Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Five Party Crashers To Watch For This Season

                                                 Photo Credit: Andrew Mascharka

While it is unlikely we will see any mid-major schools make the four-team College Football Playoff this season, there will be a spot available in one of the four remaining bowls in the rotation (Peach, Fiesta, Rose and Sugar) that will go to the highest-ranked non- Power Five team.

Here are five teams who could contend to be the representative for the mid-majors in this season's Group of Six bowls:

1) Boise State Broncos:

Key Games: vs Washington, at Virginia, at Utah State

Given Boise State's win in last season's "New Year's Six" game in the Fiesta Bowl against Arizona, it should be no surprise that this pesky squad from the state of Idaho comes into the 2015 season as the favorite to be the highest ranked group of five school to make it back to one of the major bowl games.

Even with the departures of quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi, the Broncos are poised to make another run as it will face stiff competition in non-conference play from the likes of Washington from the Pac-12, all the way to the other part of the country with Virginia in the ACC. 

Do not underestimate the Mountain West schedule as Boise State will look to avenge last season's loss to the Air Force Academy and  travel to divisional foe Utah State.

2) Western Michigan Broncos:

Key Games: vs Michigan State, at Ohio State, at Northern Illinois

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. 

Ok, this isn't a children's show, but for fans in Kalamazoo, this could be the season for coach P. J. Fleck and Western Michigan to make a run not only at the MAC title, but to break into the New Year's Six.

The Broncos' chances of making it to a big bowl game will ride on scoring a major upset at home against Michigan State or on the road against the defending National Champion Ohio State.

Not bad for a team which finished 1-11 two seasons ago and rebounded with a 9-4 mark in 2014. 

Another thing the Broncos have going is that 19 starters return from a season ago– most notably starting quarterback Zach Terrell.

Terrell could be a dark horse for the Heisman Trophy if he can follow up on a career-high 3,443 yards through the air in 2014, to go along with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

3) Utah State Aggies:

Key Games: at Utah, at Washington, vs Boise State, vs BYU

If fifth-year senior Chuckie Keeton can hold up from his season-ending knee injury in 2014, then Utah State could be poised to spoil Boise State's run at making another run into a New Year's Six bowl game.

Keeton will likely be sharing playing time with junior Darell Garretson, who played in five games and threw for eight touchdowns and three interceptions last season.

Expect the Aggies defense to carry the majority of the load as they held opponents to 19.7 points per game last season and return seven starters.

Utah State will have a challenging non-conference schedule highlighted by meetings against in-state rivals, BYU and Utah.

4) Cincinnati Bearcats:

Key Games: vs Miami (Fla.), at BYU

With renovated Nippert Stadium coming to life this season and a 9-4 finish in 2014, Cincinnati could be primed for a run into a bowl game on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.

Tommy Tuberville knows the formula to lead a team to a perfect season. In 2004, he led the Auburn Tigers to a 14-0 mark, but were left out of the BCS National Championship game because of USC and Oklahoma being undefeated and ranked ahead of them. However, Auburn proved its worth by defeating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

For Tuberville, being an underdog is nothing new given the fact he has lived through being outcasted before and this season will be no different given its standing in the American Athletic Conference.

With highly-touted quarterback Gunner Kiel returning, the Bearcats will look to make an impact not only in the AAC, but in non-conference play as it will host a night game at Miami (Fla.) on Oct. 1.

5) Western Kentucky Hilltoppers:

Key Games: at Vanderbilt, at LSU, vs Marshall

One thing Western Kentucky can claim is it is one of nine mid-major schools to have gone to a bowl game in each of its last four seasons.

That is plenty of motivation and momentum for second-year coach Jeff Brohm to run on for 2015 after finishing 8-5 in his rookie campaign.

After becoming the first FBS team to have a 4,500-yard passer and a 1,500-yard rusher last season, Sixth-year quarterback Brandon Doughty and running back Leon Allen return to try and top their own stats.

In 2014, Doughty threw for 4,830 yards, while Allen rushed for 1,542.

Western Kentucky's schedule will be highlighted by road games against SEC foes Vanderbilt and LSU and conference games against Louisiana Tech and Marshall.

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