Five from the Group of Five
(Or, the best bets to grab the New Year’s Six “Golden Ticket”. Get used to the terms. Starting this season the top-ranked team among Conference USA, Sun Belt, MAC, American and Mountain will play in one of six major bowls in the new playoff era – Orange, Fiesta, Rose, Cotton, Peach, Sugar. Hence, one “Golden Ticket” for those 60 teams.
If that team finishes in the top four it will participate in the playoff. If not it will be slotted in the four bowls not involved in the playoff. Taken together they are the New Year’s Six.
Assuming the Golden Ticket team doesn’t reach the playoff, this year, it player in the Peach, Cotton or Fiesta. The Orange is already spoken for. It is contracted for an ACC team vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame.)
1. Marshall (10-4 last season in Conference USA): Doc Holliday has the Group of Five’s best quarterback, Rakeem Cato. His best friend and favorite receiver is coming off consecutive 1,100-yard seasons. The Herd should win them all. If not, forget ‘em. The schedule is that easy.
2. Boise State (8-5, Mountain West): The Broncos have a little bit of experience in this area. However, the architect of the Boise brand, Chris Petersen, is gone to Washington. First-year coach Bryan Harsin returns to his alma mater where he spent more than 15 years as a player and coach. The defensive front seven returns. Tailback Jay Ajayi ran for 1,425 yards. A statement-making neutral site game looms next week against Mississippi. Louisiana-Lafayette, Fresno and BYU come to Boise.
3. Cincinnati (9-4, American): Quarterback Gunner Kiel finally sees field more than 1,000 days since leaving high school. The one-time, five-star can’t miss should flourish under Tommy Tuberville and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. Ralph Abernathy averaged six yards per touch (running, receiving, returning). The non-conference is high risk/high reward (at Ohio State, at Miami). The Dec. 6 season finale against Houston may be for the Golden Ticket.
4. Houston (8-5, American): New stadium, new era? Tony Levine begins his third season with a talented quarterback (John O’Korn) and go-to receiver (Deonte Greenberry). The defense leapt from 107th to 20th in scoring D and led the nation in turnovers (43). While that might be difficult to duplicate, the Cougars are definitely ascending.
5. Bowling Green (10-4, MAC): When he left for Wake Forest, Dave Clawson left Dino Babers a stacked deck. The offense has a chance to be the most productive in FBS. Babers’ Eastern Illinois led FCS in total and scoring offense. BG’s Matt Johnson returns after throwing for 3,467 yards and 25 touchdowns. A trip to Wisconsin on Sept. 20 should be interesting.
Five more to consider: Utah State, Rice, Texas-San Antonio, Louisiana-Lafayette, Fresno State