Group of 5 predictions 2019: Conference picks, biggest games, Heisman hopefuls and more
UCF won 25 consecutive games and still didn’t get a shot at the College Football Playoff in 2018. That’s an indication that Group of 5 schools might never get a chance in the current four-team format.The American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, Mountain West and Sun Belt still must fight for respect in case the eight-team playoff arrives. There are still chances to prove it against the Power 5 this season. POWER 5 PRIMERS: ACC | SEC | B10 | B12 | P12Whether those conferences take advantage remains to be seen. Sporting News’ look at the Group of 5 in 2019:Group of 5’s biggest games of 2019Fresno State at USC (Aug. 31). The defending Mountain West champions can make a statement under Jeff Tedford, and it will be interesting to see how their defense gets after USC quarterback JT Daniels.Boise State vs. Florida State (Aug. 31). The Broncos are no stranger to the big neutral-site opener, going 4-3 against Power 5 teams since 2009. This is a chance to knock off the Seminoles in their backyard at Jacksonville.Houston at Oklahoma (Sept. 1). The Cougars won the last time these teams met, and this matchup gets the Sunday primetime spotlight. It’s Jalen Hurts’ Sooner debut and D’Eriq King’s return from injury.Cincinnati at Ohio State (Sept. 7). Former Ohio State interim coach Luke Fickell returns to his alma mater to take on the Buckeyes and first-year coach Ryan Day. That should add another layer to an in-state game that can get chippy.Stanford at UCF (Sept. 14). The Knights beefed up their schedule with this game against a traditional Pac-12 contender. This is another way to build equity with the Playoff committee. Credit Stanford for making the cross-country trip, too.Appalachian State at South Carolina (Nov. 9). The Mountaineers also play North Carolina on Sept. 21. New coach Eliah Drinkwitz has a tremendous opportunity in these matchups.Group of 5 Heisman hopefulsD’Eriq King, QB, Houston. King totaled 50 touchdowns in 11 games last season and will be the catalyst of new coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense. Big numbers should follow.Mason Fine, QB, North Texas. The two-time Conference USA Player of the Year has new co-offensive coordinators in Bodie Reeder and Tommy Mainord, but the playmaker should be able to keep the Mean Green in the conference championship picture.Jordan Love, QB, Utah State. Love is a longshot for the Heisman, but his efficient play is worth noting after he finished with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions last season. The Aggies also have a nonconference date with LSU.MORE: Ranking coaches 1-130 for 2019 seasonGroup of 5 stat that mattersAbout that 25-game win streak: Only six teams have enjoyed longer streaks since 1990, and each played in what are now considered Power 5 conferences. That includes Miami (1990-92, 2000-02), Nebraska (1994-96), USC (2002-05) Florida State (2012-14) and Alabama (2015-16). Those power conference schools won national championships. UCF’s two-year streak was magnificent, but it will not be treated the same as those other teams’. That is the biggest problem with the four-team format.Group of 5’s biggest question: Who’s up next?Boise State, Houston, Western Michigan and UCF have represented the Group of 5 in the College Football Playoff era. Two of those four teams went undefeated in the regular season. Which Group of 5 school will create that buzz this year?Group of 5 conference champion predictionsAmerican Athletic Conference: UCFEven with their quarterback questions, the Knights are the most talented team in the conference. Cincinnati, South Florida, Memphis and Houston will be in the mix as well.Conference USA: North TexasIt’s tough not to go with UAB again, but we’ll pick the Mean Green to break through with Fine, who has started in 36 games the last three seasons. It’s a great way to cap a stellar career. Mid-American Conference: OhioThe Bobcats were close the last two seasons, but this is the year where quarterback Nathan Rourke — who has averaged 38 total touchdowns the last two seasons — delivers ageless Frank Solich his first MAC championship.Mountain West Conference: Fresno StateThe toss-up with Boise State is the same, but we’ll go with Tedford’s running game and defense. The Bulldogs can make a larger splash against USC and Minnesota in September, too.Sun Belt Conference: Appalachian StateThe Mountaineers have more than enough talent to win the conference, even with a first-year coach. That starts with dual-threat quarterback Zac Thomas.