While yes we had college football games this past Saturday, the fund really begins this week. College football is back and I love this time of year. It is time to make those picks that seem perfect right now, but will probably blow up by season’s end. Here are my picks for who will win all the group of five conferences and which one has the best chance to play in a New Year’s Six Bowl game.
American Athletic Conference
Champion: South Florida
Head Coach Charlie Strong comes from a situation at Texas where I do not believe he never got full support from everyone involved to Tampa where he inherits a team that went 11-2 last season and has a dark horse Heisman candidate in QB Quinton Flowers. With 17 other starters returning and a pretty light schedule (no Florida State) they have a great chance to go undefeated.
Best of the Rest: Navy
Navy still has the triple-option, and Ken Niumatalolo is still the head coach. Navy will always a challenge to opponents and have the experience and discipline to win the west division and challenge South Florida in the AAC Championship game.
Champion: Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers have been the class of Conference USA the past two seasons under former head coach Jeff Brohm. Now with Brohm off to Purdue the Hilltoppers are breaking in a new head coach. Though that is nothing new to them with previous head coaches Willie Taggart and Bobby Petrino only staying for short tenures. Under new head coach Mike Sanford and experienced senior Quarterback Mike White, Western Kentucky will go for a three-peat on top of C-USA.
Best of the Rest: MTSU
The Blue Raiders have a great passing attack with Brent Stockstill throwing it to Richie James. That offensive firepower will get MTSU back to a bowl game, but unless the Blue Raiders can rebuild their front seven and win at Western Kentucky in November, they will just be section fiddle.
The Rockets return four all-conference players at the skill positions from a team that ranked seventh nationally in total offense. Led by first-team All-MAC Quarterback Logan Woodside, who threw 45 touchdown passes last season and has broken nearly every passing record at Toledo, the Rockets are ready to win their first conference championship since 2004.
Best of the Rest: Ohio
Head Coach Frank Solich is entering his 12th season at the helm with the Bobcats and they have been consistently good over that stretch. When you have an experienced offensive line and a solid defense you can win plenty.
Mountain West Conference
The Cowboys have a bonafide first round Quarterback prospect in Josh Allen which will make any team a contender to win their conference. Wyoming can get national attention quickly with a trip to Iowa to open the season, and the Oregon Ducks make a trip up to Laramie. If the Cowboys can replace their starting running back and tight end from last season, Allen will not have to carry the team by himself.
Best of the Rest: Boise State
As long as the winning attitude remains in Boise, the Broncos will always be in the mix. Head Coach Bryan Harsin has gone 31-9 in the three seasons since Chris Petersen left for Washington, though five of those losses have come from within their division, a place where the Broncos used to be untouchable.
Sun Belt Conference
Champion: Appalachian State
The Mountaineers were winners in the FCS, and they have remained winners since moving up to the FBS. They pushed Tennessee to overtime in the season opener last season and still won 10 games. They can definitely give Georgia fits in the season opener this season. They have the best depth in the conference and get advantage of great scheduling since they do not have to play top conference foes Troy or Arkansas State.
Best of the Rest: Arkansas State
So much of Arkansas State’s season rides on how they handle the beginning. Last season the Red Wolves started 0-4 with a tough schedule but then won eight out of their last seven. They start at Nebraska and somehow got Miami to come to Jonesboro, Arkansas the next week. If the Red Wolves survive again and rebuild the offensive line, they can contend.
Best Chance to Represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six Bowl: South Florida
The Bulls have the talent, coach, and schedule to go undefeated. Like Western Michigan last season, the strength of schedule will keep South Florida out of playoff consideration. However, Bulls will still be playing on New Year’s Day against someone big.
Be sure to catch the rest of my conference preview posts coming up this week!