My list of the best Group of Five vs. Power Five games will be narrowed down to those matchups contested on Group of Five turf. These teams will have home-field advantage over their Power Five opponents for these five games, and in each case will stand a decent chance to pull an upset.
Best Group of Five vs. Power Five Games
The following games are ranked by importance. These games are not only crucial to the programs, but to the New Year’s Six slot awaiting the highest ranked Group of Five conference champion.
Starting with Houston, each Group of Five team has a realistic shot to win these games. These five teams aren’t here to play spoiler, but to pad their own resume for a chance at a big time bowl game.
Houston Cougars vs. Louisville Cardinals, Thursday Nov. 17th 8 PM ET, ESPN
I expect both Houston and Louisville to be ranked in the top 15 when they meet in November, however if Houston upsets Oklahoma in the first week of the season, this game will take on a whole new level of importance.
Houston and Louisville open the season ranked 19 and 15, respectively. Rank notwithstanding, Louisville should be 8-2 while the host Cougars will have 9-1 in their sights, if Oklahoma takes the opener.
Houston has sandwiched a long stretch of Group of Five teams in between their opener and game number 11 versus the Cardinals. A dip in competition in the weeks prior (at SMU, UCF, Tulane) may not have them ready for a showdown with a high caliber team like Louisville.
If they are prepared, and can scrap out a second straight win versus this quality ACC foe, they will have earned their likely spot in the Group of Five New Year’s Six Bowl.
Boise State Broncos vs. Washington State Cougars, Sep. 10th 10:15 PM ET, ESPN2
In Week 2 the Broncos play host to the Cougars of Washington State. Under Mike Leach, the Cougs have turned a corner and are a safe bet to make a bowl this year, but also compete in the Pac-12 North. Their 10 year bowl-less streak ended in 2013, and they have gone to the postseason in two of three years.
Boise’s stock has fallen slightly, if only for the departure of Chris Peterson, and the fact that the Broncos did not even make the Mountain West Title Game last season. If the Broncs can prove their defense can slow down Luke Falk and the rapid fire Washington State offense, then Boise will be a step closer to sneaking into the College Football Playoff, and surely be in contention for the Group of Five spot in the New Year’s Six.
Expect scoring and another dose of #Pac12AfterDark, as is customary for these late night/early morning barnburners.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. Vanderbilt Commodores, Sep. 24 4:30 PM ET, CBSSN
If there’s an SEC team involved, then the game will be high on the list. Vandy stymied the Hilltoppers last season, but still couldn’t get the win in Nashville. Vanderbilt lost 14-12 in a slugfest that showed exactly how good they could be, on one side of the ball at least.
WKU is looking to keep up the frenetic scoring they showcased last year in a 12-2 season while Vandy is looking to build some sort of offense that can help their stout defense. Vanderbilt will have revenge on their mind, and will not want to lose to a “mid major” for a second year in a row.
Western Kentucky can collect an SEC pelt for a second straight season, and pad their resume in that Group of Five bottleneck, right behind Houston.
San Diego State Aztecs vs. California Golden Bears, Sep. 10 10:30 PM ET, CBSSN
Cal is the toughest team San Diego State will play this season. That should tell you everything you need to know about the Aztecs’ schedule. It’s not murderer’s row out there, as they avoid Boise State and Air Force in the Mountain West.
Cal took the game in Berkeley last year 35-7 and put up points on a team that otherwise was a tough fortress to penetrate. Game after game we saw SDSU hold teams to one and two scores, though these were their MW West Division foes like Fresno State, San Jose State, and Nevada.
If the Aztecs are to make the leap to contender for the Group of Five New Year’s Six spot, they will have to go undefeated in the regular season. This would likely place them against Boise State or Air Force in the Mountain West Title Game, and that could prove to be their undoing.
Well before that, Cal comes to Qualcomm Stadium looking to ride the momentum from their season opener in Sydney (Win vs. Hawai’i 51-31). The Bears will have to find a way to score on a top-notch defense without new NFL quarterback Jared Goff. Texas Tech graduate transfer Davis Webb should soothe the wounds fast.
Aztecs running back Donnel Pumphrey looks to wrap up a stellar career in San Diego with another Mountain West crown.
Appalachian State Mountaineers vs. Miami (FL) Hurricanes
Oh. What is Miami doing playing in Boone? App State made their first bowl game last season, won it (31-29 over Ohio), went 11-2, returns 15 starters, and just doesn’t care who they’re playing.
All this said, Miami should manage to get out of Boone with a win. Mark Richt is taking over his alma mater, and is looking to get The U back on track. Miami “being back” has been batted around for the past few seasons while Miami has been “gone.”
The very bottom of that disappearing act was their worst loss in program history last season, 58-0 versus Clemson. After five coaches (including interim) in the last decade, and no double-digit win seasons to speak of, the Canes need to make a jump and get to the ACC title game.
Forget all that if they go to App State and lay an egg. App won’t fear anyone after their legendary upset at The Big House in 2007 so getting their first Power Five foe in their back yard will be a consolation prize no matter the outcome.
Main Photo: STATESBORO, GA – SEPTEMBER 25: Running back Marcus Cox #14 of the Appalachian State Mountaineers eludes defenders from the Georgia Southern Eagles during the first quarter on September 25, 2014 at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Bennett/Getty Images)