Group of 5 Power Rankings: Final

We’ve reached the end of college football’s 150th season (151st? It was branded as “College Football 150” but starting in 1869 would make this year 151). The game has changed a lot since 1869, and “Group of 5” has only become a term in the past ten years. The conference that put six teams in these rankings (The American) has only existed for seven years now, beginning play in 2013. One team in our top 5 hasn’t even been in the FBS for that long, with two others having transitioned up since 2000. It was a good year for the Group of 5 as a whole, with seven teams ranked in the final AP Poll. To view our pre-bowl game rankings, click here. Lastly, as an editorial note: I have become more involved with “real” sportswriting through my school newspaper, and won’t have as much time for these articles every week of the college football season. For that reason, I’ll only be writing detailed reports for the top five teams. Your final Group of 5 rankings for the 2019 season are:

#1. Memphis Tigers (Last Week: 1)

MemphisThe AP Poll ranked Memphis over App State, and I’m going the top Group of 5 spot to Memphis as well for having played in the better conference, and while they did lose to Penn State in the Cotton Bowl, they made it a competitive game even with a new head coach. They decided to promote former offensive line coach Ryan Silverfield when Mike Norvell left for the Florida State job, and their offense continued to move the ball as the matchup ended up being the highest-scoring Cotton Bowl ever, but having to settle for a New Years Six bowl game record six field goals by Riley Patterson really hurt in a game they would lose by fourteen points. Brady White threw for 454 yards in the game, but the running game never got much going, as the Tigers only ran for 63 yards in the game. Memphis hired Mike MacIntyre, the former Colorado coach who was the defensive coordinator for Ole Miss, the only team to hold Memphis under 28 points, this year as their defensive coordinator. With White announcing he will return for his redshirt senior season at QB and Kenny Gainwell back to lead the rushing attack, any improvement on defense would make them favorites at least in the AAC-West if not the American Conference’s overall favorite.

#2. Appalachian State Mountaineers (3)

Appalachian StateAppalachian State finished off the best season by any team from the Sun Belt in the conference’s 19-year history sponsoring football with a 31-17 win over UAB in the New Orleans Bowl. They became the first team ranked in an AP final poll in the conference’s history (at #19), and their 13 wins set a record while they also became the first Sun Belt team to beat two Power 5 opponents in the same year (North Carolina, South Carolina). The upset loss to rival Georgia Southern kept them from playing in the Cotton Bowl, with the Sun Belt also never sending a team to a New Years Six bowl game. Two players that they’ll have back next year to lead their offense in QB Zac Thomas and running back Darrynton Evans played key roles in getting the bowl win, with Thomas throwing for 142 yards and two touchdowns on 13-24 passing without an interception, adding 28 rushing yards, as Evans ran for 157 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown. It should be a senior-laden roster in Shawn Clark’s first year as head coach, which the Mountaineers hope won’t also be his last, as it was this year with Eliah Drinkwitz as Missouri hired him away after his first year as a head coach. There will be some questions surrounding their defense, where their three leading tacklers in 2019 were all seniors, along with a key contributor in their secondary in Desmond Franklin, whose ten pass breakups led the team. If the defense is able to stay near the level of play they achieved this year, the offense should be good enough to drive them to the top of the Group of 5 rankings once again.

#3. Navy Midshipmen (4)

NavyNavy finished off their season with 11 wins after beating Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl. This year marked the second time Navy has gotten to the 11-win mark, both coming under head coach Ken Niumatalolo. They were ranked 20th by the final AP poll this year, 18th when they also went 11-2 in 2015 and hadn’t been that high in a final AP poll since 1963 when they were #2. Malcolm Perry ran for 213 yards in the game, along with throwing 5-7 for 57 yards and a touchdown, to set an FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 2,017. CJ Williams had a 27-yard run and a 41-yard pass to Chance Warren, who had a 20-yard touchdown run earlier in the game, in the final minute to set up Navy’s game-winning field goal in the 20-17 win. The eight-win turnaround from 2018 was the second-largest such improvement in FBS history, behind Hawai’i going from 0-12 in 1998 to 9-4 in ’99. Perry will be gone next year, taking with him the Navy single-season rushing yards record as well as the #2 spot on the career rushing leaderboard at the school. Jamale Caruthers and Nelson Smith, their next two leading rushers, will be back to help Perry Olsen, who figures to be starting under center next season. Diego Fagot is back to lead the defense after recording 100 tackles, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception as a sophomore in 2019, as is the team’s leader in sacks, Jacob Springer, who had eight on the year. Michael McMorris led the team with nine pass breakups, and he too will be back in Annapolis next year for the Midshipmen. Three players had multiple interceptions, and none of them were seniors. It should be a veteran defense that should do a great job of holding other teams in check and allow their ball-control offense enough support to win some 13-7, 17-10-type of games. They should be a factor in the American West division race again.

#4. Cincinnati Bearcats (5)

CincyAfter back-to-back losses to Memphis to miss out on an opportunity at an AAC championship and Cotton Bowl appearance, the Bearcats recovered to dominate a Boston College team that had fired their head coach, 38-6, in the Birmingham Bowl. Their defense completely shut down the Eagles’ attack, as BC managed just 164 yards of total offense and eight first downs in the game. They also stopped a two-point conversion attempt after BC’s lone touchdown that came from a blocked field goal returned to the end zone. Desmond Ridder only threw for 95 yards in the weather-delayed game, but he and Michael Warren both ran for 105 yards, and Ridder accounted for four touchdowns in the contest (three rushing, one passing). Having Warren and Ridder back next year will help offset bigger losses in other areas, such as tight end Josiah Deguara, who led the team in receiving touchdowns with seven, or Bryan Wright, who had 100 tackles, 3.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and five pass breakups and will leave a hard-to-fill hole in their linebacking group. They’ll need Desmond Ridder to grow more as a passer for them to have a shot at the American conference title after his completion percentage dipped by 7.3% between his freshman and sophomore seasons, and he threw two fewer touchdowns and four more interceptions this year as opposed to 2018. Injuries were a factor in that, as he sat out the final game of the regular season with a shoulder issue that had been nagging him for weeks prior, but they need more out of their pass game to beat other top teams.

#5. Boise State Broncos (2)

BoiseIt was a disappointing performance for the Broncos in the Las Vegas Bowl against Washington and their former head coach, Chris Peterson, as the Huskies rolled to a 38-7 win. Freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier returned from the injury issues that limited him to seven starts this season and finally looked like a freshman, throwing 15-26 for 119 yards and two interceptions. One of the very few bright spots for Boise State in the bowl game was Chase Hatada, who had six tackles, four for loss and two sacks to end his senior season with six sacks. Replacing their defensive front led by Curtis Weaver and his 34 career sacks, along with Hatada and Sonatane Lui (4.5 sacks, one forced fumble, two fumbles recovered in 2019), won’t be easy, but they return six of their back seven to help their defense stay strong even if they aren’t able to generate quite as much of a pass rush. Returning a freshman leading passer and leading rusher should lead to an improved offense in 2020 even with three offensive linemen needing to be replaced. They’ll still be the team to beat in the Mountain West in 2020 even as they’ll need a new offensive coordinator after Zak Hill left for the same job at Arizona State.

#6. Air Force Falcons (6)

#7. Florida Atlantic Owls (9)

#8. UCF Knights (7)

#9. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (10)

#10. San Diego State Aztecs (12)

#11. SMU Mustangs (8)

#12. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (13)

#13. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (15)

#14. Temple Owls (11)

#15. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (On the Bubble)

Dropped Out:

BYU (14)

Just Missed

BYU, Arkansas State, Wyoming

Group of 5 Conference Bowl Games

American

American Athletic

Overall Record: 4-3

Wins: UCF, 48-25 over Marshall, Gasparilla Bowl

Navy, 20-17 over Kansas State, Liberty Bowl

Cincinnati, 38-6 over Boston College, Birmingham Bowl

Tulane, 30-13 over Southern Mississippi, Armed Forces Bowl

Losses: SMU, 28-52 to Florida Atlantic, Boca Raton Bowl

Temple, 13-55 to North Carolina, Military Bowl

Memphis, 53-39 to Penn State, Cotton Bowl

CUSA

Conference USA

Overall Record: 3-5

Wins: Florida Atlantic, 52-28 over SMU, Boca Raton Bowl

Louisiana Tech, 14-0 over Miami, Independence Bowl

Western Kentucky, 23-20 over Western Michigan, First Responder Bowl

Losses: Charlotte, 9-31 to Buffalo, Bahamas Bowl

UAB, 31-17 to Appalachian State, New Orleans Bowl

Florida International, 26-34 to Arkansas State, Camellia Bowl

Marshall, 25-48 to UCF, Gasparilla Bowl

Southern Mississippi, 13-30 to Tulane, Armed Forces Bowl

MAC

Mid-American

Overall Record: 3-4

Wins: Buffalo, 31-9 over Charlotte, Bahamas Bowl

Kent State, 51-41 over Utah State, Frisco Bowl

Ohio, 30-21 over Nevada, Potato Bowl

Losses: Central Michigan, 11-48 to San Diego State, New Mexico Bowl

Eastern Michigan, 30-34 to Pittsburgh, Quick Lane Bowl

Western Michigan, 20-23 to Western Kentucky, First Responder Bowl

Miami (OH), 17-27 to Louisiana, LendingTree Bowl

Mountain West

Mountain West

Overall Record: 4-3

Wins: San Diego State, 48-11 over Central Michigan, New Mexico Bowl

Hawai’i, 38-34 over BYU, Hawai’i Bowl

Air Force, 31-21 over Washington State, Cheez-It Bowl

Wyoming, 38-17 over Georgia State, Arizona Bowl

Losses: Utah State: 41-51 to Kent State, Frisco Bowl

Boise State: 7-38 to Washington, Las Vegas Bowl

Nevada, 21-30 to Ohio, Potato Bowl

Sun Belt

Sun Belt

Overall Record: 3-2

Wins: Appalachian State, 31-17 over UAB, New Orleans Bowl

Arkansas State, 34-26 over Florida International, Camellia Bowl

Louisiana, 27-17 over Miami (OH), LendingTree Bowl

Losses: Georgia Southern, 16-23 to Liberty, Cure Bowl

Georgia State, 17-38 to Wyoming, Arizona Bowl

 

So there you have it. Our #1 Group of 5 team of Memphis I had at #4 coming into the season and mentioned they could go to a New Years 6 bowl game if things clicked, our preseason #1 of UCF ended the year at #8, though 9 of my preseason top 15 ends the year outside of our postseason rankings, most notably preseason #3 Army, replaced at #3 in our final rankings by Navy, the highest finisher of a preseason unranked team after their 3-9 2018 season. Air Force also surprised, making me totally wrong on all three military academies, and SMU was the best story for the first three-quarters of the season in the Group of 5 before some late losses took the shine off of a breakthrough season. Some changes to expect for next year: how about a MAC team actually being good enough to crack these rankings? The leading candidate there would be Central Michigan after a huge turnaround year in Jim McElwain’s first year as head coach, and Ohio is always a team to watch in the MAC-East. A top team that could fall off next year: maybe Memphis or App State after coaching changes, and most likely the AAC-West won’t put four teams in again (Memphis, Navy, SMU, Temple). Florida Atlantic seems likely to regress, as no coach other than Lane Kiffin has led them to more than 8 wins since their transition to FBS. 2020 will have plenty of surprises as well, as a coach not many people have heard of yet will lead a smaller school to a turnaround and suddenly become a candidate for a Power 5 job, the Conference-USA has been up for grabs for a few seasons running now and always has an entertaining title race, and if someone goes undefeated from the American or Mountain West and defeats a major conference school along the way they’ll try to plead their playoff case just like UCF did in 2017 and 2018. As mentioned above, due to a foreseen limit in my time available to devote to these articles, they will continue to come out weekly during football season but only the top five teams will have detailed reports.

Stats and info courtesy of ESPN and College Football at Sports-Reference.com.

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