and is a great weapon. He can run in between the tackles as well as catch passes out of the backfield. Most AAC teams won’t be able to keep him in check.
Kyle Allen is a former top recruit that went to Texas A&M, but decided to transfer to Houston. He has a lot of talent and will have a lot of receivers to utilize. Steven Dunbar and Linell Bonner both return at the receiver position, which should help them cope with the loss of Chance Allen, who transferred to Oregon.
The defense was the 30th best scoring defense in the country, but especially thrived against the run. The best player on the defense is Ed Oliver, who totaled five sacks and 22 tackles for loss last season. Only two former starters need to be replaced on this year’s team, making them look like a unit that will improve.
The loss of Herman is tough, but Houston can still play with everyone on their schedule. Their tough games will be against: Arizona, Texas Tech, Temple, Memphis, South Florida and Navy. While they may not run the table, the Cougars will still be a very solid group of five team.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
The Hilltoppers have been one of the most consistent group of five conference teams in the country. Last year they finished the season with eleven wins and a victory over Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl. Mike Sanford will be in his first year as head coach, but was widely recognized as a good hire.
Mike White returns for his second season as the starting quarterback. He was the main reason WKU was able to have the best scoring offense in the country last season, averaging 45.5 points per game. The problem with the offense may lie in the skill position players. Only Nacarius Fant at wide receiver returns and he had fewer than 500 receiving yards last season. The good news is that three of five starters on the offensive line are back.
The defense was above average, and that’s all it really needs to be with the high-powered offense the Hilltoppers have. They were the second best team against the rush last season in college football and will be aided by the returns of Derik Overstreet and Chris Johnson on the defensive line.
Their schedule is pretty manageable this season, with notable battles only coming at Illinois, Louisiana Tech, at Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee. WKU is a sure thing to light up the scoreboard and get to ten wins again this season.
Toledo won nine games last season and return a great quarterback. Jason Candle’s squad has a good chance to win almost all of the games on their schedule.
Logan Woodside is one of the best quarterbacks in college football outside of the power five conferences. He has completed 65.6% of his passes for over 6,000 yards in his career thus far. He is even on NFL teams’ radars. Cody Thompson returns as his favorite receiver with 1,269 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
Terry Swanson didn’t start last season, but still rushed for 583 yards on only 116 attempts. Only two offensive linemen return this year which could pose a problem to their high hopes this season.
With a great offense, the defense played well too last season.They allowed just 25.7 points a game, which is good enough to win them most games. Ja’Waun Woodley leads the defense from his linebacker position and had 79 tackles last season. With six other starters returning, the defense should improve.
Toledo could very easily get to double digit wins. Games that they have to watch out for are: at Miami (FL), at Central Michigan, at Ohio and Western Michigan. They are better than every team other than Miami and just have to prove it.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
If any team knows how to transition from FCS to FBS, it’s Appalachian State. They have become a power in the Sun Belt Conference and finished last season with 10 wins. They beat Toledo in the Camellia Bowl to cap off their season. Scott Satterfield has 12 returning starters to rely on this season.
Taylor Lamb is an experienced player who is great at managing the Mountaineer offense. Shaedon Meadors returns as the leading receiver with 716 yards and two touchdowns.
Three offensive linemen are back and should help create a solid unit. Running back Jalin Moore had a fantastic season last year with 1,402 yards and 10 touchdowns. The running game is crucial to the Mountaineers’ success.
Six starters return on defense, which was the the ninth best scoring defense in the country last season. Linebacker Eric Boggs is a great player who might get a shot at an NFL roster. He is the best player on defense and had 98 tackles last season. The unit should be good again this season.
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