Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Five mid-major schools who could crash the New Year’s Six in 2017

                                                           Photo Credit: Getty Images

While College Football’s current playoff system appears to be dominated by the Power Five schools for the foreseeable future, mid-major teams, better known as the Group of Five have an opportunity to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game as the highest ranked team automatically qualifies.

Here are five teams who could make a run in the 2017 college football season:

Central Florida Knights

2016 record: 6-7, 4-4 AAC East

2017 schedule:

Sept. 2 vs Florida International
Sept. 9 vs Memphis
Sept. 16 vs Georgia Tech
Sept. 23 at Maryland
Sept. 30 vs Maine
Oct. 7 at Cincinnati
Oct. 14 vs East Carolina
Oct. 21 at Navy
Nov. 4 at SMU
Nov. 11 vs Connecticut
Nov. 18 at Temple
Nov. 24 (Fri.) vs South Florida

A program which rode the highest of highs with a Fiesta Bowl win in 2014 over the Baylor Bears and the lowest of lows in a winless season in 2015, coach Scott Frost took what looked like a demolition derby to a six-win team and a bowl bid last season. The sky’s the limit for the second-year coach.

The Knights’ schedule looks to be more favorable than last season with Maryland and Georgia Tech at home in the notable non-conference slate, with potentially tough road games at defending American conference champion Temple and Navy.

South Florida Bulls

2016 record: 11-2, 7-1 AAC East

2017 schedule:

Aug. 26 at San Jose State
Sept. 2 vs Stony Brook
Sept. 9 at Connecticut
Sept. 15 (Fri.) vs Illinois
Sept. 21 (Thu.) vs Temple
Sept. 30 at East Carolina
Oct. 14 vs UMass
Oct. 21 at Tulane
Oct. 28 vs Cincinnati
Nov. 4 vs Houston
Nov. 16 (Thu.) vs Tulsa
Nov. 24 (Fri.) at Central Florida

Despite coach Willie Taggart’s departure to Oregon after an 11-win season, South Florida did not miss a beat as it hired former Texas coach Charlie Strong to the same position in the off-season.

Quinton Flowers returns for his senior season at South Florida as he proved his dual-threat capabilities by completing 63 percent of his passes and averaged 8.7 yards per run.  

Boise State Broncos

2016 record: 10-3, 6-2 MWC Mountain

2017 schedule:

Sept. 2 vs Troy
Sept. 9 at Washington State
Sept. 14 (Thu.) vs New Mexico
Sept. 22 (Fri.) vs Virginia
Oct. 6 (Fri.) at BYU
Oct. 14 at San Diego State
Oct. 21 vs Wyoming
Oct. 28 at Utah State
Nov. 4 vs Nevada
Nov. 11 at Colorado State
Nov. 18 vs Air Force
Nov. 25 at Fresno State

In the Bowl Championship Series/College Football Playoff era, the Boise State Broncos have been the standard for success among the Group of Five schools with three Fiesta Bowl wins. For the Broncos to have a realistic shot of getting into a New Year’s Six bowl for the first time since 2014, it will have to go through opponents such as Washington State, BYU, San Diego State and Wyoming.

In order for the Broncos to be competitive, they must fill huge offensive voids left by running back Jeremy McNichols, who left early for the NFL Draft and wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck.

Cedrick Wilson should provide stability on the wide receiver side as he led Boise State with a team-high 11 touchdowns on 56 catches and 1,129 yards.

Colorado State Rams

2016 record: 7-6, 5-3 MWC Mountain

2017 schedule:

Aug. 26 vs Oregon State
Sept. 1 (Fri.) vs Colorado
Sept. 9 vs Abilene Christian
Sept. 16 at Alabama
Sept. 30 at Hawaii
Oct. 7 at Utah State
Oct. 14 vs Nevada
Oct. 20 (Fri.) at New Mexico
Oct. 28 vs Air Force
Nov. 4 at Wyoming
Nov. 11 vs Boise State
Nov. 18 vs San Jose State

For third-year Colorado State coach Mike Bobo, expectations are sky-high coming off a 7-6 mark in 2016, which included five wins in its last seven games.

Quarterback Nick Stevens returns for his third straight season as the starter, but was benched after going 6-of-20 passing in the last season's opener vs Colorado. Stevens would win the starting job back after backup Collin Hill tore his ACL in the Wyoming game.

Stevens will have plenty to work with in the passing game as the top two receivers from last season return in Michael Gallup and Olabasi Johnson. Gallup and Johnson combined to grab 104 passes for 1,898 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Houston Cougars

2016 record: 9-4, 5-3 AAC West

2017 schedule:

Sept. 2 at Texas-San Antonio
Sept. 9 at Arizona
Sept. 16 vs Rice
Sept. 23 vs Texas Tech
Sept. 30 at Temple
Oct. 7 at SMU
Oct. 14 at Tulsa
Oct. 19 (Thu.) vs Memphis
Oct. 28 vs East Carolina
Nov. 4 at South Florida
Nov. 18 at Tulane
Nov. 24 (Fri.) vs Navy

The Cougars and fellow conference foes the South Florida Bulls have one common thread— rising star coaches bolting for power five schools. In Houston’s case, Tom Herman’s leave was planted a season in advance after defeating Florida State in the 2015 Peach Bowl. Herman left to take Texas coaching gig after an underwhelming 9-4 finish in 2016.

Enter Major Applewhite. The former Texas quarterback enters as the new coach with plenty of talent at his disposal, but faces urgency from fans to win now as a mid-major program, with a Power Five-esuqe look.

Its biggest strength could be the defense with Ed Oliver returning at defensive tackle. Oliver could be one of the biggest impact players in college football again and was named to the 2016 Associated Press First Team All-American.

Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen has big shoes to fill at the quarterback spot with the departure of Greg Ward, Jr. Allen sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules, but is ready to leave where he left off at Texas A&M as he threw for more than 3,500 yards and 33 touchdowns over 20 games from 2014-15.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.